7 Exercises to Stop Negative Thinking
I have had a few struggles with trying to stop negative thinking in my time. I had a tendency to ruminate about failures and mistakes from my past. It took me quite some time to overcome this and it’s a good thing I did.
Getting past mistakes and failures is a keystone to success. I was able to get out of this destructive thinking by persisting in trying until I finally broke through.
The Secret is Persistence
You can succeed too, with perseverance. These exercises are definitely not a get positive quick scheme. Doing them is a long term commitment if you want to succeed. You need to condition a permanent habit through repitition over a long period. You will succeed by persisting until you stop your negative thinking.
No one will succeed by practicing for a week or two and quitting any more than they would if they diet and exercise for a few days and expect to keep losing weight after quitting.
It’s best to focus on only one exercise at a time. Spend weeks or even months practicing one exercise every day until it’s a habit. The time it takes to establish a habit varies from person to person.
You may only need to develop one of these drills into a permanent habit to solve negative thinking. If not, don’t despair there are 7 dynamite exercises here that have great potential to help you.
1. Cancel negative thoughts with positive thoughts immediately.
Step 1: Identify your most frequent thought patterns. This step is important because it’s the foundation for the rest of the exercise. The best way to keep track of your thoughts is to keep a regular journal.
- List as many of your most frequent negative thoughts as you can.
- Think about: your fears, insecurities, losses, mistakes, failures, things that regularly stress you out and things that irritate you.
- It’s best to spend a few days noticing your negative patterns making notes when they pop up. Once you have a list of your most common negative thinking, you can move to the next step.
Step 2: For each negative thought in the preceding step, write a more productive, positive thought.
- This is a process of re-framing or looking at the circumstances in a different way.
- For example, if someone’s behavior bothers you frequently, write one positive thing about the person.
- Shifting perspectives takes practice, but you can become skilled at it with persistence.
Step 3: Always immediately cancel persistent negative thoughts.
Every single time you have one replace it with more productive, positive thoughts instead.
- When a negative thought occurs, repeat a positive thought right away 3 or more times.
- It may help you to record your progress until it becomes a habit. That may take a few weeks to a few months.
- Once one exercise becomes a habit, look at another exercise to further work on strengthening your positive thinking patterns.
2. Give negative thoughts a story name and then recognize and dismiss them.
Giving your negative thoughts a story name is called “name it to tame it”. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegal coined this term.
- Whenever you have one of your repetitive negative thought patterns, mentally label the story. For example, one of my recurring negative patterns is to get frustrated by my mistakes. I’ve labeled the story “Who do you think you are? Mr. Perfect?” Do you think you are infallible?
- So whenever I begin to get frustrated by mistakes I say to myself “Ah Ha! Mr. Perfect is here again.” Then I just let it pass.
- Letting go means just stop taking it seriously and realize it’s just a thought.
- Carry it one step further by refocusing with an affirmation. The best kinds of affirmations to use here are ones that identify with who you are. In my example of a negative pattern with mistakes, I follow with “I’m the kind of person who learns from mistakes. I don’t let little mistakes bother me”.
3. Say “STOP” or “GET OUT” forcefully and then imagine yourself as the type of person who responds in a positive and productive way.
Interrupt your pattern forcefully and with strong feeling. Do something unusual or different. Then replace your pattern with a positive healthy one.
- At the same time, you should change your physiology. Smile, stand or sit upright and project a confident calm.
- Repeat a positive affirmation that counters the negative pattern. You can always say “I’m not the type of person who ________!” “I’m the kind of person who ______ in this situation.”
- You can interrupt your pattern of negative thinking by shocking yourself. You can say “STOP IT” or “GET OUT” when a negative pattern rears its head up.
The only way this or any of these exercises work is if you consistently practice every day like a professional singer practices. Practice like a professional athlete.
4. Choose transformational words and immediately repeat them when you begin a negative pattern.
- Transformational words increase or reduce your emotions. When your negative pattern is low energy, like procrastinating, reframe the situation with high energy words to get going.
- So if you routinely “put things off” then use more disparaging language like “shirking responsibility”, “wasting time” or “slacking”. Then immediately tell yourself “I’m not the type of person who ____________ (wastes time, shirks responsibility, slacks off, etc.)
- You should change your physical state to higher energy at the same time. Stand up, shake your fist, jump or stomp your feet.
- Likewise, if your negative pattern is high energy like getting upset, then use transformational words to reframe your experience and reduce emotional energy.
- So if something is “enraging” and you’re “furious” then you have a high energy negative state that you need to stop immediately. Reframe your state as “annoying” or “ a little upsetting” and “annoyed”, “displeased”, or “irritated”.
- Change your physical state into a more relaxed posture. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale.
It’s easy to find alternate transformational words by searching for synonyms and choosing words that feel less or more emotional depending on your need.
5. Write down a description or draw an image of recurring negative patterns and then destroy it.
- If your negative thoughts are connected to a specific strong feeling like fear, anger or jealousy, try releasing them in writing. Use a pen and paper, and genuinely express all of that cumulative negative energy.
- Then choose a way to destroy this paper, representing your determination to move on. For example, you could cut it up with scissors, burn it (be careful), rip it up, crush it into a ball then stomp it on the floor or scribble over it.
- When I quit smoking, I placed the remaining cigarettes I had in a pack into a small box. I sealed the box and then I performed a burial ceremony. That was 18 years ago and I have not smoked since that day.
- If you’re more artistic, you might draw a picture or sculpt a representation of the negative pattern instead of writing about it. Then destroy that representation (or change its shape).
The power of this technique is to transform your pattern into a physical representation so that you can eradicate it symbolically in a way that feels satisfying.
6. Record, review and challenge your negative thoughts.
This is a drill that helps you to fully understand your negative thought patterns so you can better deal with them.
- RECORD AND REVIEW: When you have a negative thought pattern pay very close attention to it. Write down the pattern and detail what you’re thinking in a sentence or two. For example: “ I’m not good at this.”
- Then write down what triggered the pattern. Example: “I’m learning how to do something new. I feel uncomfortable”
- CHALLENGE: Next, challenge your negative ideation by turning it into questions.
- “I’m not good at this?” Could it be that I’m just beginning to learn something new? Doesn’t everyone feel uncomfortable when learning a new thing?
- Now think about things you are good at and recall what it was like before you learned to do them.
- Were you good at driving a car when you first began learning? What other things you can do well were difficult at first? Make a list.
TAKE ACTION NOW: Write down a sentence or two that accurately portrays a specific thought that’s been bothering you. Then try to detect what may have caused the thought.
7. Identify and destroy beliefs that cause your negative thoughts.
- Identify and write down a belief that is limiting you or holding you back. For example, “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t deserve it”, “I’m not good at ____” and so on. Make a list and then start with one that you feel strongly about.
- Pick a new belief to replace your negative one. What alternative belief would be consistent with someone you want to be?
- Let go of the anchors.
- Evidence: What other proof supports this new belief? (Everyone fails. Success is a series of failures. Failures show the path to success.)
- Emotions: How does it feel to truly live this new belief and accomplish your dream? (More confident. More patient. More resilient.)
3. Social support: who can you encircle yourself with to sustain the new belief? (other people with similar goals)
4. Logic: how can you replace your logic? (Everyone who is successful has had multiple failures. Stay persistent and learn from failures. Failures aren’t final.)
- Identify anchors to the belief. Anchors are the ideas that make the belief true to you.
- What proof/evidence/events anchor your belief? (I failed when I tried it)
- What emotions anchor this belief? (I fear failure)
- Who else around you confirms this belief ? (Family or friends who say “You aren’t good at it”)
- What logic secures this belief? (I failed before so It’s logical to think I will again)
- Set your course. Write down five specific actions you will take and words you will say that force you to live your new belief.
Conclusion to Exercises to Stop Negative Thinking
Here is a game plan for you to follow and succeed with these exercises.
The one thing that will insure your success is persistence. You are sure to have failures and difficulties in this process. Just keep fighting and getting up. You will succeed.