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It is incredibly easy to get mired in negative thinking, especially when we replay regrets or mistakes. Why did I do that? We think, cheeks burning with embarrassment. What’s wrong with me?? Well, nothing actually. We all make mistakes, we all have regrets, we all feel, at point or another, like we could simply shrivel up from embarrassment, or cry our eyes out until we dry up.
That’s part of being human. Part of being human is also spending a great deal of time wrapped up in our own minds. Exercising, meditating and other forms of quieting thoughts are wonderful ways to stop repetitive, negative thinking, but we can’t always turn off our thoughts. What we can do is work to change the nature of these persistent thoughts.
There are multiple studies that have shown us the effects of repetitive negative thinking – and none of them are good. What is good to know, however, is that with a slight tweak to these thoughts, we can nullify these detrimental effects, and even reverse them.
4 Steps To Overcome Negative Thoughts
Take A New Approach
Can’t stop thinking about that conversation/failed test/work mistake/argument? You don’t have to, at least not just yet. Just take a different approach to overcome negative thoughts. Personal reflection about what went wrong has neutral effects on the brain and body, as opposed to negative ones. Start there. What actually happened? Why do you think it happened the way it did? Then move on. How do you feel about what happened?
Emotional processing actually has positive effects on the brain and body, even when acknowledging how angry or sad or embarrassed you are. Moan about how humiliating it was, sob about how sad, shout about how angry – and then move on. Don’t get stuck there – you have more steps to take!
You’ve processed what happened, and reflected on how it made you feel. What next? In order to overcome negative thoughts, imagine that the situation is happening again, and plan what you will do differently this time, even if “this time” is only in your head.
Planning, especially planning with positive imagery, has both mental and emotional benefits. It can also help you have a more successful and positive response to the next challenge that comes your way. You can even change your memory, adding in humorous or silly elements (we all know laughter is the best kind of medicine).
Remember The Positives
Next, work to remember times when you did do the right thing. Our whole lives aren’t just a series of blunders, even though it can sure feel it when we’re stuck in the whirlpool of negativity. Remembering situations that worked out positively for us helps to remind us that it’s not all bad, and that we are capable of doing the right thing. Savoring and reminiscing about positive memories, even if these memories can be repetitive, has beneficial effects on our minds and emotions.
And while it’s very healthy to practice mindfulness, letting our thoughts come and pass without attachment or emotion, sometimes we need to take that first step of converting our negative thoughts to positive ones before we are able to come to terms with them, and let them go.