Negative thinking can affect your attitude towards self and others. Your mood and the mental imagery you create when experiencing negative thoughts are all processes that encapsulate what your mind is going through.
Like night and day, the mind also experiences negative and positive thoughts. Sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously. Nonetheless, these thoughts can prevent you from having mental clarity. You can’t stop these thoughts from coming, but you can control their frequency, how they affect you, and how you deal with them. Here is how to mute negative thoughts and gain mental clarity.
Accept the existence of these thoughts.
Time does not stop, and neither does the mind. Even in sleep, memory consolidation occurs by replaying your day’s events. Therefore, your experiences during the day and acquired knowledge become integrated into your long-term memory.
There are a lot of thoughts that constantly race through the mind. Some of those thoughts are discouraging and negative. As you have various experiences in life, you’ll unfortunately experience negative thinking.
Having these thoughts doesn’t make you any less human. These thoughts exist and affect everyone. Accepting that they’re there does not mean you’re taking on their effects, which can lead to rumination.
Before you surmount any problem, you must dispel denial. Taking note of the existence of these thoughts helps you actively make choices that dismiss them or take actions that no longer give them control over you.
Resort to alternative thinking.
Words have as much power as you give them. You form negative thoughts by weaving together words that affect your mental state, emotional health, and attitude toward self. However, these thoughts don’t come out of thin air.
Negative thoughts can be a result of mental health conditions. However, this is not the only instance someone may experience negative thinking. Everyday life’s stressors, for instance, regrets of the past or worries about the future, can also bring about these thoughts.
Negativity bias, which explains how the human mind focuses more on negative situations and gives them more importance than positive stimuli, has served as part of evolution. Evolutionarily, it helped develop caution and became an automatic part of adaptive function.
So, how can you change this negative bias, and how can alternative thinking help? This way of thinking exposes you to the positivity of the mind, often overlooked due to negative bias.
You experience an internal conflict when you deal with negative thoughts. Once you involve alternative thinking, you start visually mapping ways to shut down these thoughts. Visualizing solutions helps in reframing negative thoughts.
Let’s take the example of a woman named Lucy (fictional but might relate to someone’s experience). Lucy is developing negative thoughts surrounding her professional life and the future of her career. So, Lucy starts forming thoughts, such as, “I’m never going to make it.”
If Lucy decides to engage in alternative thinking, she can start asking herself a set of questions.
- What is causing this thought? (In her case, her uncertainty about the future of her career.)
- Is this thought comforting? (The answer should be no, so it is negative and does not offer a solution to the problem she has identified.)
- How is this thought affecting me? (By asking this question, Lucy will realize that the thought has not solved her gripping fear of her future. This thought isn’t helping her situation.)
- How can I address the problem? (Here is when Lucy will start looking for solutions by thinking of ways to tackle the problem positively.)
Alternative thinking helps you focus more on a solution approach by becoming aware of the issue, reflecting on ways to improve, and being mindful of the thoughts you’re forming.
Work on challenging negative thoughts.
Just because the thoughts happen does not mean it is true. By ruminating, you start believing that the negative stories you form about yourself are true. One thought feeds on another, and this loop keeps you in constant negativity.
Understanding how you think can help when you’re challenging negative thoughts. Negative thinking can stem from various sources, but how you think can reinforce these thoughts. Are you someone who thinks everything is all good or all bad, or do you always think of the worst in every situation? These are all thinking patterns that perpetuate negative thinking.
To challenge these thoughts, look at them as fleeting. They will come, but you must learn to let them go. One way to do this is by considering supporting factors for these negative thoughts. Are there any at all? There is likely nothing proving these thoughts are true, so there is no need to hold on to them.
Another way to challenge negative thinking is by replacing it with something positive. This can be in the form of gratitude and positive affirmations. By thinking of things you’re grateful for, you start actively thinking about the positive, thereby muting negative thoughts. Doing this helps you build mental resilience each time you face negative thinking.
Improve your mental habits.
Some of the mental habits you form are great, while others are not. Changing or rewiring bad habits requires conscious effort. These habits are automatic, and when they bring on negative thinking, you don’t question it because it feels like second nature.
A negative mental habit could be overthinking, a source of negative thoughts. It happens when you’re in situations you believe are unfavorable. For instance, if you don’t like public speaking, you may immediately start going through negative scenarios or outcomes in your head when you have a presentation. You might think, “Public speaking puts me in such a bad mental state that I should limit it to feel better.” The problem isn’t public speaking but overthinking.
First, you must bring awareness to the mental habit by identifying it and noting how often it occurs. Recognizing it does not mean accepting it as part of your personality. You can change these habits.
To change these habits long-term, start slowly. A small change can gradually improve your habits. You can change your mental habits in various ways. Meditating for 15 minutes daily or seeking therapy are ways to improve your mental habits.
There are different ways, but remember to start with something simple so it can be sustainable long-term. If there are many mental habits you want to improve, deal with them one at a time.
Schedule and write about it.
If you get into the habit of rumination, you can schedule a time for your thoughts. So, the thoughts no longer have control over your days. When you experience them, you set them aside for their scheduled time so you can address them.
This strategy will help you focus on the things you love and want to give attention to instead of stressing about negative thoughts. Scheduling a few minutes to journal about it later can give you control over your thoughts and how they affect your day-to-day activities.
This method of dealing with negative thoughts can be seen as prioritizing. By scheduling a time for these thoughts, you’ll slowly learn to prioritize what is important to you without letting a list of negative thoughts take over.
Dealing with negative thinking isn’t a good experience. So, it is understandable when people want to learn how to banish negative thoughts once and for all. Unfortunately, you can’t completely cast these thoughts into the unknown forever, but you can control them.
Learn to appreciate the present moment and find ways to celebrate yourself. You can do this by exploring mindfulness through romanticizing your life. Although you can’t control every negative thought, you have the power to silence it with healthy coping mechanisms. Once you cultivate a positive mental space, there is nowhere left for these negative thoughts to stay.
Practice self-compassion while you’re going through this. It is not easy to have this mental battle. Therefore, treat yourself like a friend in these moments and every second of your life.