Things get complicated when depression enters the equation. Depression exacerbates negative thinking, and the result is a self-sustaining cycle of negative feelings sharpening negative thoughts which intensifies the depression. I mention depression because those who struggle with negative thinking tend to exhibit symptoms of clinical depression. Something to consider if you haven't already.
It's important to know that negative thoughts are completely normal. No one is perfect and it's healthy to reflect on personal weaknesses and areas of improvement. What is not normal is to allow these thoughts to control your life and relationships.
10 Tips For Overcoming Negative Thoughts
Stop extreme thinking. Life isn't black or white. There is gray and context to everything. Be aware if you use words like "always" or "never" and if you make generalized statements about "everyone" and "everything."
Reality test. If you are unaware of your negativity, then how can you change? Easy. Try a reality check with friends, family, or someone that you trust. Sometimes negative thoughts can be corrected with a conversation.
You aren't a mind reader, stop assuming. In sessions, I find myself regularly saying, "So what did you say in reply?" I get a quizzical glance and usually a, "Well, they didn't actually say that, but I'm sure they were thinking that." So did the person actually say it, or are you projecting what you believe they are thinking?
Value the positive. Don't dismiss or explain away the positive. If you have overwhelming negative thoughts, you are probably focusing too much on negative things and ignoring the positives in your life. Take a moment and value your positive experiences.
Fully accept compliments. If someone gives you a compliment, stop for a moment, let the feeling sink in, and say "thank you." Sounds weird? If yes, then that's a sign you need to practice accepting compliments.
Express gratitude. Not in your mind. On paper and then out loud and to the person. Sounds weird? See the last tip. You might be surprised how expressing gratitude actually makes you feel better. There is a great Upworthy.com video about gratitude. You can read and see more about that in a previous post.
Set realistic goals. Accomplished goals make you feel good. Be realistic. Don't set the bar too low, but be realistic. Try to change one thing daily, weekly, or monthly. Be specific and clear in your goal-setting.
Practice mindfulness, Mindfulness is the process of being aware of the present. When negative thoughts enter your consciousness, you are no longer in the present. You are on a cognitive tangent. Your attention is no longer on what is happening in the present, it's on beating yourself up. Mindfulness can be very effective in stopping negative thinking and helping you focus on the here and now.
Do positive things. Volunteer, practice good manners, serve as a mentor. Again, be reasonable as you don't want to set yourself up to wonder why people aren't reciprocating your positive acts. Keep it simple.
Recognize that change is a process. This idea is forgotten by many very quickly. If you expect a quick fix, it's just not going to happen. Accept that real change takes time, but it will be worth it. Value the progress that you are making.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!