Negative Thoughts

Why can’t I stop my thoughts from racing?  When we get thoughts stuck in our heads it can be brutal, especially if they are negative thoughts.  Back when I was providing a lot of training around the state, I was guilty of obsessing a bit at the end of the training day.  In a room with 20 trainees I would go away knowing first and foremost who was not in the training by choice or who felt the class didn’t warrant their attention.  The most vocal objector in the room was the one on my mind.  I could have 19 positive, engaging trainees, but the negative one would take more space in my mind than the 19 who were having a good time and benefiting from the class.

Our brains seem to be wired, by nature, to seek out and absorb the negative messages.  The literature on the power of negative thoughts says that for every one negative statement it takes 17 positive messages to offset the effects of the one critical statement.  Left unchecked, the negative thoughts just spin around in our minds, over and over. “I am not good enough.”  “I am not smart enough.” “Nobody likes me.”  When these thoughts get to racing in our heads, there are a number of things we can do to quiet them.

First and foremost we need a distraction from the negative thought patterns.  Sometimes it is referred to as being “stuck in your head.”  So, naturally we need to do something that takes us out of that space physically, mentally, or both.  We can call a friend to chat, find something enjoyable on TV, go to a movie, go for a walk, read a book, or play with pets.  Fishing, if you have never experienced it, is great for quieting the mind.

When I was a small child in Sunday School, I remember we would sing a song called “Count Your Blessings.”  Another way to put it is to list the things you are thankful for.  This is a very healthy distraction and reminder.  It helps to keep the list handy because it can come in useful for many situations.  Read and reread the list as often as is needed.  Add things to the list as you think of them.  If you feel the thoughts in your head coming at you, think about the things that are going right in your life.

Meditation is another way to clear one’s mind.  You don’t have to sit with your legs crossed or recite some peculiar mantra.  It is as simple as focusing on your breathing.  Aim for slow, deep inhalations and exhalations.  You pause before each, being mindful of your lungs’ expansion and retraction.  While you are trying to meditate, initially you will find your head full of thoughts.  Don’t try to resist or force them out.  Simply acknowledge them and return to your breathing.  You may have to do this 100 times before you get a sense of quiet, but it is entirely worth the effort when done correctly.

Sometimes we are the source of the negativity.  That is called negative self-talk.  This often comes on as a criticism of efforts to achieve a goal or accomplish a task.  In this case, reconsider what you want to accomplish and break it down into smaller, more easily achievable goals.  Instead of feeling bummed out about cleaning the entire house, focus on one room at a time.  It isn’t so easily overwhelming when you look at each step. It is said that a thousand mile journey begins with one step.  Make one step and be happy about the accomplishment.  Then make another step.  The result of these cumulative successes will be self confidence and self esteem.  The negative, critical thoughts will then have no foothold.

Lastly, spend time around people that lift you up.  Positivity is just as infectious as negativity.  When you share your space with people who are grateful or happy, you will either start to feel the same or feel worse and have to get away.  I encourage you to acknowledge the things in life you are thankful for, meditate on the good, and squash the negativity.  

Kevin L. Thompson, MA, LPC

This guy got a kick out of it

This guy got a kick out of it