Challenge Your Negative Thinking: 5 Steps to Take Control Back

We all have gone through a time when our thoughts just took control of us. We miss out on sleep, we can’t enjoy our favorite shows, we can’t even catch a break doing dishes. We want to stop thinking about whatever it is, a break-up, some regrettable incident, a mistake we made in our past, but we just can’t seem to move past it. It keeps creeping in, taking over our day and sabotaging our plans until we get to the point when we just flat out stop making plans all together.

The problem is we just keep reliving those moments time and time again. Like a movie… on repeat… with no stop button. We finally get to the point when we feel prisoner to our thoughts and surrender ourselves to this idea of living in this stuck spot. We’ve tried everything (at least everything we can think of) to move on, quiet our thoughts and get on with our life, but to no end. We hunker down and resort ourselves to the idea of feeling this way for-ev-er.

Kind of a bummer way to operate, huh? What if I told you there is actually a logical way around these thoughts? A way that is straightforward and manageable? News Flash: you can climb out of this sticky, icky, muddy stuck spot and start living back in control of your thoughts again! Easy-peasy.

Did you know that an emotion only lasts about 90 seconds? I bet you’re thinking “right, this lady is out of her mind.” It’s true! It’s a super fast amount of time, the problem is we feel like it lasts forever. Why is that, you may ask? Because we continue to keep the story alive with our thoughts. Our thoughts help us relive the story over and over again. Simplified truth: It’s the way we are thinking about an event that maintains the emotion, not actually the event it's self.

Think of this example: Two children walk to the park, each with an ice cream cone. Both of their ice creams drop on the ground right before they get to the playground. One child cries for 20 minutes continuously talking about his dropped ice cream and how unfair it was that his ice cream dropped. The other had a few sniffles when the ice cream dropped, but quickly gathered himself and was easily side tracked by the new slide on the playground. Same event, same situation, different patterns of thought. One continued to relive the event over and over, keeping the feelings alive by picturing the ice cream dropping and focusing on how unfair it was. The other was able to be in the sad moment with the dropped ice cream and then move on when they got to the playground. The second child didn’t fixate on what had gone wrong, but rather what was next in front of him. My goal is to help you think more like this second child, the one who was able to move on from the sad event.

Here are 5 steps you can use to help change your negative thought cycle:

  1. First take in a deep breath and hold it, feel your heart beat slow and allow yourself to fall into the moment. Now take a brief inventory of your environment and identify what is actually going on in this moment. What is the situation or the event. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with and what are you talking about with them? Write all of this down.

  2. Next take an inventory of your thoughts. Be curious and notice all the things that are swirling around up in your mind. How are you thinking about this event or situation? Write this down next to the situation or event.

  3. Now take a moment to identify how you are feeling. You might be feeling angry, sad, hurt, frustrated, embarrassed, etc. Write down all of the feelings you are experiencing right now. You may find that some of your feelings are conflictual or perhaps they don’t make sense. Don’t worry about that, just jot them down.

  4. Now go back and take a look at your emotions and decide if you like the way you are feeling right now. If the answer is no, check in on your thoughts. Try to see the situation from a different point of view, perhaps from a more neutral point of view. Sometimes our thoughts play tricks on us and they are not actually rooted in the truth. Challenge your thoughts and see if you can rebalance them to resemble what is actually happening.

  5. Finally, go back to your feelings and see if they changed with you altered the way you were thinking about the event. My guess is yes.

Sometimes we encounter events that do truly make us feel mad, sad, or hurt and that is okay. Not every event or situation will be easy to see in a different light, be patient and understanding with yourself. The goal here is to help train your brain to see things in a more neutral light, not to cure yourself of all the uncomfortable feelings, thats not realistic. And, if I’m being totally honest, it’s not healthy. We want to be able to experience and sit with any emotion that comes up. The difference is we don’t want that emotion outstaying it’s welcome.