3 Steps to Stopping Negative Thoughts in Their Tracks

Shy womanDo you find yourself on the never-ending merry-go-round of negative thoughts? You know how it goes: you can’t stop thinking the worst, knowing you’ve screwed up somehow or that the other shoe is about to drop. Maybe you analyze yesterday’s parent-teacher conference, certain that your child’s teacher thinks you are an idiot because you couldn’t figure out how to help with “new math.” Or perhaps you ruminate on the snarky comment your sister made about your new haircut. The negative ticker tape that continues to play in your head can wreak havoc on your mood, your outlook on life, and your health.

It would be impossible not to think a negative thought from time to time—neither would it be mentally balanced. Some of the time, negative thoughts help us view a situation with proper perspective and neutrality. But for some people, negative thoughts dictate, making it difficult to make decisions, choose relationships, work productively, and cultivate a sense of peace within. The soundtrack of negative thoughts becomes destructive, and when thoughts become obsessive, we need to stop the pattern and re-evaluate. An important distinction should be noted: negative thoughts can signal depression, and should be evaluated, but for this article I am discussing negative, ruminating thoughts independent of a diagnosis.

How do you know when your thoughts are negatively impacting your life and you’ve lost objectivity? Do/Are you:

  • … a complainer? Do you complain about nearly everything in your life?
  • … a negative nelly? Has anyone important in your life told you that you are negative?
  • … feel hopeless most of the time?
  • … think everyone is against you?
  • … have a hard time seeing the bright side of things?
  • … trapped in your head thinking the worst?
  • … experiencing physical symptoms related to your negative thoughts?

If this sounds like you, getting help may change your dark lens. Dominantly negative people often become bitter, resentful, fearful, and full of shame—all feelings that erode peace within. Balanced people see the flat tire, think a negative thought, then get busy fixing the tire or calling for help. This is not to say that flat tires, snarky comments, or poor work evaluations don’t bother balanced people, but they have a quicker time resetting their perspective than dominantly negative people. For balance to be present, there must be positivity, hope, and reason.

If your negative thoughts are hurting your outlook, here are some positivity-grabbing tips to consider:

  1. Be a detective. Consider the evidence. For instance, if you interviewed for a job and are certain you failed at your first impression, consider the evidence. Were you polite, on time, and presentable? Were you informative and appropriate? Did your skill set seem to match what they were looking for? If so, congratulations. You interviewed well and it is now in someone else’s hands. Allowing negativity to run rampant is not helping, and it won’t prepare you for a second interview.
  2. Consider alternatives. You’ve interviewed and they haven’t responded yet. Consider the possibilities: they are still interviewing candidates, they are awaiting approval to hire you, they are never going to call you because your interview was awful, and they may call tomorrow. Each possibility has its own voice and perspective, some negative and some positive. Learning to articulate alternatives helps to mold possible positive thoughts.
  3. Let it go. Negative thoughts are just thoughts; they can come and go. Positivity is a choice. What if you itemized all of your negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then burned the paper? What would be left in your mind? Perhaps the space negativity leaves behind can allow positivity to creep in and settle.

Using these tips is a great way to slow or stop the constant harassment of negativity. If you can cultivate a new perspective to look at life’s events in a more balanced way, you’ll find yourself happier and healthier.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC, Obsessions and Compulsions / OCD Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Bea

    November 17th, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Sometimes you just have to give yourself a good old fashioned talking to, you know?
    It is not fun and it is not pretty but neither is all of the negative self talk going on either and you just have to come to the point that even though you really feel like beating yourself up about something, what good is that really going to ever do?
    I have learned over the years that you want to be angry and have that release but I sure do get a whole lot more accomplished if I talk positive thoughts and emanate that energy versus all of the negativity.

  • Lana

    November 17th, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    What is it about most of us that we always end up second guessing ourselves, whereas if we would just trust that we have done a fine job then all likelihood we will find out in the end that that is the truth?

  • Danni E.

    November 18th, 2014 at 3:43 AM

    The only problem with this is that I am not a negative thinker per se but seem to be surrounded by a whole lot of other negative nellies who seem to have no idea just how much they bring everyone else down with the way that they think and they talk.
    Any solutions for curing that, or do I just need to surround myself with other people?

  • jim

    November 18th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    You know what else works? Refusing to surround yourself with that same negativity that you are accustomed to feeding yourself. It can be a trap to get into the same old conversations and patterns with other people in our lives who are negative- how are we supposed to relate to them if we too don’t express that same level of negativity? But that can be the most harmful thing, to allow these to be the people that you are listening to and feeding off of. If you surround yourself with this then of course this is going to continue to be your go to method for coping as well. Why not surround yourself with a little more positivity in life? I guarantee that the thoughts that you have in your head will be ten times better if you simply change the ones you are with the majority of the time especially if their own attitudes are doing a great deal to contribute to yours.

  • Ella

    November 19th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    You have to set some goals for yourself and one biggie for me has been a commitment to trying a little harder to see things from the bright side. I have always been more of a glass half empty kind of person, I think that I learned that perspective very early on from my own parents.

    But I have also learned a little about myself in that this is not how I choose to see the world for the rest of my life, so I have to stop with all of the negative thoughts and have something positive to fill their space instead.

  • wyatt p

    November 21st, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    you might know that this is you if everyone around you starts telling you that they just can’t be around you anymore because you tend to bring the whole vibe down

  • Mike

    November 22nd, 2014 at 1:01 AM

    If someone tells me they “surround themselves with positivity” or “attract positive energy into their lives,” I view that as a major red flag. It means that person can’t tolerate painful or distressing emotions and can’t accept the unpleasant parts of life and of other people. In fact, I think it’s a mistake to label thoughts as “positive” or “negative.” That’s a form of judgment. Instead, you can refer to thoughts as “difficult,” “distressing,” “despairing,” “optimistic,” “cheerful,” etc. and you can focus more on the emotions behind the thought. All too often the idea of “stopping a negative thought” becomes confused with a lack of acknowledgement of the emotion behind it.

  • Jasmine

    April 27th, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    I agree Mike on people that surround themselves in positivity. That means they can’t deal with reality. I know someone like this, she is so nice all the time and she’s always positive about everything and I noticed that she’s so happy and positive that she doesn’t think anything is wrong with her and that she’s perfect. If you tell her you don’t like something she said or did, she burst into tears and cries as if you hit her. Not realizing everybody doesn’t think the same and what you like isn’t what I like. And when her son cheats and does things that a woman should leave him for she tries to find something positive about the situation. I mean it’s great to be positive but don’t help someone sweep their problems under a rug. I think negative all the time but it’s only when necessary and when something triggers it. Like my relationship for instance, if you betray me or you’re disloyal, I’ve lost trust therefore I’m going to be negative most of the time until I can trust you again but if I become consumed with what you’re doing and worried about you I need to move on. People cause you to be negative!


    November 22nd, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    I have a very hard time looking at things without often seeing another alternative. What I mean by that is that I was raised in a home where there was so much negativity and never any happiness, I knew that I wanted something different in my own life. There are days when it is so hard, but I still believe that there is good out there and I will do what I can to make that a part of my life. I grew up shrouded in only the darkness that fear and anger bring, I want more than that for myself now.

  • Jillian

    March 1st, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    One’s life will always be effected by having joyless, negative parents. I have/had them too. I try my best to repel their negativity but it is part of my world view. I often wonder how much more I could have achieved (and I haven’t done too bad) with a little positive re-enforcement. I feel so sorry for them. They are very sad people.

  • Jim M.

    March 2nd, 2015 at 2:51 AM

    Jillian, in the case parents are major factor for a child’s negative thoughts is it healthier to cut all ties with the parents in order to achieve peace?

  • Jesse

    November 24th, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    This is great advice for the “normal” person going through a negative phase or time of stress. It doesn’t apply well to obsessive compulsive types. Logic disappears, and although the thoughts can be recognised as unrealistic and unfounded, they are persistent and unrelentless nonetheless. The shut off button that tells most people that it’s OK to relax and move on, just doesn’t exist. Even when they know it’s illogical. Really tough situation for everyone involved.

  • Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC

    November 25th, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Great comments! Sounds like negativity has really struck a nerve with some of you. All of the suggestions are helpful, and while this is meant for the “normal” person, we can all benefit from reminders. Thank you!

  • Margaret M

    April 26th, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Nothing works with PTSD. My therapist is traumatizing me with their answers.

  • Elizabeth

    April 26th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Please seek a trained trauma specialist – this saved my life. Various places offer referrals including sidran and ISSTD.

  • Yolanda Harper, LCSW

    July 2nd, 2015 at 9:50 AM

    Hi there,

    Please find a therapist that specializes in a rapid resolution therapy technique like Accelerated Resolution Therapy. These techniques are client-focused and allow your brain to heal itself. This way, you’re not being re-traumatized. And even better, they work in as little as 3-5 sessions, depending on what your experiences have been. You can feel better!

  • Jasmine

    April 27th, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    I think all negativity comes from bad experiences. They really take a big chunk of your happiness away but I feel like in order to get over it you have to cry or whatever you need to do to help get through it. Smiling and laughing, drinks, drugs won’t work because they just help not think of it but when you get alone or sober up it will come back to you and you’re not being true to yourself to not let your mind and body take you to that sad, negative state. You have to get the anger out or it moves on with you. It’s like releasing the bad energy back into the universe and it may take more than once to go there but it’s different for each person. I know after a good cry and going into deep thought helps me. Prayer will also clear your mind. When I pray it’s like I have that worry and issue to God, but I didn’t think positive to make it go away. I had to face it abs the person that causes this constant negativity you need to let them know. Yes it will upset them as well but that means they need to figure out what they did and why they did it and face their issues as well.

  • tracy

    July 2nd, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    I’ve been negative for many years and I’m only 31. But since I lost my job in October, I’ve really been working on getting myself to turn 180° into a positive person. It’s hard, but I believe in myself.

  • Tara

    November 6th, 2016 at 6:15 AM

    I have always had difficulty with “let it go?” Especially regarding rumination. What if you write the though and burn and peace of paper and it comes back? A quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I found to be more effective, “It’s not a matter of letting go – you would if you could. Instead of ‘Let it go’ we should probably say ‘Let it be’.” In DBT and ACT we would use metaphors, viewing thoughts as items on a conveyor belt, or leaves on a stream – we don’t try to push them away, but we don’t pick them off.

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