On Monday I talked about tracking our thoughts, whether they’re positive or negative. Tracking our thoughts helps us better understand the kinds of things we’re saying to ourselves on a daily basis.
Because our thoughts can affect our body image and, of course, how we see ourselves — whether we deem ourselves worthy of respect and love, whether we deem ourselves worthy of our own appreciation.
Today, I’m sharing a few facts about negative thoughts and how we can cope with them. Because it’s easy to spend years ruled by our negative thoughts, believing wholeheartedly they’re reflections of reality, and, as such, believing we must act accordingly.
Thankfully, that’s not true at all.
Facts About Negative Thoughts
- Negative thoughts are not gospel. They’re not accurate portrayals of reality. Just because you have the thought, “I don’t deserve to be loved” or “I am hideous” or “I can’t do anything right,” doesn’t make it true. Our brains tend toward negative thinking naturally. Plus, our thoughts are shaped by our upbringing, culture and society. So those negative thoughts may simply be a regurgitation of what you’ve heard and seen for years — but that doesn’t make them true.
- As one expert defined them, negative thoughts are “knee-jerk reactions of the mind.” They’re a response to uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment and other challenges. “[Negative thoughts] say more about [how] the brain is wired than about our particular situation.”
- You don’t have to resign yourself to a life of cruel thoughts. You can challenge and change your thoughts. It’s a skill you can learn. You also can learn other skills that are incredibly helpful, such as being more self-compassionate.
Suggestions for Navigating Negative Thoughts
- Observe your negative thoughts as if you’re a bystander. Try not to get wrapped up in their web. For instance, visualize your thoughts as clouds passing in the sky. Watch them like a movie — like listening to a character’s dialogue. In other words, you can separate yourself from your thoughts.
- When a negative thought arises, meet it with compassion and a kind gesture. Don’t get mad at yourself for having negative thoughts. Simply take a deep breath, and put your hands on your heart and say, “It’ll be OK. I’m OK.” (Or any similar phrase that resonates with you.)
- Sometimes our thoughts and feelings get mixed up. But don’t mistake feelings for facts, either. In other words, just because you feel like a loser doesn’t mean you are a loser. Just because you feel worthless, doesn’t mean you are worthless. This tip comes from Glenn Schiraldi’s book The Self-Esteem Workbook. “Remember that feelings result from our thoughts. If our thoughts are distorted (as they often are when we’re stressed or depressed), then our feelings may not reflect reality. So question your feelings. Ask, ‘What would someone who is 100 percent inadequate (or bad, guilty, hopeless, etc.) be like? Am I really that?’ …When our thoughts become more reasonable, our feelings become brighter.”
- What also can help is reframing your thoughts. Instead of saying, “I am hideous,” say, “I feel hideous today, but I know I’m not. I’m just upset.”
- Identify your needs. Sometimes negative thoughts might be masking our needs. When negative thoughts arise, ask yourself: “What do I really need?” You might be launching into a litany of negative thoughts because you’re tired, and thereby need a nap. You might be starving, and need to eat. You might be anxious or stressed out, and need a walk or run or to talk with a trusted loved one.
- You don’t have to act on negative thoughts. Just because you think you don’t deserve to practice self-care doesn’t mean you stop doing so. In other words, ignore your thoughts. Keep taking positive action, anyway. Your thoughts can tell you what they want, but you have better things to do than to listen and accommodate them. You’re too busy doing the things you love, and savoring your life.
What helps you in navigating negative thoughts?