Challenge your negative thoughts

Negative thinking is a part of being human but there are strategies you can use today to change your brain.

March 31, 2017 - Author: Maria Millett, Michigan State University Extension

When is the last time you paid attention to your thoughts? Do you know what it means to “think about what you’re thinking about?” It is easy to live on auto-pilot and go about your day without noticing a single thought traveling through your mind. Researchers are paying attention to our thoughts, and according to Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness program, a person has 80,000 thoughts a day. 90 percent of these thoughts are ones we have had before, and 80 percent of these are negative. Luckily, negative thoughts can be recognized and changed with some intentional focus and lots of practice.

Clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, M.D. outlines nine automatic negative thoughts that many of us experience in his book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Oppressiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness.” This article will focus on one of the nine thinking patterns. Do the following thoughts look or feel familiar to you?

  • “He’s always putting me down”
  • “No one will ever call me”
  • “I’ll never get a raise”
  • “Everyone takes advantage of me”
  • “You always turn away when I touch you”
  • “My children never listen to me”

This is called “always/never” thinking as each thought includes an extreme identifier of never, ever, everyone and always. When “always/never” thoughts cross our mind, they lead to negative feelings. The listed thoughts can evoke feelings of sadness, loneliness, rejection, defeat and more. If we are experiencing these thoughts during 80-90 percent of our day, it is no wonder the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states 1 out of 6 adults will experience depression in their lifetime. 

Noticing these thoughts is the first step to changing them. The next step is to challenge them. When first learning this skill it can be helpful to take a moment and write down thoughts that defy the negative ones. The following includes examples of ways to challenge the thoughts listed above:

  • “He’s always putting me down”
    •  “He is putting me down right now”
  • “No one will ever call me”
    •  “Nobody has called me today”
  • “I’ll never get a raise”
    •  “I have not had a raise in a long time”
  • “Everyone takes advantage of me”
    •  “I feel like this person is taking advantage of me right now”
  • “You always turn away when I touch you”
    • “You turned away when I just touched you”
  • “My children never listen to me”
    •  “My children are not listening to me right now”

The strategy of challenging your thoughts shifts you away from thinking emotionally, and moves you into thinking logically. This allows you to think clearly, problem-solve easier, and view your world from a more realistic point of view.  The best part is your emotions will shift too. Negative thoughts occur very rapidly and often without our knowing. Take the time to notice your thoughts, and practice shifting them to improve your health and well-being. For more assistance, explore Michigan State University Extension’s website and find events that can help you improve your social and emotional health.

Tags: food & health, healthy relationships, msu extension, nurturing families, relax: alternatives to anger, stress less with mindfulness

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