Three Ways to Deal with Negative Thinking
June 16, 2014 § 1 Comment
Birds chitter in the forest canopy overhead, their songs intermingling in delightful cacophony. You breathe deeply, slowly, savouring the earthy, fresh woodland aromas. A few lucky rays of sun reach your face, bringing a welcome warmth.
You hunch over your latest project with a furious concentration. In those moments, it is all consuming, and there is nothing but it. In a moment of miraculous serendipity, something just ‘clicks’ and everything falls into place.
These are all moments that stay with us throughout our lives. Moments of complete and utter immersion in the experience, moments that utterly disregard our fears and worries, when we are at our happiest and least burdened. It’s the state of being ‘in flow‘, of complete focus and rapture.
Mankind’s evolution towards our self-conscious state is responsible not only for our continued survival, but our thriving as a species. However, in an era where we seem to have more time to worry and more things to worry about, our state of ‘self-consciousness’ can often feel like a burden. Our mind niggles away at us, and we often find that we second-guess ourselves, imagining problems and issues that will never come to be. These patterns of thought can often lead to health issues such as anxiety and depression. When faced with such risks, then, it is vital that we take responsibility for our thoughts, and strive to immerse ourselves in our own experience more often. How do we go about this?
1. Stop Fighting Your Thoughts
Have you ever tried to fall asleep and, just as you’re about to cross the border between reality and dream-land, seemingly sabotaging thoughts like “I’ll never get to sleep” or “I’m not tired” pop into your mind. This triggers a cycle of thinking about trying to sleep, which entirely sabotages any chances of actually falling asleep. The same thing can be said about negative thought patterns. The more you fight thoughts that arise, the more attention you put towards such patterns, potentially worsening them. Not only that, but the cognitive dissonance experienced when you indulge in negative thinking yet vainly attempt to fight your thoughts worsens the situation, and potentially creates further feelings of inferiority and futility.
Over-thinking, over-analysing separates the body from the mind. Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind. –Tool
Truthfully, you can’t stop every single negative thought that comes into your mind. Sure, you can choose not to indulge in them, but they’ll always be there. The key to dealing with them is to simply let them pass. ‘Is it that simple?’, you might ask? Pretty much! Understand that your thoughts do not define you, that they’re often wholly separate from ‘you’. Learn not to indulge or even fight your negative thoughts as they arise, but simply to observe them, and let them pass. The ‘reconceptualisation’ phase in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is somewhat similar, in that it challenges negative belief systems and patterns of thought. Mindfulness is another useful up-and-coming practice, mentioned here before, best described as:
…a kind of non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. –Scott Bishop
2. Keep Yourself Busy
By that, I don’t mean ‘work 60+ hours a week until you collapse’. While this will distract you from your thoughts temporarily, your quality of life will be, like so many adults, lacking, due to various factors, chiefly stress. Keep your free time filled with activities that enrapture and excite you, that put you in this ‘in flow’ state, where you are too preoccupied with your ‘mission’ to over-think. Even the routine of exercise, whilst not ‘exciting’, is a hugely beneficial presence for both physical and mental well-being, as we’ve been told by countless scientists and experts, again and again.
If you prefer your own company, you don’t necessarily have to go out and socialise, but some social activities in short bursts can be beneficial, even for introverts. Your social networks are vital in being happy. Strive to surround yourself with people you admire, people who are happy and a positive influence in your life.
3. Use Action Instead of Rumination
If a thought simply keeps returning despite your attempts, sometimes the thought might have an element of truth to it that has been blown out of proportion. Perhaps you’re beating yourself up for not being productive, you experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, or you feel unfit and unattractive. Taking action in regards to such thoughts and feelings is absolutely vital. We often get stuck in an ‘analysis paralysis‘, where we expend a huge amount of mental energy over-analysing, but fail to take any actual practical measures in solving our problems.
In such a dilemma, the only solution is to spit in the face of your fears and take action. Leaving your comfort zone is difficult, sure, but once you take those steps you’ll feel a pride that can never be experienced by staying comfortable. Action for Happiness is an interesting online community movement that provides a good deal of support in pursuing happiness through action. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Try to keep this in mind as they arise. Observe them as the products of your imagination that they are, and you’ll find yourself a great deal happier.