How To Deal With Negative Thoughts
Photo courtesy of Nathan O'Nions.

How To Deal With Negative Thoughts

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

We have all kinds of thoughts, all the time.

Positive thoughts, sad thoughts, longing, excitement, pain, nostalgia, fear. Some thoughts are meaningless and mundane, others are revelatory. The National Science Foundation estimates that we have 50,000 thoughts each day, 95% of which are repeated each day.

I used to think that just because I thought something, it was what I believed. That the thought represented some Truth within me.

I would think, I haven’t gotten enough done today, and take the thought at face value, automatically believing it and consequently feeling bad about myself.

I would be out at a cafe and think, those people over there are laughing at me, and instantly believe it, causing my confidence to drop a little.

I never used to question my thoughts, I never used to think, maybe they are laughing at something someone at the table said and one of them just happened to make eye contact with me. And anyway, if they were laughing at me, then what the hell is wrong with them? Not me, them.

There are darker thoughts too. Thoughts like, what if this fight with my partner marks the beginning of the end? Or what if I never fully regain my health?

There is a blurry and confusing line between fear and intuition. How do we know whether a thought that produces a “sinking feeling in our gut” is due to our internal compass telling us something or our lizard brain, trying to “protect us” from pain?

There is one simple realization that has helped me deal with the negative thoughts that appear in my head. It is this:

You get to choose which thoughts to believe.

Just because you think something, that doesn’t mean that you believe it. You get to decide which thoughts you accept as truth and which you reject.

Uchiyama refers to thoughts as “mental secretions,” which is pretty amusing and really lowers their value. As I’ve begun meditating over the last few months, I’ve become more and more aware of my thoughts and I’ve noticed just how many of them are total rubbish and don’t serve me in any way.

Becoming aware of your thoughts and questioning them can give you space to consider the tricky ones that might be intuition or might be fear. It can give you space to really think about what’s going on for you.

Fear-based thoughts tend to arise quickly and intensely, making us want to act NOW. Intuition is based on signs over time. If you feel as though you need to change something this instant and it is a fairly new feeling, it’s likely fear. Give it time and question it because it might not be true.

The interesting thing is that, although false and insignificant thoughts will always be around, the more you question and reject your negative thoughts, the less frequently they appear. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I used to think all kinds of terrible things about myself. I rarely have thoughts like this anymore because I worked so hard to replace them and build up my confidence.

I’m writing this post because the notion that your thoughts are not your beliefs and that you can choose which thoughts to believe is a simple but profound idea that has served me well. I thought it would be helpful to share.

However, I’m also writing this as a reminder to myself. During stressful times, it can be hard to remember that you have agency and that you create your reality by choosing your thoughts and directing your focus. But you do, and you can.

Your Turn

Do you question your thoughts? How do you know the difference between intuition and fear/resistance?

em_authorbioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.

10 Comments

  1. Nela says:

    I made questioning my thoughts a regular practice. It took me a while to realize that my thoughts are not truth. It’s always a challenge to stop a downward spiral of worry, but since staring it life has been a lot easier.

    The difference between intuition and resistance is always tricky.
    If my fear is triggered by negative thoughts, and if I manage to calm those thoughts down enough to allow for different emotions, I can discover if there’s excitement, expansion and anticipation behind that fear. If so, it’s obviously just resistance.
    If there is nothing positive behind it, then I take it as an intuitive “no”.

  2. Lauren says:

    I’m glad you’ve found the Prof Mark Williams book useful, it really changed my whole way of thinking when I discovered it last year. The most valuable thing for me is being able to spot negative thought patterns, the ones that used to go around in circles in my head (e.g. “you were such an embarrassment at that party, everyone thought you were an idiot when you said that thing”) and stop those thought patterns in their tracks (“actually nobody even cared/noticed what I said, everybody worries about these things, it’s all fine”). I used to have a major problem with these repeating negative thoughts, but now I see them for what they are, just useless, damaging and untrue thoughts that should be noted but not listened to.

    • Emilie says:

      That book is fantastic, as are the guided meditations which I still do 1-2 times a day. Thanks so much for recommending it! And yeah, I agree, noticing and stopping those spirals makes a huge difference!

      • Lauren says:

        I love the guided meditations, in fact I’ve never got past the body scan one in the middle somewhere so there are some I haven’t even done yet! His voice is so lovely and soothing, and interestingly I met an English woman in India who was on the board of the British Psychological Society and had worked with him for many years. It’s a small world!

  3. Eliza says:

    Funnily enough these kinds of thoughts are what have been keeping me from writing, creating my blog, even commenting on here! Like, what do I actually have to say? Which I am well aware is rubbish, but the thoughts persist. I’ve recently (finally) taken the plunge and started writing again on my brand new blog – albeit not flouting my face or name at forefront of the blog, but I figure small steps are as good as big steps in the long run -and I think that doing what you want to do in spite of the negative thoughts goes a ways towards creating the reality that you’re striving for.

  4. Willi Morris says:

    As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression and obsessive worry, this is a great reminder. Pretty much any negative thought I have, any time I second (or third or fourth) guess myself, I realize it’s just my overactive brain or a reflection of the past, that’s, well..in the past. Thanks Emilie!

  5. Nina says:

    What a great topic.
    I also have been plagued with unexamined thoughts – until I had to work at it to pretty much save my life.
    Now it is definitely much easier & not sure if you have heard of Byron Katie’s “The Work” – 4 very simple questions that challenge your absolute certainty of the truth.
    For anyone starting a blog/new product/venture – I was given the best advice when I had to go very public and expose a lot of myself. My coach at the time told me that when I get my first “hater” it means that I have made it & should probably celebrate.
    And I do think of it that way now. A hater could have prevented me from helping thousands of others who heard some hope.

    My favorite part was when you said “if they are laughing – whats wrong with them??” – that’s gold.

    Thanks
    Nina

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