Buh-Bye Negative Thoughts!

YOU can change the wiring of your brain, and live a happier and healthier life as a result.  How awesome is that?

 Photo Credit: Ed Bell, 2014

Photo Credit: Ed Bell, 2014

I frequently get asked by people how to break free from negative thinking.  Some people are convinced that their brain is just a negative black hole of thoughts, and that they are stuck with it. The good news?  That is totally not true!  Your brain is so freaking complicated and amazing, and new research even supports that your brain can be retrained.  Neural pathways can be created, and weak ones can be strengthened.  If you've spent years thinking negatively, your brain has been wired to think that way.  Work at changing it, and you actually rewire your brain to think in a new healthy way.  This is so powerful.  YOU can change the wiring of your brain, and live a happier and healthier life as a result.  How awesome is that?  Take responsibility for your thinking and problems.  No more pointing the finger at other people.  Other people are not the problem-- your thoughts are.  So let's put in the work, and change them together.

Here are my top recommendations for rewiring your brain to think in a way that supports a happy and healthy life:

1) Identify your negative thoughts.  Observe them.  Write them down.  It's hard to change your thinking if you're not exactly sure what your thoughts are.  Carry around a thought journal for a few days, and jot down whatever thoughts arise.  Take note of the external events going on when you experience negative thoughts.  You're essentially a researcher collecting data on yourself.

2) Identify that your thoughts are just that... thoughts.  They're not absolute truths.  Just because you think it, doesn't mean its a fact.  When you notice a negative thought arise you can even label it.  For example, think, "Oh, that is just a thought."  Also, recognize that your negative thoughts are self-harming.  They are holding you back from your full potential.  When you label your thought, beef it up like so, "Oh, that is just a harmful thought, and it is not serving me any good."

3) Replace your old thought with a better, realistic, and more positive thought.  For example, if you always think about how awful work is and that your life sucks because of your job, how could you turn that around into something more beneficial?  Perhaps you remind yourself that your job is your current reality, but it is merely a stepping stone in your life's journey (It doesn't have to be forever).  It's not a death sentence.  You're not in hell.  Your job provides you with some benefits (like money) even if it is not an ideal amount.  Your job is teaching you a valuable lesson in life.  Can you find the lesson?  Trust that you're on the right path for you life.  You're exactly where you're supposed to be.  These are just some examples.  If finding the positive is hard, maybe ask a friend you trust (or ideally your therapist!) to help you.  Write these new thoughts down, and review them frequently.  

4) Believe your new positive thought, AND believe that your old negative thought is just harmful crap!  If you don't buy into this it won't work.  This is where things get complicated, and having a therapist is highly beneficial to help you challenge your old belief system and ways of thinking. Your negative thoughts are frequently grounded in deep underlying beliefs that you might not be aware of.  I recommend reading "A Guide To Rational Living" by Albert Ellis to learn more about this.

6) Think less.  Yes, that's right. Think way less.  Our brains are pretty wild and easily distracted.  Learn how to control your brain through practices such as yoga and meditation (or neurofeedback if you're working with a therapist). Become conscious of the present moment, and be there fully.  For example, don't think about eating the apple, really experience and eat the apple without the narrative in your head.  Get out of your head.  When you're fully present and really living life, there's no time for negative thoughts.

7) Keep at it.  This takes time.  This is deep and valuable work that needs to be done in order to set yourself free.  If you've been thinking a certain way for 25 years, it's going to take longer than a day to think differently.  Be patient.  If you get down on yourself for thinking negatively you're in a vicious cycle.  Some days will be easier than others.  But I do know this: you've got this!  I believe in you.  Please, believe in yourself.  You're so strong and capable of so much!

Also, have you tried working with a psychologist?  A psychologist can really help work you through this process.  You don't have to go to therapy forever.  It doesn't mean you're crazy!  If you are deeply hurting, feel hopeless, are debilitated by your thinking, and think you are depressed take it seriously and get the help you need... but it also does not need to be this extreme to warrant getting help.  Don't spend years of your precious life feeling bad when there are so many people who can help you take action.

Are you ready to make these powerful changes to your life?  How would your life be different if you changed the way you thought?  How would you feel if you were free from your negative thoughts?