Our thoughts are primarily negative all day without realizing it. While that can sometimes serve as a protective measure, more often those negative, unmanaged thoughts only make us very unhappy.
The primary, proven step is to catch an unhelpful thought (meaning you have to be mindful and breathing deeply enough for your brain to get enough fresh oxygen to make great decisions), then vividly imagine a red, octagonal STOP sign and shout STOP! If you are around others, I’d advise you to shout silently, but with some emotion. That should short circuit your problem thought for 2 to 6 seconds, so you need to immediately substitute it with an entirely different, accurate, positive thought, or even a problem such as, “Where did I leave the keys to ___?”
Why don’t you take your most troubling thought right now? When you have troubling thoughts it is a great opportunity to practice CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Originally introduced to treat depression it is now used for a variety of issues, such as negative thoughts, anxieties, fearful thoughts, unnecessary worry and a host of other troublesome automatic thinking patterns. A thought record is one of the fundamental tools in CBT.
The underlying principle can be summarized as “what do you believe, and why do you believe it and are you aware of the feeling/emotion in your body when you think this thought?”. A columned thought record can be used to:
• identify negative automatic thoughts (NATs)
• help you understand the links between thoughts and emotions
• examine the evidence for and against a selected NAT – is it true, what can be done about it or if it isn’t true then what is true, accurate and reasonable thinking instead of falsely ruminating
In therapy clients often need assistance and practice at identifying the link between thoughts and emotions before they move on to challenging thoughts and substituting more helpful thoughts for less helpful ones. Some clients might find it helpful to practice identifying NATs using a Simple Thought Record before introducing the complexity of evidence-gathering and thought challenging.
The principle stems from Socratic Reasoning (is it true, is it always true, then is it false, is it always false)
The simplest version is:
What is your core belief (negative thought)?
List 3 reasons why it is true (or useful, or why I want it):
List 3 reasons why it might not be true (or why it would not be good for me):
What could you do to improve or eliminate this situation:
Our thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Positive thoughts lead to us feeling good and negative thoughts can put us down. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts. They are often negative or at least not useful. They can even apply to ruminations about romantic partners lost or present.
Oftentimes, our automatic thoughts are negative and irrational – sometimes not but can still be intrusive and unwanted. Identifying these negative automatic thoughts and replacing them with new rational thoughts can improve our mood.