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5 Ways to Challenge Negative Thoughts (With Examples)


Negative thoughts are the brain’s way of smoking a cigarette. Unfortunately, we experience thousands of them daily, which only harms our health. Imagine what we were capable of if we could only tame the naysayer in our minds and challenge those negative thoughts.

Negative thoughts are exhausting. Do you recognize the detrimental impact of your negative thoughts? They affect our health, relationships, and our well-being. It's about time we learned how to challenge negative thoughts.

This article will outline what negative thoughts are and why they are harmful. We will then suggest 5 ways to minimize your propensity to negative thinking. 

What are negative thoughts? 

We have an average of 6,000 thoughts per day. With this many thoughts whirring through our minds, some of these will invariably be on the negative side. 

Negative thinking can create a domino effect. One negative thought can lead to another. Before we know it, we are one big negatron devoid of joy. We become fuelled with pessimism, cynicism, and ill will. 

How often have you experienced something go wrong, and instead of dealing with that isolated issue, you allow it to seep into the rest of your world? 

My thoughts crucified me when I failed my driving test for the first time. The negative thoughts flooded in. I told myself no one liked me, I was a failure, and I would never succeed. All because of one stupid driving test! 

Negative thoughts can show up in different ways.

  • Catastrophizing.
  • Assumptions. 
  • Blame. 
  • Engaging in “should” language. 
  • All or nothing speech. 

This can be a lot to contend with. We can become swamped with negativity. 

How do negative thoughts impact our lives? 

The children’s author Roald Dahl says, “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.” Negative thoughts don’t make us ugly, but they certainly dull our sparkle.

Negative thoughts can wreak havoc in our lives, by leading to: 

  • Depression and anxiety. 
  • Social isolation. 
  • Low self-esteem. 
  • Stress. 
  • Fear. 
  • Drug or alcohol dependence. 

This study shows that repetitive negative thinking in children is associated with emotional problems. 

Negative thinking even infiltrates our sleep hygiene. This study found that high levels of repetitive negative thinking are associated with a delayed time of going to sleep and a shorter sleep duration. 

And then, this sleep disruption only feeds into a vicious cycle of negative thoughts. 

Take a pinch of sleep deprivation and add it into the mix of loneliness and isolation. Then sprinkle in some low self-esteem and poor mental health, and you have the perfect recipe for an unhappy life

5 ways to deal with negative thoughts 

This all sounds very negative, doesn’t it? 

So how can we ensure our negative thinking doesn’t take over our lives and send us spiraling into the gutter?

Here are 5 suggestions to help you deal with negative thoughts. 

1. Explore your thoughts  

Stop the barrage of thoughts by exploring them. Listen to them and then challenge them. 

Try to figure out why you may be thinking a certain way. You might be upset about something or jealous of someone. These feelings could lead to negative thought patterns in different areas.  

Our thoughts fuel our behaviors and our actions. But they are not always linked. 

To reduce our propensity for negative thinking, it is helpful to learn why we are prone to these thoughts in the first place. 

It may feel peculiar initially, but listen out for your negative thoughts and meet them with compassion and discussion. Ask yourself why you are thinking certain things. 

2. Practice gratitude and mindfulness 

A noisy mind often causes negative thoughts. 

Mindfulness is proven to help calm the mind and engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system allows the mind and body to relax. It brings a sense of calm and inner peace

When we are in a state of inner tranquility, we are less prone to negative thoughts. 

Sometimes we spend more energy focusing on what we don’t have than on what we are thankful for.

Our brain's plasticity means we can train it to think more peaceful and positive thoughts. A great way to do this is to engage in a daily gratitude practice. 

  • Keep a gratitude journal. 
  • Build a morning habit of saying out loud 3 things you are grateful for. 
  • Build an evening practice of saying out loud 3 things you were grateful for that occurred that day. 
  • Focus on what you are grateful for in each of your relationships.

3. Lean into kindness 

When we focus on living as kind a life as possible, we invite positive energy into our bodies. 

Kindness is contagious and teachable. When we show compassion to others or ourselves, we release oxytocin, a hormone that helps to increase our optimism and build self-esteem. Kindness also releases serotonin, an instrumental hormone in happiness. 

As our relationship with kindness increases, so too does our: 

  • Energy level. 
  • Happiness. 
  • Sense of pleasure. 
  • Lifespan. 

If you want to learn how to lean into kindness, here's an article of ours that talks about why it's important to always choose kindness (with tips!).

4. Dump your thoughts  

It’s essential to remember that you are not your thoughts. Your thoughts do not define you. 

But sometimes, just ignoring our thoughts does not help them go away. They won't leave out minds and they simply keep attacking us from different angles. 

If you can’t shake your negative thoughts, this is a perfect time to dump them.  

Thought dumping is similar to journaling. You want to produce a free flow of thoughts. Don’t be inhibited; write everything down. Think of this process as word vomit. Scribble the contents of your mind. 

Remember, there is no need to make sense of your thoughts. Please don’t censor them. You are safe, no one will read this. 

Move your negative thoughts from your brain, down through your body, and release them onto the paper. 

There, job done. Thoughts dumped! Now close that book of negativity and keep it locked away until you next need a thought dump. 

5. Challenge your biases  

A cognitive bias is a “systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.”

Our cognitive biases feed into our negative thinking. But many of us are unaware of what biases we are susceptible to and how we can overcome them. 

Here are some articles to help you on your way:

Spend some time learning about cognitive biases, and from here, you can untangle from their clutches.

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Wrapping up 

Negative thinking can be mentally, emotionally, and physically debilitating. If we allow our negative thinking to run amock, we will suffer. This article outlined the impact of negative thinking on our lives. Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many ways to challenge negative thoughts. 

How do you deal with negative thoughts? We would love to hear from you. Let us know your favorite tip in the comments below!

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Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.

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