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5 Helpful Ways to Challenge Negative Thoughts and Take Control

Negative thinking can be as automatic as breathing. But what we choose to do with these thoughts determines our well-being and happiness levels. We can allow these thoughts to consume us or we can fend them off and prevent them from taking hold of us. 

Astonishingly, 80% of our thoughts are negative! While we all have negative thoughts, the difference lies in how we control these thoughts. Negative thinking can have a devastating impact on our lives. It is associated with poor well-being and has a detrimental impact on our mental health. 

This article will discuss the impact and causes of negative thinking. It will suggest 5 effective ways to combat negative thinking. 

Positive thinking versus negative thinking 

Have you heard of a positive mental attitude? A positive mental attitude is the opposite of negative thinking.

While it doesn’t ignore the negatives of situations, it helps us function in a manner that makes the most of something regardless of the circumstances. 

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.

Henry Ford

A positive mental attitude is empowering. It helps us control our minds and build tools to conquer negative thinking. It improves our: 

  • Resilience. 
  • Acceptance. 
  • Optimism. 
  • Integrity. 

On the flip side, negative thinking can make our lives miserable. It is associated with several health implications, including: 

  • Low self-esteem. 
  • Depression. 
  • Anxiety. 
  • Stress. 

Negative thinking can make our lives miserable when left unchecked. Read on to learn several helpful ways to control your negative thoughts. 

What causes negative thinking? 

The question of what causes negative thinking is an age-old debate, similar to the chicken and the egg.

Does negative thinking cause depression, or does depression cause negative thinking? I think it is fair to suggest that both can happen. 

If we leave our negative thoughts unchallenged, we may walk straight into depression. 

Our brains are complex and clever machines. The amygdala in the brain is responsible for recognizing emotions and storing memories. It is a library of feelings and emotions from past experiences. It categorizes memories with the feelings they invoked, which isn’t always beneficial. 

For instance, when we feel nervous, we may be inclined to think of a negative memory associated with feelings of nervousness. This, in turn, may trigger us to believe a certain negative outcome in our current circumstances is inescapable. 

Have you noticed how people report negative experiences more quickly than they report positive? There’s a suggestion that if you have a bad meal, you are more likely to tell people about it than if you have a good meal. Negative memories are often stronger than our positive memories

This means that our brains find it easier to access our negative experiences. 

5 ways to challenge negative thoughts

I understand it can be challenging not to succumb to the negative messages all around us. Challenging negative thoughts is not denying negativity exists. It is about arming ourselves with the tools to function healthily and set ourselves up for success instead of wallowing in a sea of negativity. 

While we all need to offload or have a little rant now and then, the reality is that no one wants to be around perpetually negative people. If you work on controlling your negative thoughts, you will increase your well-being and improve your relationships. 

1. Keep a positive perspective 

Except for bereavement, things are often never as bad as they seem. The key is to keep perspective and recognize when negative thoughts creep in.

How would you react if you received news that your wedding venue has burned down and you have to change your plans at short notice?  

This type of news can pull the rug out from under you, but it does not mean your whole wedding is going to be a disaster. 

All too often, in these circumstances, we will have negative thoughts such as: 

  • “We will never find another venue in time.” 
  • “The wedding is now going to be a disaster.” 
  • “We can’t fix this.”
  • “This is an omen for the marriage.” 

None of these thoughts are helpful. It’s time to counter these negative thoughts with more positive thoughts and jump into action. 

  • “We will find another venue, no problem.”
  • “It may not be what we want, but at least we can still have our day.” 
  • “We are lucky this didn’t happen during the wedding.” 
  • “Let’s draw up a list of who can maybe help us find a new venue and make all the necessary changes.” 

2. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking 

When something goes wrong, it can trigger an avalanche of negative thoughts in our minds. We take the stance that if we have failed at one task, we will automatically fail at all the others. This all-or-nothing thinking is hugely debilitating. 

To counter this, learn to recognize when this type of negative thinking occurs and follow this process: 

  • Recognize the negative thought. 
  • Counter this thought with a positive thought. 
  • Reinforce the new thought with an example of an experience. 
  • Repeat. 

So instead of allowing a negative thought spiral to continue, it’s time to counter it. 

For example, when training for a race, I often find myself catching negative thoughts when things don’t go well:

 “That was an awful training session! Tomorrow will be even worse, and I probably won’t be ready for my race”. 

Now, when I hear this type of thought, I can stop the escalation of the spiral with a counterthought:

 “I am not defined by one bad training session. We all have bad days. Tomorrow is another day, and I will do all I can to prepare for my race.” 

Can you see the difference? The second example is empowering, whereas the first example is only limiting your confidence in the future!

3. Keep a gratitude diary

We can train ourselves to notice the positives. We can learn to focus on positive events and conjure up positive thoughts. 

This is where the benefits of a gratitude diary come in. There are no hard and fast rules on how to keep a gratitude diary. Start by writing down 5 things you are grateful for at the end of the day. 

Today, I am grateful for: 

  • A gorgeous blue sky with no rain. 
  • Having the time to sit on the lawn with my dog and enjoy my tea. 
  • A delicious leftover pot of homemade lentil soup. 
  • My interactions with a ladybird.  
  • An impromptu text from a friend. 

See how you get on. 

A gratitude diary can help you notice everything you are thankful for. In time, we can even learn to notice the things we are thankful for in a negative situation.

For example, I had a lousy meal last night, but the service was good. The waitress was lovely and kind. Despite the poor food, I am grateful for the waitress. 

4. Practice mindfulness  

Learn to take a step back. 

When we practice mindfulness, we become more observant of our minds. Our thoughts are free to come and go, and we can learn to keep our thoughts flowing. 

Mindfulness allows us to watch the thoughts in our heads and not react to them. This helps us to remain calm and collected regardless of our thoughts. 

Ultimately mindfulness is about staying in the present. It stops us from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

By this very nature, it helps us break negative thinking patterns. Often, our negative thinking relies on past experience and future projections. 

When practicing mindfulness effectively, we only deal with the here and now. 

5. Be your own best friend

We are dreadful to ourselves. 

If we spoke to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we wouldn’t have many friends left. You don’t need to take this garbage. Call yourself out on the negative thoughts. Stand up for yourself. Listen to the bully part of your brain as it berates and criticizes you, and tell it to stop. 

You know what I am talking about. When your brain comes out with stuff like: 

  • “You are a loser; I can’t believe you did X, Y, Z.” 
  • “You will fail.” 
  • “You can’t do that.” 
  • “You are not good enough.”
  • “You are such a joke.”

Show yourself compassion. Recognize that you have the power to change, improve and grow. One failure or negative experience does not define you. 

It’s time to speak to yourself as you would talk to your best friend. Be supportive, encouraging, and forgiving. And more to the point, don’t believe your negative opinion of yourself. 

Wrapping up 

If we let negative thinking get its claws into us, we will suffer. The great news is that we can challenge our negative thoughts and opt for a happier and healthier life. 

As we discussed, our brains are more likely to present us with negative thoughts than positive ones. But we don’t need to accept these. We can counter these thoughts and reject them.

ali wyllie portrait

Ali Hall


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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