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How to deal with Negative Thinking Patterns effectively?

Our emotions are dependant on what we think about our situations. Read on to learn how to change your emotional reactions and deal with negative thinking patterns effectively.

In my previous post, The 5 Negative Thinking Patterns I have written about common errors we make in explaining ourselves about our situations, leading to misjudgments, anxiety, anger, and blocks in communication.

To get the maximum benefit of this article, please do read that before you proceed further.

So now that we are aware of how our thinking affects our emotional reactions and make errors in judgement, how do we deal with it?

Self Awareness

Awareness is always the first step. Once you are aware of the thought behind the emotion – if the thought changes – the emotional reaction also changes.

how you interpret situations and react to them

Now that we know that it is ‘what we think about the situation’ that matters, what if we tackle these negative thoughts, as soon as they start? Think of it like mental judo.

What if I am not good enough? Identify, challenge & block

What if everyone will laugh at me? Identify, challenge & block

What if I will be alone forever and nobody loves me? Identify, challenge & block

Everyone is out to get me and reason for all my problems! Identify, challenge & block

I am sure you’re thinking – easier said than done. So lets first see how if we change our thought, our emotional reaction will change and then discuss strategies to do so.

how changing the thought can change the reaction

So in the above sequence –

Step 1

You are filtering the mental chatter and suddenly a situation has triggered an emotional negative thinking pattern.

Step 2

You feel and accept the emotion and identify the thought that caused it.
” I am angry that someone broke my favorite bottle. Definitely, I will not be able to find another. I loved it and now he intentionally broke it. He wants to hurt me”.
And the blame game is beginning. So what should you do? Block the thought and change it.

Step 3

You need to challenge this thought, distract it, or look at it from a different point of view.
“It happens. Even I accidentally break things. This is not the end of the world. It could be repaired. In Japan, they coat the broken lines of repaired things with gold as a reminder of imperfections. Or I can look for another…maybe this is an opportunity to buy a better model!”

Step 4

Feel how your feelings and body respond as the thought changes. The tension and frustration are leaving, the stress is reducing and you feel calmer and happier.

So that we know it can be done, let’s list out strategies to block negative thinking and change it into productive helpful thinking.

Strategies for dealing with Negative Thinking Patterns

1. Finding Evidence

Challenge your thoughts. If you are blaming yourself or others for your misfortunes- stop and challenge. Is it true? Do I have any proof of these conclusions I am jumping too?

Example of Negative Thinking

A young writer has written his first book. The idea was liked by the publishers but he has got no response from them in two days. His brain is beginning to imagine scenarios and his body is feeling the stress-

“They hated the writing. I am an awful writer. They will definitely scrap the project.”

“Mark suggested that I should go to this publisher. If they reject me, it is all his fault. He urged me to submit the manuscript to them.”

“This is all such a terrible mistake. I should never have written this book. It was a very dumb idea, to begin with…I am doomed to fail.”

“My father told me that I should not be a writer, maybe he was right….”

Strategies to Counter Negative Thinking Patterns

  • Start your thought with – That’s not true because….
  • Paint a vivid picture of your new thoughts. Since you are fighting your own imagination – the productive thought needs to be detailed, precise and something you can see clearly in your mind.

Example of Changed Positive Thinking

At this point he needs to take a deep breath and identify the negative thought patterns. See them clearly and identify these thoughts , challenge and block them. Now he needs to replace them.

In order to do so, he needs to clearly imagine – the call coming from the publishers and the congratulatory words they will say, the book is printed with a large number of copies and is sold out! He needs to imagine how all the critics and readers will applaud him for his wonderful and uplifting words!

“That’s not true because I have done all the research on this subject. I have made some of my friends read the manuscript and it is good, if not great!”

“If rejected, it is not Mark’s fault. He was only trying to help…”

“It’s not true that this was a terrible idea. I was born to do this. Over time I have developed skills to get here and finished this project with passion.”

“My father has his opinions, and I must respect them. But his perspective is from his experiences and may not necessarily show the truth of my world.”

happy man

With these thoughts and vivid pictures of a more positive outcome, the mind and body will begin to relax. Even if there is a situation where the writer needs to work more on the manuscript, he will be better prepared to face the outcome and be more productive and resilient.

2. Re-framing the Situation

Since we know that our reactions to situations are “what we explain to ourselves that the situation is” – Let’s change the explanation. When you explain a situation to yourself which depletes your energy and makes you angry, anxious, or sad – stop, think, and challenge it!

Example of Negative Explanation

On 8th July 2020, I updated the program which lets me access my website. This was when my website was not live and everything was stored only locally on the computer. After the upgrade, the program stopped working.

I tried restarting the computer, clicking multiple times, and asking a friend for help. All to no avail! I thought I had lost my website and all the written content! I went online for support and after reading some helpful tips, I followed all the steps written, some major errors started to show up! Everything was falling apart in my mind and I had lost everything!

My head started to spin, my body felt weak and I could feel the stress rise multifold in all areas of my body making me feel sick in the stomach…Also that day I was fasting, meaning my already empty body felt more defenseless. Suddenly I felt myself lead into a rabbit hole of negative explanations…

“This is permanent. I will never be able to access my posts now. All my hard work is gone”.

“I have tried everything and failed miserably! For sure, I am doomed. I cannot find the strength to start again..”

“Surely, I will not meet my deadline for launching the website. I will not be able to write all the content again…this is the worst possible day…”

To this day, I can still feel how the dread loomed over me. Then after some tears, I stopped myself and decided to re-frame my explanation. To look at the situation from a different point of view.

Strategies to Counter Negative Explanations

  • Take a deep breath and look at the situation from a third person’s view. Or a bird’s eye view.
  • Distract yourself for a moment and remind yourself that you can handle any situation. Build within yourself self-belief and positive emotions through optimism.
  • Tell yourself – It is more helpful for me to this situation as …….(think of a positive explanation) Here are thoughts you can add –
    • Its is something I have not figured out yet
    • Maybe I can handle this with a better plan
    • I need to see this from another person’s perspective
    • Perhaps I need to ask help

Changed Positive Explanations

I decided that I was too distraught and weak without food to handle the situation correctly that day. So the next morning once I was fresh and ate a full breakfast , I sat down and thought –

“It is a technical mishap. I need to just figure out the broken link.”

“In time with the right guidance, I will be able to figure it out.”

“I need to look for more avenues where I can seek help.”

“I just haven’t figured it out yet.” (That is my favorite)

my picture

And I did figure it out. I wrote to many concerned people, looked at more information available, and making informed decisions was able to figure out how to fix the errors!!

I did instantly thank God for this great blessing! And realized that sometimes before we jump to conclusions – we just need time to figure things out!

3. Plan

The basic idea of this is to have a contingency plan. It is most relevant when you are catastrophizing. The emotions become too intense in the body and the negative pictures are too vivid, leading you stricken and not performing your level best in the situation.

Example of Negative Thinking

You are about to get on stage. You have done seminars for smaller audiences but this seminar is in front of a bigger corporate crowd. Backstage in the green room, you are nervous, sweating and your thoughts are:

“I am going to forget my lines and make a complete fool of myself….”

“What if they ask me a question I do not know the answer to….they will think I am incompetent.”

“I left my house and children for the first time for this. What if something untoward happens and I am not available?”

Anyone having these thoughts could not do anything with full zeal. To be productive in this situation – the thoughts need to be challenged before they overpower the situation and the person makes an error in judgment.

Strategies to Counter Negative Thinking Patterns

  • For every negative or counterproductive thought, direct it to a contingency plan.
  • For example – If X happens – I will do Y (action)
  • While thinking of solutions, start deep breathing to calm yourself down.

Example of Changed Positive Thinking

With each negative thought flowing in your brain, you need to stop and direct it in the following way:

“If I begin to forget the notes – I need to just take a pause and collect myself. Even if I falter, since it is my speech and only I will the revisions“.

“Perhaps if someone asks me a question I do not know the answer to – I can acknowledge it and always email it to them later. It will be a growing experience for me too”.

“Supposing something goes wrong at home like the kids getting hurt – I have left all notes and doctors numbers with my spouse. I need to trust that they can take care of themselves”.

happy lady

The changed positive thoughts will give you confidence and make you feel calmer. It will give a better chance of a greater productive output!

To conclude, the above strategies all point toward the same aspect – we need to identify, challenge, and block negative thoughts coupled with imagining detailed positive scenarios to elicit productive thoughts and explanations for our circumstances.

With practice, this skill will develop multifold and make you a master at dealing with negative thinking patterns! Start today, on the path of being more resilient!

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