How to free yourself from negative thinking
You can’t stop your inner dialog, it’s as natural as breathing. But you can start to become aware that you are not your thoughts and you don’t have to believe everything you think! Thoughts come and go and you have a choice whether to act on them or not. Here’s how you can free yourself from negative thinking using simple Mindfulness techniques.
It’s natural for your mood to fluctuate. It’s quite normal to feel unhappy sometimes. However, when you start to feel sad, anxious or irritable, it’s not the mood that does the damage but how you react to it. It depends whether you see it as a passing cloud or whether you allow yourself to become engulfed by it.
Thoughts and emotions come and go like waves but you choose which ones to surf.
When you start to become aware that your thoughts are just your internal commentary on yourself and the world, you can learn to control the direction of your inner conversations. There are techniques you can use to break the pattern and stop the spiral of destructive emotions.
Mindfulness is closely linked to Meditation, which is an excellent way to learn to detach from your thoughts. However, mindfulness is also a form of mental training to observe what your mind is thinking, saying or feeling and learn to detach from it rather than be controlled by it. To learn to consciously choose to focus on thoughts that make you feel good, rather than the self-critical mind chatter that often arises on auto-pilot. And by doing this you find more peace, contentment and relaxation. It helps you release negative life patterns of thought and behaviour and gives you tools to cope better with what life throws at you.
Benefits of Mindfulness:
- It helps you develop an inner peace and calm; greater clarity and focus.
- It helps prevent normal stress and anxiety from spiraling into depression.
- You learn ways to be happy, regardless of what’s happening around you, and regardless of how others react.
- You learn to start to have some control over your thinking rather than being controlled by it.
- You start to see and accept the world as it is, rather than how you expect or want it to be, or fear it might become.
- It encourages patience and compassion, also with yourself.
- It gives you more time to focus on the things you like, rather than feeling constantly bogged down with worries.
- You become more resilient and better able to deal with stressful situations.
How your mind works
Mindfulness can also be called a way to train the monkey mind. This is the limbic system, a big part of our brain which contains the amygdala. It’s very important as it’s responsible for our survival, our fear, fight and flight responses. It controls instinctive responses such as stopping us from stepping out in front of a car. But this part can also become over-active so we can become fearful and anxious in everyday situations. It can’t tell the difference between an external threat like a lion about to attack, or an internal threat like a troubling memory. The fight or flight response is still triggered.
The mind also has a very subjective way of viewing events
It can become difficult to separate the real facts of a situation from your subjective interpretation based on your own mental model of the world. What’s more, everybody interprets a situation differently, according to their own mental model, which we each create based on past experiences and emotions. That’s how people often end up with very different versions of what happened in the same event.
Furthermore, our minds tend to believe emotionally charged stories over logic. Many people have a strong inner critic and the emotional thrust of self-critical thoughts often overwhelms our common sense.
Repeated triggering of negative thoughts can begin to wear ‘grooves’ in the mind which creates a vicious circle of self-critical thoughts or anxiety. Then it becomes more difficult to shift the pattern.
Thoughts drive your moods and emotions but your moods also drive your thoughts. Moments of sadness can lead to more unhappy thoughts by colouring how you interpret the world. So then your mind only notices things and brings up memories that match that low mood. You don’t notice the small lovely things that would normally cheer you up like music you love or the sun coming out from behind a cloud. Then the body also gets involved, building up stress and tension which lowers your mood still further.
Tools to help change thinking
Meditation is an excellent tool to teach you to experience the world calmly and non-judgementally through your senses. It gives you a greater sense of perspective. It’s like a vantage point to help you observe thoughts and detach from them rather than be triggered by them. It’s incredibly freeing to learn to notice negative thoughts as they arise, then watch them disappear like passing clouds.
Exercise: All forms of exercise help to release endorphins, feel-good hormones. Go for a walk in nature. It’s so envigorating to walk in the wind or rain, and really feel the elements. Walking is a brilliant stress-releaser and mood-booster. Rather than ruminating on your usual thinking patterns while you walk, really focus on the sights, sounds and smells. Be aware of the movement of your body. Look up at buildings or trees and notice the birds. Look down at the ground and notice plants or insects.
Posture: Research shows our whole outlook can be changed by small changes in the body. Small things like frowning or smiling or altering posture can have a dramatic affect on mood and thinking. So choose to SMILE even when you don’t feel like it. Smiling triggers endorphins so the act of smiling makes you happier. And smiling is infectious so you boost the mood of those around you. Just one minute of LAUGHTER boosts the immune system for 24 hours. It’s an instant and easy way to feel good.
Consciously focus on what makes you happy
Prioritise ways to Relax: Consciously choose to spend time on activities you love that nourish your soul. Feeling relaxed is the most important step you can take in order to easily change your life, and anybody can do it. With practice you’ll find it easier to step into a relaxed state more often, even when chaos reigns around you.
Notice the good things: When your mood is low, you tend to only recall the bad things that have happened and only notice things that match your negative mood. So instead choose to consciously focus on the good, the things that you like. Notice the flowers and the smell of the grass, the sun coming out of the clouds or a lovely sunset and really appreciate them.
Distractions: We’ve all had instances when we were feeling down but then we had a call from a friend, or a song we like comes on the radio and it immediately shifts things. So when you are feeling low, consciously choose to do things you like – watch a film, listen to music you love. Or maybe savour in your mind the memory of a person or place you love – or a particularly wonderful piece of chocolate cake!
Choose your mood before sleep: Never go to sleep feeling sad, irritable or in self-critical mode, because your subconscious, whose natural state is sleep, will amplify those emotions while you sleep. Consciously to choose to focus on things that make you happy before sleep. Think every night of 5 things from your day that you have liked.
Break your bad habits of negative thinking
Become bored with negative thoughts: When you notice yourself in negative thinking patterns, remember they are just symptoms of stress. Develop an attitude of boredom with the negative thoughts, don’t dwell on them and they will start to have less hold over you. Change your focus instead to things you like that make you feel happy.
Let go of self-criticism: Most people don’t even notice how critical they are to themselves. The critical things you say to yourself in your head are emotional daggers that keep you stuck in negativity. Choose to approve of yourself and notice the value you bring to others. There’s nothing selfish about being nicer to yourself. If you are kinder with yourself you will find you also have more compassion for others.
More tools to help you free yourself from negative thinking
If you are going through a particularly challenging time of stress and if your negative thinking patterns seem overwhelming, you may need help to bring you back into energetic balance first. An Access Consciousness Bars session helps release the energetic component of limiting beliefs and thinking patterns locked in your subconscious. It works on your head meridians to help clear out the unhelpful mental clutter. It helps you move forward with your life.
If you would like help with a specific issue, I also offer Personal Empowerment Sessions to guide you.
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Further reading: Mindfulness – Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams & Danny Penman