When you find yourself in a storm of negative thinking, remember that:
- Not all your thoughts are true.
- Not all your thoughts are helpful.
Sometimes you have to take a breather before you do anything. Replace short, shallow breaths with deep, long breaths. When you’re ready, you can tackle the thoughts that are bothering you using a process that actually works to reprogram your mind while also improving the way you feel in the moment.
You’re going to need a pen and paper for this.
Step One: Write down the negative thought.
Rewind to the moment you felt upset or bad about yourself. What thoughts were running through your mind? There’s often a thought about yourself or someone involved in a situation or event that makes you feel how you feel.
What bothered you the most?
Step Two: Write down how the thought made you feel.
Situations can cause us to react emotionally, which then fuel more negative thoughts and distort our perspective. Describe the emotions this situation and your ensuing thoughts brought up in you.
Step Three: Ask a question that provides you perspective.
If I described these thoughts and feelings to a good friend, would they see the situation with the same perspective?
If the answer is no, you’ve gained perspective. You can see there’s some distortion in your thought process. Maybe you’ve catastrophized an event and you’re filtering out the positives or alternate possibilities in the situation. Maybe you only thought badly of yourself because you felt lousy.
There are so many ways we can invest emotionally into illusory thoughts. This fools us into believing our negative thoughts reflect reality when they don’t.
If your negative thoughts are tied to a recent event or temporary situation, another perspective-granting question you can ask, is:
If I looked back on this thought a year from today, would I be likely to agree with it?
If the answer is “likely not,” then you know that your temporary emotional reaction is distorting your perception, causing you unnecessary suffering.
Step Four: Find the positive intent behind your negative thought.
We get upset when things didn’t go as we’d hoped or planned.
What were you hoping would happen? Why did you get so upset? What are you being guided to learn from the experience?
Identifying your positive intent behind the negative thought can help you see beyond projections and distortions.
Let’s say I was feeling bad about myself because a friend cancelled plans with me two times in a row, and I assume it’s because she doesn’t want to be around me anymore. Then, negative thoughts about myself branch out from there that all support this assumption.
What’s the positive intention behind the negative thought?
It’s that I want to be a good friend. And that I want to enjoy our friendship and see it last.
Not so bad, right? When you feel the truth of your positive intent set in, you can really see the illusory nature of your negative projections.
Write down the positive intent behind the negative thought. You can use this to help build a new, more useful thought.
Step Five: Rethink it and write down a positive replacement thought.
Re-read the original negative thought process you wrote down in step one.
Now that you’ve gained perspective and challenged assumptions and distortions, what can you replace it with?
Here’s an example:
My friend must not want to be around me anymore. It must have been something I said, or because I’m not as fun and outgoing as her other friends.
New thought: I don’t have evidence to support the idea that my friend doesn’t want to be around me. She did say she was busy this month. I enjoy our friendship, so I’m going to be there when she’s available to hang out. I want to be a good friend, so I’ll ask how she’s doing in the meantime.
Step Six: Ask, how does this new thought make me feel?
If the new thought makes you feel lighter and inspires confidence to move forward, then you’ve successfully re-thought it.
You turned a negative, unhelpful thought that drained you into a useful thought that energizes you, or at least lightens you.
Congratulate yourself. And keep practicing these steps when you spot an unhelpful thought.
Over time, the process speeds up until it becomes automatic and you experience amazing results in your mindset, your emotional baseline and in your life.
It helps to keep a journal specifically for logging this process of taking these 6 steps.
For more on reprogramming your thoughts, check out my online workshop, Reprogram Your Mind in 21 Days. This program gives you a new exercise to use each day for 3 weeks to transform your mind and raise your emotional baseline.