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How to Stop Negative Thoughts

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Updated November 05, 2013

Magnification and Minimization:
Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he's been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better; the touchdown was just dumb luck.

Have you ever looked through a telescope from the wrong direction? Everything looks tinier than it really is. When you look through the other end, everything looks larger. People who fall into the magnification/minimization trap look at all their successes through the wrong end of the telescope and their failures through the other end.

What can you do to stay away from this error and stop your negative thoughts? Remember the old saying, "He can't see the forest for the trees?" When one mistake bogs us down, we forget to look at the overall picture. Step back and look at the forest now and then. Overall, Scott played a good game. So what if he made a mistake?

Emotional Reasoning:
Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it's hopeless to even try to clean.

Laura has based her assessment of the situation on how it makes her feel not how it really is. It may make her feel bad to think of the large task ahead of her, but is it really hopeless? In reality, cleaning her house is a doable task. She just doesn't feel up to it. She has reached the conclusion that it is useless to try based on the fact that it overwhelms her.

When a situation feels overwhelming, try this to stop your negative thoughts: Break down the task down into smaller ones. Then prioritize what is most important to you. Now, do the first task on your list. Believe it or not, you will begin to feel better and ready for more. The important thing is to just do something towards your goal. No matter how small, it's a start and will break you out of feeling helpless.

Should Statements:
David is sitting in his doctor's waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, "With how much I'm paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration." He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.

We all think things should be a certain way, but let's face it, they aren't. Concentrate on what you can change and if you can't change it, accept it as part of life and go on. Your mental health is more important than "the way things should be."

Labeling and Mislabeling:
Donna just cheated on her diet. I'm a fat, lazy pig she thinks.

What Donna has done is label herself as lazy and hopeless. She most likely will reason that since she can't lose weight, she may as well eat. She has now effectively trapped herself by living up to the label she placed on herself. When we label ourselves, we set ourselves up to become whatever that label entails. This can just as easily work to our advantage.

Here's what Donna could have done to make labeling work in her favor. She could have considered the fact that up until now she has been strong. She could then forgive herself for only being human and acknowledge that she has been working hard to lose weight and has been succeeding. This is a temporary setback that she can overcome. Overall, she is a strong person and has proven it by her successful weight loss. With this type of positive thinking, Donna will feel better and be back to work on her weight loss goals in no time.

Personalization:
Jean's son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. It's all her fault that he isn't studying.

Jean is taking all the responsibility for how her son is doing in school. She is failing to take into consideration that her son is an individual who is ultimately responsible for himself. She can do her best to guide him, but in the end he controls his own actions. Next time you find yourself doing this, ask yourself, "Would I take credit if this person were doing something praiseworthy? Chances are you'd say, "No, he accomplished that by himself." So why blame yourself when he does something not-so praiseworthy? Beating yourself up is not going to change his behavior. Only he can do that.

The solutions I've presented here are some of the common situations we find ourselves in. Take these as examples and create your own positive solutions to your negative thoughts. Recognizing that you do it is the first step. Then play devil's advocate and challenge yourself to find the positive. Turn your thoughts around and your moods will follow suit. Remember, you are what you think!

Source:

Burns, David D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books : New York, NY, 1999.

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