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3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking

Photo by Hannes Caspar
Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances. ~Wayne Dyer

I’ve spent the last week brooding over unexpected events that have transpired in my work and personal life, holing myself up in a darkened room contemplating all of the dire consequences said events will have on my present and future.

The same thoughts have been turning somersaults in my mind for hours on end, disrupting my sleep and pushing me to lash out when it’s entirely unnecessary and, sometimes, inappropriate.

In truth, I took situations that were completely neutral and transformed them in my mind to represent all kinds of gloom and doom. I’m beginning to see that jumping to conclusions is something I’m ridiculously good at — something I know needs to change.

Placing Labels

I can say in hindsight that I’ve spent a lot of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop, equating times of happiness and fulfillment to being at the top of a roller coaster where it’s only a matter of time before everything goes careening downhill.

I’m not entirely sure what the psychology is behind this mindset, but I know that I have an underlying belief that life tends to equal things out — good is followed by bad, accomplishment is followed by struggle, etc.

I have so much faith that “bad” situations, experiences and people will continue to show up in my life, I mistakenly place these labels where they aren’t deserved.

Labels allow the unknown to be categorized before the true nature of the situation or the person is shown.

This creates a false sense of knowing in which the projected outcome is usually far worse than the reality.

And of course, the amount of energy spent by entertaining false outcomes and the direness of future situations is utterly exhausting.

Checking in With Reality

From the age of 12 to 16 I attended a local art school in which a great deal of my day was spent recreating still life scenes on paper, spending hours shading to reflect the light and trying again and again to get the proportions of each object just right.

While I struggled at times to grasp the technical side of creating “good” art, the biggest hurdle I faced was rather simple — learning how to draw exactly what I saw and not allowing my mind to add in extras that weren’t actually there.

It was my mind that would trick me in to changing the placement of an object or making the features of someone’s face larger than they actually were. I needed to train myself to simply be the vessel in which reality was transferred to paper.

It took great discipline to constantly look up from what I was drawing to refer back to the scene sitting in front of me — just like it takes discipline to continue checking in with reality instead of drawing my own hasty conclusions based on nothing more than a label or a feeling.

With this little bit of self-awareness, I can say that there have been countless situations and events in my life in which I have responded by jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst when reality might have indicated otherwise.

I’ve fought with a friend and assumed the friendship was over, been passed over for a job and assumed it was because I wasn’t talented enough, encountered financial hardship and assumed I was doomed to living from paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life.

Every time I’ve resorted to this thought process I’ve seen other areas of my life begin to suffer — I lash out in my personal relationships, lose motivation to work for the things I want — the list goes on and on.

In recovering from this past week of dwelling in a negative alternate reality, here are the three reminders I now have tacked up on my refrigerator:

Reminder #1: Go to the source.

The majority of the anger and upset I was experiencing this week stemmed from a decision made by someone else that affected me greatly. It was from this decision that I began making assumption after assumption about what this said about me and what I had been doing wrong.

Luckily they approached me about the situation and all of the hurt and confusion I had been experiencing was cleared up in a two minute conversation. That’s all it took.

If I would have just asked for the facts, I wouldn’t have had as much room to create my own version of the story.

Reminder #2: Strip the situation down to the bare bones.

A few months ago my sister went to an astrologer who told her that her sibling (me) would be very surprised by an upcoming situation. When asked if the surprise was good or bad, the astrologer simply said, “Neither.”

I didn’t fully understand what that meant until now — the situation, or the “surprise” as she referred to it, was neither positive or negative, it was my interpretation of it that could make it one or the other.

Often times we label a situation negative until later on when we can see the positive aspects of it. We may not have all the knowledge we need to see the full picture when we’re in the midst of something, but simply recognizing the labels when we use them is a step in the right direction.

Reminder #3: Move slowly and deliberately.

If I were to make decisions while I was driving the same way I respond to life situations — quickly and without much thought — I would probably be in a horrible accident.

I allow my mind to be ten steps ahead of what is actually occurring, and that, as I’ve learned, is detrimental to my well-being.

It’s time to stop, think about the situation given only the facts at hand, and respond slowly and deliberately to what is actually going on.

If I choose to pass judgment one way or another, I need to routinely check in to see what that judgment is based on.

The amount of energy I’ve spent mulling over scenarios that have never actually happened is absurd. I choose now to redirect that energy elsewhere.

What conclusions have you jumped to only to find out in the end that you were wrong?

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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2 thoughts on 3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking

  1. Hi Kayla,

    This is exactly where I was last week and I came to the same conclusions you did. In the end I had to realize that the situation was not about me! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Kayla,

    Thank you for a very useful and informative post. I particularly appreciated the personal story that you shared, and your advice on not putting too much thought towards the outcomes that we fear. Your quote on “the amount of energy spent by entertaining false outcomes and the direness of future situations is utterly exhausting” is very insightful because it reminds us that fearing an imagined future outcome is actually like believing in a prediction that we don’t have the resources to predict.

    Keep up the great work!
    Nathan from ExisleEmpowerment

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