How to Face Your Negative Thoughts (Even If You’d Rather Just Distract Yourself)
The following is a guest post from Cylon.
Are you constantly haunted by bad memories or negative thoughts?
Maybe you have negative feelings toward someone who hurt you.
Maybe you did something in the past that you can’t mentally let go.
Maybe you’re just having random negative ideas or perceptions.
Many of us are afraid to be alone with our own thoughts – specifically our negative ones.
This fear causes us to flee from silence and “alone time.” We flee to the outside world, looking desperately for social interactions to distract ourselves.
And yes, we’re designed to be social creatures – we couldn’t survive or thrive without our social networks and abilities.
But we also need space to be alone to process the feelings and thoughts that arise out of our social experiences.
This is crucial for emotional and spiritual growth.
So, how should we deal with those pesky negative thoughts that come to the surface when we’re alone?
Stop Fighting Your Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts are a natural part of life. Trying to stop them is like trying to stop thinking.
We complain about the high frequency of negativity and sensationalism in the media, but here is the plain truth that might be hard to swallow – we are wired to seek out the negative and the dramatic.
It’s one of the many survival instincts we’ve kept from our hunter-gatherer days because those who were attuned to potential dangers in their environment tended to survive them more often.
The media is negatively biased because negativity sells—it hooks straight into our brains.
Little wonder that our minds tend to focus on the negative experiences of our lives more than the positive ones.
So what are we to do?
While I appreciate the value of positive affirmations, we’ve been mislead by those who tell us that we can simply block out our negative thoughts. Rather, we should learn how to deal with them when they inevitably arise.
The first step is to simply stop fighting them. The more you fight, the stronger the negative thoughts become. Instead, learn to be present with them by yourself.
This is easier said than done, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with your own mind.
Become An Observer
Yes, being alone with your negative thoughts can lead to self-loathing and other forms of discomfort. It’s easy to get caught up in our negative emotions.
But you can resist this urge with a simple and powerful technique – becoming a non-judgmental observer of your thoughts and emotions.
Michael Singer, in his bestselling book The Untethered Soul, shows us how there is a mental monologue going on in the mind that never stops. This incessant voice in our head is one of the reasons we can’t stand to be alone in the first place.
According to Singer, the mistake we make is by thinking that the chatter is us.
In other words, we identify ourselves with the negative thoughts and emotions that arise within us. Singer reminds us that our actual identity lies outside the realm of our thoughts and emotions.
How do we know this? Because we can observe ourselves.
Self-observation is about changing your frame of reference so you can regain power over your mind.
There’s only one problem – this technique may appear to be downright impossible or crazy. How on earth can a person detach themselves from their own emotions?
Singer says, “Come to know the one who watches the voice, and you will come to know one of the great mysteries of creation.”
But wait—how do you even begin to approach the “mysteries of creation?”
Begin by visualizing yourself as an outside observer. Replay your day as though it was being viewed from the perspective of another person.
As you become more comfortable doing this, try doing these visualizations in real time (in other words, observe your day from this outside perspective as you are going through it).
Children ask a lot of questions. One study found that mothers get asked nearly three hundred questions a day by their toddlers. That’s remarkable.
As we age, however, the rate of our questions greatly diminishes. Rekindling the natural curiosity we had as children can help us be independent observers of our negative thoughts when we’re alone.
Here’s a sad truth—we rarely question the thoughts and negative statements that our minds generate. We either just assume them to be true or we try to beat them down with those positive affirmations.
Next time, try questioning your thoughts instead.
The best way to begin is to turn the negative statements themselves into questions. Train yourself to do this automatically and instantaneously.
For instance, the thought “I am a terrible parent” can become “What can I do to be the best parent possible?”
The questions will help you snap out of a reactive mindset and into observer mode so you can begin to experience your actions and feelings in a more objective way.
You will be empowered to either let go of the thought if it’s bogus or – if something comes to the surface that genuinely needs to be dealt with – take positive action based on your observations.
Jump In The Drivers Seat
We often mistakenly think that the events of our lives come pre-loaded with the emotions and meanings we take from them. But in fact, we have the ability to control these elements by reframing our thoughts.
In order to begin the process of reframing, we must accept that we assign meaning to our circumstances. We can allow this to happen passively, or we can actively work to interpret our lives in ways that are helpful and uplifting.
For instance, if you’ve tried to start three business and failed each time, does that make you a loser when it comes to business? It’s certainly easy to draw that conclusion – so easy that others will do it for you if you don’t.
But how about viewing those failures as valuable because now you know what not to do the next time you try to start a business?
As yourself why you feel the way you do about your experiences. What is your frame of reference? If you believe on a deep level that you are a loser, then most, if not all, your thoughts will be colored by this belief.
But you always have the choice to think about things differently by changing your frame of reference.
You Are Worthy Of Your Own Company
As long as we live and breathe, we will face negative, difficult, challenging, even disturbing thoughts.
But we don’t have to be afraid of our own company. We just need a few tools to help us channel our thoughts in constructive ways.
And while you can get some help along the way, only you have the power to make this happen.
So next time you find yourself alone, welcome the opportunity to do this important inner work – so you can grow and thrive, regardless of what your mind throws at you.
Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, and busy dad of six. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People – sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).