How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts, Stop Being Negative

Want to learn how to get rid of negative thoughts? Of course you do.  Learn the secret here at HealthyPlace and banish negativity once and for all.

Ever wondered how to get rid of negative thoughts and stop being negative? Many of us follow unhelpful thinking patterns for years without realizing how negativity hurts us or holds us back. Over time, these negative thoughts become automatic, making them difficult to override. For anyone wondering how to get rid of negative thoughts, this secret from cognitive behavioral therapists could be life-changing.

How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts: The Secret

Negative thoughts can be all-consuming, affecting the way we perceive ourselves and the outside world ("Why Am I So Negative and Angry and Depressed?"). Ultimately, negativity can change the way we live our lives and treat others. Luckily, cognitive behavioral therapists know there is a secret to overcoming these unhelpful thinking patterns. If you’re wondering how to get rid of negative thoughts entirely, however, the secret is this: you can’t.

To explain in a little more detail, NATs (negative automatic thoughts) are, by their very nature, impulsive and involuntary. If it was a matter of just flipping a switch on your thoughts, you could do it, and CBT practitioners wouldn’t exist. The reason cognitive behavioral therapists don't try to erase negative thoughts is that it's not the thoughts themselves that are the problem – it is the way you respond to them. Therefore, the secret lies in identifying negative thoughts, learning how they hurt us, and changing our automatic responses.

Negative Automatic Thoughts: Why Are They So Persuasive?

If you’ve ever experienced a NAT, you will know that they usually contain a kernel of truth (or at least they appear to), so they are not easy to turn on and off. These thoughts affect you because they are not entirely implausible. Yes, it is possible that your spouse is home late because he has had an accident; no, your colleague at work might not like you; yes, your plane could crash – although how likely are any of these outcomes? The more you think them, however, the more convincing the thoughts become ("Negative Thoughts and Anxiety: Is There Anything That Helps?").  

Although the plausibility of each thought depends on context, we usually give NATs far more attention than they deserve. To draw on the examples above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are these NATs helpful?
  • Can we prevent a car accident or a plane going down by worrying about them?
  • Can we assume someone doesn’t like us without having all the facts? Even if we’re right, can we change that person’s view of us by going over negative thoughts?

Unlike positive automatic thoughts (such as passing by a mirror and thinking you look nice) or neutral automatic thoughts (remembering you need to pick up bread), negative automatic thoughts are mostly unhelpful. In fact, they often prevent us from making rational decisions and make us neglect our best interests. Negative thoughts hurt us more than they heal us. The good news is, we can learn to change them.

How to Stop Being Negative

If you want to stop being negative, you will need to accept that you cannot prevent unwanted thoughts from entering your brain ("What Negative Thinking Patterns Should I Avoid?"). Once a negative thought is there, however, you can change your interpretation of it. Many of us treat our thoughts as though they are facts, but this is rarely the case. There is usually a more balanced perspective to be found to prevent negative thoughts from becoming negative emotions.

Here are some negative thought-stopping interventions to try:

Challenge your thoughts: Identify your negative thoughts and try to come up with some more realistic alternatives. For instance, it is far more likely that your spouse is stuck at work or that his phone has run out of battery than he was in an accident.

Analyze your core beliefs: Is there a common thread that runs through your negative thoughts, such as fear of abandonment or failure? If so, could this be linked to a core belief you have about yourself or about the world? Examples might be that you are fundamentally bad at tests or that people always leave you. Note down how often these thoughts and feelings occur.

Look for your critical incident: Examine your core beliefs and try to trace them back to a "critical incident." In CBT terms, your critical incident could be anything in your life that confirmed or re-confirmed one of your core beliefs. If you were abandoned by a parent, for example, this might lead you to the conclusion that no one you love will ever stick around. If you failed an exam in school or didn't get that job you wanted, you might always think that you are justified in feeling like a failure.

Overcoming negative thoughts is not about stopping them entirely. To draw on another vehicle example, if there is a problem with your car, a mechanic might be able to fix it or jump-start it temporarily, but if the root of the problem comes down to a manufacturing issue, the problem will reoccur until a thorough investigation has been performed. Likewise, learning how to get rid of negative thoughts will involve delving into your past to understand the basis of your thoughts, so you can change the way you respond to them in the future.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2018, December 11). How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts, Stop Being Negative, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/positivity/how-to-get-rid-of-negative-thoughts-stop-being-negative

Last Updated: June 20, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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