It’s a studied, proven and known concept that trying to avoid negative thoughts or suppress them doesn’t actually work. When we have a negative thought perhaps about something we did wrong at work or a social slip up earlier in the week and we try to ignore it or forget it, it tends to actually come back stronger. There are many effective methods for dealing with negative thoughts which can be taught to you in a therapeutic setting with a trained counselor, usually via Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However there are also things you can do and not do outside of therapy, presented by well known psychologists such as Daniel Wegner, that can be very effective in dealing with negative thoughts. Which one best suits you?
Don't Choose Stress
Being under stress or creating stress by keeping your mind or self very busy, one might assume, would give you far less time for that negative thought. However, studies have suggested that this approach is completely counterproductive and instead when under stress, you are even more likely to go back to the original thought you are trying to avoid. So therefore it is more effective to create a calm environment and deal with the negative thought through stillness and peace, perhaps meditation or a relaxation exercise.
Do Focus Your Distraction
If you find relaxing or meditation difficult, distraction does work, as long as it is focused on one thing. Rather then inducing the stress response which we know doesn’t work, research suggests that actively choosing one thing to focus your attention on for prolonged periods of time will help you let go of the negative thought. So instead of letting your mind wander to multiple different places and things, make a conscious decision to distract yourself with one activity, thought or idea and see how that helps.
Do Face Things Head On
If both distracting and relaxing are not for you, and suppressing our thoughts doesn't work, can we then better manage if we face it head on? Yes, this is also an effective method. Imagine for a moment a large spider sitting in the middle of your room. At first you may be scared, some may be terrified, and it may be your instinct to run away or avoid the spider. Running from the spider does not however, remove it. Imagine instead, that you don’t run but you observe the spider. Maybe you begin to notice how it moves, how it looks, how harmless it is and you begin to familiarise yourself with this spider until the initial fear dies down. At this stage although you may be still apprehensive, you would probably find that you are much more comfortable considering going over to the spider and removing it. The same can be said with your negative thoughts. If you simply face them by becoming the observer, noticing exactly how they makes you feel, where you get that feeling in your body, what the sensation is like, what exactly is bad about this thought etc, the initial fear or sense of unease will begin to decrease until eventually the thoughts aren't a problem any more.
So which research backed method will you try today?!
[To learn more about facing your negative thoughts you can click here for a guide to meditating mindfully which will give you simple instructions on how to become the observer of your thoughts and feelings. Coming soon ]