Tuesday With Terry

How to Break Free From
Negative Thoughts

That little voice in your head that tells you, “You don’t have the power to do what you need to do, that shirt makes you look absolutely grotesque, and nobody likes you”?

That little voice hurts, and it hurts so greatly because it’s our own. 

Negative thoughts are something we experience every day. In fact, they’re so common we might not even realize we’re thinking them.

Maybe they show their face in your worries about the future, your memories of past failures, or your opinions on your abilities to work towards your goals. Whatever the case, negative thoughts can infiltrate every fibre of your mind — and if you aren’t aware of them, they’ll stop you right in your tracks.

They’ll distract you from pursuing your dreams, mentally and emotionally drain you, and might even lead to intense feelings of anxiety and depression.

But with a little practice, you can rework your mind to rid yourself of negative thoughts — and after you do that, there won’t be anything in your way of living a happy life in which you’re able to achieve your true potential.

Negative thoughts are defined as “cognitions about the self, others, or the world in general that are characterized by negative perceptions, expectations, and attributions, and are associated with unpleasant emotions and adverse behavioral, physiological, and health outcomes.”

According to experts, negative thoughts commonly stem from stressors present within three main areas of our lives: past, present, and future.

The Past

Ever laid awake at night thinking about that horribly embarrassing thing you did all those years ago? It happens to all of us — but for negative thinkers, worries about the past pop up almost every day, as they’re more prone to letting their previous failures feast on their minds.

The Present

Anxiety about the present is completely understandable, but for negative thinkers, it’s always the worst-case scenario. Their boss is always about to yell at them, they’re always about to mess up, and they’re never going to do a good enough job.

The Future

Fear of the unknown is common for all of us, but for negative thinkers, catastrophe is the only thing the future holds. They won’t be able to look forward to what’s to come because it’ll always bring nothing but doom and gloom.

In addition, negative thinking also comes alongside cognitive distortions — essentially, the things our mind does to get us to believe things that aren’t true. Cognitive distortions allow us to rationalize our negative thoughts and convince ourselves that this is the right and only way to live. 

According to psychologists, there are 15 common types of cognitive distortions.

Type No. 1: Black and White Thinking

With this type of cognitive distortion, things are either all or nothing. Everything will always result in either total perfection or utter failure, with no gray areas in between. Essentially, this type of thinking leads one to think and operate solely in extremes.

Type No. 2: Filtering

With filtered thinking, a person hones in on the negative details of the situation while eliminating or filtering out the positive ones. Here, they view everything with a dark-colored lens instead of a rosy one, and their reality becomes distorted by negativity.

Type No. 3: Overgeneralization

In this particular situation, a person will draw vast conclusions based on one tiny morsel of information. If something happens just once, an overgeneralizer will expect it to happen the same way every single time. For example, if someone misses a deadline at work, they’re convinced they’re horrible at their job and should just call it quits completely.

Type No. 4: Global Labeling

With global labeling or “mislabeling,” a person will take one small quality and apply it to a larger situation. Essentially, this is an extreme example of overgeneralization, and someone who mislabels doesn’t consider the context of the situation when making judgements. For example, if someone in a relationship is caught ogling a passerby, someone who mislabels will think, “Wow, they’ve gotta be cheating.” But in reality, who knows why they were looking at someone else — maybe they just liked the shirt they were wearing.

Type No. 5: Jumping to Conclusions

No matter how much or little information someone has on a situation, someone who commonly jumps to conclusions will always believe they know exactly how things will play out. Oftentimes, they won’t take action to see if their fortune-telling skills are actually accurate, and will accept the outcome of the situation with no further thought even if it’s not true — and even if they could’ve done something to change it.

Type No. 6: Catastrophizing

Someone who catastrophizes is someone who’s always on the brink of disaster. Commonly, these show up in the form of “what if” questions about the worst possible thing that could happen — for example, “What if a meteor falls right out of the sky and crushes me to death?” or “What if I forget all my lines once I get on stage?”

Type No. 7: Personalization

Someone who personalizes always inserts themselves into the situation at hand — basically, everything that is said or done is somehow personally related to them. For example, if someone says, “Man, I really don’t like it when people are rude,” a personalizer will automatically assume they are one of the rude people in question. Essentially, they think things are their fault, even when they’ve got absolutely nothing to do with them.

Type No. 8: Blaming

In this type of situation, a person will hold everyone else responsible for their pain, blaming others for their actions and the problems in their lives. For example, they might think others made them feel a certain way about themselves. But in reality, nobody can force us to do anything — we’re the ones in control of our emotions and actions.

Type No. 9: Shoulds

“You know, I really should stop eating so much fast food.” This is an example of a should statement, which in essence is a statement about how something should be done. When someone doesn’t live up to their should statements, they feel guilty and punish themselves as if they’ve done something wrong. When someone applies should statements to others, they might make them feel frustrated because they’ve had a set of rules applied to them which they did not personally invite.

Type No. 10: Always Being Right

Here, someone will never be able to consider the fact that they might be wrong about something, and they will disregard all contrasting points in order to prove their point. No matter how bad they might be making someone feel, they’re completely convinced they’re in the right, and so they’ll keep on pushing.

Type No. 11: Emotional Reasoning

With this type of cognitive distortion, someone will view their emotional reactions as the utmost truth. Whatever they’re feeling is exactly how things are, no questions asked. An emotional reasoner will allow their emotions to take over their mind, driving logic and reasoning far, far away.

Type No. 12: Control Fallacies

This particular type of cognitive distortion is divided into two subgroups: internal and external control. Both are related to needing to feel like we’re in complete control of the situations within our lives, but with an internal-control fallacy, someone will always assume the blame for the pain and happiness of those around them. With an external one, they feel externally controlled by outside forces, and always view themselves as the victim.

Type No. 13: Fallacy of Change

The fallacy of change is defined as an “irrational way of thinking evidenced by expecting others to change after being encouraged or pressured.” Here, someone who operates within the fallacy of change believes that if they keep pressuring someone to do something, eventually they’ll bend to their will and carry out the change. No amount of “no” or “I can’t” will stop them.

Type No. 14: Fallacy of Fairness

In this fallacy, someone feels upset because they believe they know what is fair, but it isn’t upheld by others. Life isn’t fair, and a person with this type of cognitive distortion will realize that, but won’t be able to accept it — instead, they’ll grow to be resentful and angry because things didn’t pan out their way.

Type No. 15: Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This last type of cognitive distortion occurs when someone incorrectly believes that their self-deprecation and sacrifice will pay off for them down the line. This is connected to the fallacy of fairness because in a fair world, people who do good deeds deserve to be rewarded — but since life isn’t fair, someone who denies themselves things with the idea of being rewarded with something greater down the line will feel resentful and angry when it doesn’t fall right into their lap.

Whew! That was a lot. As you can see, negative thoughts pop up in so many different areas of our lives. But now that you understand where negative thoughts come from and how they affect our daily operations, you’ve completed the first step to overcoming toxicity and filling your mind and world with nothing but positivity.

Option No. 1: Become Aware and Take Note

The first step to overcoming negative thoughts is becoming aware of the areas within our lives where we most commonly think them. The above list should allow you to begin taking note of the different types of cognitive distortions you operate with, but what’ll really take things a step further is if you actually write them down.

Alongside the negative thought, write its positive iteration. Like so:

By putting in the work to really sit down and identify what your negative thoughts are and where they’re coming from, you’ll be able to effectively analyze how you can go about taking action to counteract them.

Option No. 2: Just Say No

Another thing you can do is simply tell yourself a loud, firm “STOP!” whenever a negative thought pops into your head. This might seem silly at first, but you’ll be surprised when it starts to work.

Essentially, this serves as a great tactic to help you get started on intercepting negative thoughts before they have a chance to affect you.

Option No. 3: Separate Fact from Opinion

In conjunction with the above option, there are lots of other ways you can go about intercepting negative thoughts. 

Ask yourself: Is this negative thought actually true? Oftentimes, negative thoughts are opinions — not the stone cold truth. Statements like, “There’s definitely something wrong with me” is an opinion whereas “My coworker said something mean to me” is a fact. 

By separating opinion from fact, you’ll be able to focus on what really matters: reshaping your mind to see the positives. We can’t control the truth, but we can control our reactions to it — and we can’t change facts, but we can change our opinions.

Other great questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Is this thought empowering me or hurting me?
  • Can I put a positive spin on this situation and learn from it?
  • What would my life look like if I didn’t feel/think/act this way?
  • Is this negative thought really an indicator of a larger issue that needs addressing?

Option No. 4: Talk to Yourself Like a Friend

Another effective way to combat negative thoughts is to ask yourself the following: If a friend came to me with the same problem, how would I respond to them?

Commonly, the things we tell ourselves are so much worse than things we’d say to other people.

For example, if your friend came to you telling you they felt they’d become particularly overweight, you’d probably say something like, “Everybody’s weight fluctuates from time to time, so don’t beat yourself up. However, exercise is always more fun when you’ve got a buddy! Wanna take a yoga class together?”

More likely than not, you wouldn’t say something like, “Yeah, you look horrible. Hit the gym, tubby!”

So why do you talk to yourself that way? You don’t deserve that, even if you did gain a couple pounds. By focusing on speaking to yourself like a friend, you’ve given yourself the positive reinforcement you need to carry out the necessary actions to achieve your goals — not stopping yourself in your tracks by putting yourself down.

Option No. 5: Seeing Shades of Gray

Black and white, day and night, Yin and Yang — the world might often seem like it operates in polar extremes, but in fact, there are so many facets in between.

A great tactic to try and rid yourself of black-and-white (and therefore, toxic) thinking is to see shades of gray.

Look at it this way: Just because you caved and ate a candy bar when you’d been on a diet for weeks doesn’t mean you’ve lost all the progress you’ve made thus far. It’s just one little candy bar — it doesn’t cancel out all the healthy meals you’ve eaten previously.

By trying to view things on a scale of 0 to 100 rather than 0 or 100, we’re able to see all sides of the situation (most importantly, the positives), reduce irrational thinking, and work to eradicate negativity from our lives.

Of course, there are many other ways you can go about ridding yourself of negative thoughts, but these should be enough for you to get the ball rolling. Remember: It’s good to start small and work your way up.

If you’re interested in learning more about particular ways to overcome cognitive distortions and using these tactics to break free of negativity even further, you can head to this fantastic article from psychologist John Grohol.

And always, always keep in mind that it is 100 percent okay for you to make mistakes. We’re only human, after all, and only by embracing mistakes are we able to grow and learn. In addition, keep in mind that things take time, and that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if ridding ourselves of negative thoughts was a quick and easy fix, we’d all be positively perfect. 

In short, be kind to yourself. The path to positivity might be long and hard, but just keep telling yourself you can get there, and someday, you will.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. For more advice on how to revamp your mind, your business, and your life, don’t forget to tune into my podcast every Tuesday.

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