Stress Relief Strategy: How To Overcome Negative Thinking (Part 1)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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This is the first of four consecutive posts on how to overcome negative thinking.  All four of these posts are based upon the principles outlined in my two previous posts: Negative Thinking And Stress and Negative Thinking, Focus, Triggering, And Automaticity. 

In this post, I will explain why it’s very important to view inappropriate negative thinking as a body problem and not as a mental problem.  In Part 2, I will show how becoming consciously aware of your triggered, automatic negative thinking is the first critical step to being able to overcome it.  Then, in Part 3, I will explain why positive thinking doesn’t work and why, despite its popularity, it a very flawed strategy for dealing with negative thinking.  Then in Part 4, I’ll give you some tips for how to know when your negative thinking is true (i.e. valid) and when it is not.

Inappropriate Negative Thinking Is A Body Problem…Not a Mind Problem 

Most people incorrectly view negative thinking as a mental problem.  By committing this fundamental mistake, they incorrectly assume that all it takes to “fix” such a problem is to simply “change your mind” or to simply “control” your thought processes. 

But negative thinking is not really a mental problem at all.  As we previously established, it is a body problem—it occurs because our bodies have been programmed (i.e. conditioned) to respond automatically with negative thought patterns, when our bodies are triggered by a wide variety of events in our lives. 

Thus, the proper way to view negative thinking is to consider it a body problem.  And this way of viewing negative thinking has important implications that many people fail to appreciate.  These implications include: 

  • You cannot easily “change” or “control” your negative thinking (if your body has been programmed to habitually respond in negative thinking ways);
  • Your negative thinking will continue to occur, even if you gain much more conscious awareness of it than you may have ever had before;
  • Over time, you may be able to recondition your body to think a bit more positively, but this can take many, many years to happen;
  • There is no reason to blame yourself, or criticize yourself, for continuing to engage in automatic, negative thinking, once you become aware that your body may have this tendency (it’s just what your body has been programmed to  do);
  • The best way to deal with negative thinking is not to fight it, try to stop it, try to control it, or otherwise resist it.  The best way is to simply relax and just let it keep happening—as it will anyway—and then develop some new strategies for how to best use your body’s negative thinking tendencies to your advantage. 

Stop Trying To Control Your Negative Thinking 

You don’t need to stop or control your negative thinking in order to overcome it.  This is a very good thing, since trying to stop or control your negative thinking isn’t likely to succeed, for the reasons stated above.   

There are several things you can do, however, once you recognize that you’ve been triggered to automatically respond with negative thinking.  And these things, which will be discussed in next week’s series of posts on this same subject, can allow you to overcome many of the stress-producing effects that negative thinking commonly has. 

By the way, negative thinking isn’t always bad, nor is it always inappropriate. Some of the most successful figures in American history were inveterate negative thinkers.  Also, negative thinking can play a prominent role in the success of many professionals, such as lawyers, law enforcement officers, and our military leaders.

But when negative thinking is inappropriate…that’s when it can lead to unnecessary problems and stress.  And this is a very common occurrence in our lives, not something that happens just every once in a while.

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