Stress Relief Strategy: How To Overcome Negative Thinking (Part 2)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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Last week, we started a 6-part discussion on how to overcome negative thinking. The first two posts in this series (Negative Thinking And Stress and Negative Thinking, Focus, Triggering, And Automaticity) established some basic principles about negative thinking. 

Then, in the third post (How To Overcome Negative Thinking—Part 1), I explained why it’s important to view inappropriate negative thinking as a body problem and not as a mental problem.  In this post (Part 2), I will show you 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 my final post in this series (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. 

Don’t Resist Your Negative Thinking 

In How To Overcome Negative Thinking (Part 1), I pointed out that negative thinking is best viewed as a body problem—it occurs because our bodies have been programmed (i.e. conditioned) to automatically respond with negative thought patterns when we are triggered in certain ways. 

I also suggested that: 

“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 do anyway—and then develop some new strategies for how to best use your body’s negative thinking tendencies to your advantage.” 

If you happen to be a person who is prone to negative thinking, and if you become aware that you have this habitual (i.e. automatic) tendency, one of the hardest things you will have to do is give up your desire to immediately stop, change, or control your negative thinking.  Your body will not let you do this, so it is futile to set this as your goal. 

So just accept the fact that you (actually your body) is going to continue to think negatively, and there’s little you can do to stop this.  Fortunately, there’s no need to resist your negative thinking.  You can relax and just let it keep happening.  The key is to have a few strategies in place to deal with your negative thinking whenever it automatically occurs. 

It All Starts With Self-Awareness 

The key to adopting new strategies for dealing with negative thinking is becoming more aware of when your body has been triggered to think negatively.  Believe it or not, many negative thinkers are not consciously aware that their bodies have been triggered to think negatively.  They just go through life, having multiple negative thoughts and perceptions every day, thinking that this is just the way life really is, and it has little to do with them—or their bodies. 

On the other hand, once you become aware that your body has been programmed to think negatively, a whole new world of choices suddenly opens up for you. For example, you could do—or ask yourself— the following: 

  • “Isn’t it interesting that my body tends to focus on negatives in these specific situations?”
  • “Is it true that whatever just happened really was negative?”
  • “Are there any positive aspects to whatever happened that I might be missing?”
  • “Even if what did happen truly was a negative, is there any way I could turn it into something positive?” 

Use Your Negative Thinking As A Wake-Up Call 

You could even adopt a strategy where you utilize your body’s tendency to frequently think negatively as an internal “wake-up call.”  Here’s how this creative strategy might work: 

1)    Let yourself think negatively whenever your body wants;

2)    Improve your ability to recognize (i.e. become consciously aware of) when you have been triggered to think negatively;

3)    Decide that whenever you notice yourself thinking negatively, you will use this as a signal to begin looking for positive aspects that your automatic negative thinking may have caused you to miss. 

Once again, the beauty of this type of strategy is that it doesn’t require you to stop, change, or control your negative thinking.  You don’t have to fight or resist your body’s automatic tendencies.  You can simply relax, go “with the flow,” and just have a few simple strategies on hand to keep your negative thinking from getting you into trouble, or from causing you needless stress. 

In the next part of this discussion (Part 3), we’ll see how this type of strategy differs significantly from Positive Thinking.

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