Bad news. We human beings experience an average of 50,000 negative thoughts every day. 50,000. That’s one for every 1.6 seconds of the day. But there’s good news too: you have the power to change that negativity right now. You have the power to remove negative thoughts from your mind forever, if you want to. That’s right; if you want to.
I’m going to presume that right now it seems obvious that would want to remove negative thoughts from your mind forever. But that might not be the case by the end of this article, because the truth is that negative thoughts play a vital role in your life.
Ruth Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, says that 80% of everyone’s thoughts contain a degree of negativity. Negative thoughts are perfectly natural, and in fact they are very important. Imagine that you wanted to buy a house but knew you couldn’t afford it. You might negatively tell yourself, “I can’t afford that house.” That’s a simple negative thought. Taken at face value you might think it would be more positive to to say to yourself, “I’m buying that house because I know I’ll make enough money to afford it.” But what if you don’t? What if you end up bankrupt because of it and spend your life paying off debt? In that instance your negative thought would have saved you from a lot of suffering.
Negative thoughts are imperative because they tell use how to navigate potential pitfalls. As Ryan Holiday [editor for the New York Observer] says, “Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.”
Cognitive scientist Art Markman, Ph.D agrees. “The research actually suggests that focusing on a positive future lowers people’s motivational energy.If you want to do a better job of achieving difficult goals, then it is important to contrast the future and the present. In particular, it is important to know what the obstacles are that will get in the way of achieving the desired future.
Sometimes a negative thought can be a good thing. But there are nevertheless certain types of negative thoughts that are harmful, types of negative thoughts that you need to remove from your mind. As Margarita Tartovsky, M.S., says, “Negative thoughts can sink our mood and perpetuate a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They can lead to everything from lost opportunities to depression.
The types of negative thinking that are harmful include:
All-or-Nothing Thinking. “f I don’t do this I’ll be a complete failure.”
Disqualifying the Positives. “Life is always bad.”
Negative Self-Labeling. “I am a complete failure and I always will be.”
Catastrophizing. “This isn’t just going to be bad, it’s going to be the worst thing of all time.”
Mind Reading. “I know people like me because I can read their minds.” Not that although this sounds positive it’s really negative because it’s delusional, you probably can’t actually read minds.
Should Statements. “I should do this and they should do that.” (you can learn more about the dangers of should statements in this article).
Excessive Need for Approval. “I need you to need me.” (If you’re needy you definitely need to read this article on why neediness is killing your relationships, and what to do about it).
Disqualifying the Present. “Everything will be all right later.”
Dwelling: “I have to think about everything that’s wrong in my life.”
Pessimism: “That glass is clearly half empty.” (you might be surprised by some of the realities of pessimism revealed in this article).
The majority of truly “Negative” thinking pertains to spontaneous negativity, or negativity that isn’t logical or rational but which is negative solely for the sake of being negative. “Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts in response to uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment or other challenges,” says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist.
Negativity often spontaneously manifests. You may be sitting in a bar when a perfectly reasonable stranger walks in and looks at you quite innocently, and then you suddenly and illogically decide that they don’t like you. The thought’s not based on reality or even logic, it’s negativity for negativity’s sake. Such thoughts are sometimes the result of a specific mental health problem. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder leads to irrational obsessive thoughts, for instance. Generalised anxiety disorder, meanwhile, creates irrational worries that are usually situational. Panic Disorder often creates negative thinking about health or the inability to escape a certain situation. And social anxiety creates irrational negative thoughts around other people.
Negative thoughts produce physical manifestations
Different quality thoughts have been proven to produce different physical manifestations in the body. The body releases different chemicals based on the environment. When we’re around things that make us happy the body will release serotonin, dopamine, or oxytocin, all of which produce positive emotions. Conversely, if we’re in a stressful environment the body will release cortisol as a stress response.
Does thinking negative thoughts affect our chemical balance? How about positive thoughts. Can thoughts possibly produce different reactions in the body?
Interestingly, physical and mental pain produce virtually the same result in the body. “When people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex,” says Alan Phogel, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah. This has even led a team of scientists to research the affects of acetaminophen for emotional pain. “ [Taking acetaminophen leads to] less activation in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex,” says Phogel.
That’s why some people actually take pain killers for emotional pain, though this is probably not recommended. What’s interesting to note is that emotional pain and physical pain are so closely related. It’s because of this relationship that negative thoughts can produce physical pain. You have already experienced this fact first hand. Think about the last time you felt stressed. You probably experienced strain around the neck and lower back. This is one of the most common manifestations of negative thinking, but there are many more.
In ‘the Sacred Life,’ David Suzuki wrote that “condensed molecules from breath exhaled from verbal expressions of anger, hatred, and jealousy, contain toxins. Accumulated over 1 hr, these toxins are enough to kill 80 guinea pigs.” It’s easy to see how much of an affect negative thinking can have on the body.
According to an article in The Lancet, San Francisco based researchers examined the deaths of 30,000 Chinese-Americans and 400,000 white people and discovered that the Chinese who believed themselves to have been born on an ill-fated year (according to Chinese astrology) died young, which the scientists states was precisely due to their belief in their ill-fated birth.
In another study, 79% of medical students developed the illnesses they were studying because they became so paranoid about them.
The problem is that negative emotions trigger the amygdale in the limbic brain to produce a “Fight or flight” response in the body. In fight or flight mode, the immune system stops function properly, leading to illness, and all because of negativity.
How do remove negative thoughts from your mind forever
To remove negative thoughts from your mind forever, you have to learn that thoughts simply are not real. ” The difficulty isn’t that we have negative thoughts. The problem comes when we believe our thoughts are true,” says Barbara Markway, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist.
The way to remove negative thoughts from your mind forever is to realise that thoughts are just thoughts and aren’t real.
Amazingly, this is the same for positive thoughts. A fixation on a certain positive thought can lead to just as many complications as a fixation on a negative thought. Imagine believing that you’d never die. Now how does jumping off a skyscraper sound? Okay, it’s an extreme example, but it certainly illustrates the point.
What matters is that we realise that negative thoughts are not real, they’re just thoughts. As soon as we realise that we’ll stop panicking every time our mind says something horrible.
There are many ways to train yourself to realise that your negative thoughts are not real. Here are some of the best
Remove negative thoughts by realising they’re not real, here’s how
1: Meditate: Meditation has been proven to empower individuals over their thoughts. When you meditate you silence your mind and come to observe your thoughts calmly. You teach yourself to see a thought as nothing but a thought. You can discover how to do this in our free guide to meditation and mindfulness.
2: Write the thought on paper: It’s a lot easier to see your thought for what it is (often just words) when you write it out on paper. Write all your negative thoughts out and then look at them. You’ll very quickly realise how unreal your thoughts are.
3: Or draw it out: Some thoughts don’t comprise of words but images. For instance, perhaps you think you’ll become ill. In this case draw out precisely what your mind is telling you will happen. Negative thoughts like that melt under the light of reality.
4: Tell someone: The average person will pretty quickly tell you if your thoughts are total bullshit. So tell them, and let them confront those negative thoughts for you.
5: Play with the thought: Whether your thought is a voice in your head or a picture, try playing with it. For instance, if it’s a voice then imagine the voice changing, becoming higher pitches, lower pitched, louder, quieter and so on. If it’s a picture make it brighter, dimmer, bigger, smaller, and so on. By playing with the thought you teach yourself that you have ultimate control over all your thoughts.
6: Think the same thought backwards: When you think the same thought backwards you essentially make the thought a little game. You make it something tangible that you can play with. This technique is definitely alternative but it definitely works.
7: Rate the thought from 1 to 10: Objectively appraise the thought. If it’s a negative thought that actually holds some important truth then you might like to rate the thought highly and even thank your mind for the helpful information it provided. If it’s an utterly stupid and worthless thought, rate it a 0 and tell your mind to come up with better thoughts.
All these techniques revolve around the same idea. You are teaching your mind to recognise that thoughts aren’t real and that you are the master of the thoughts that run through your mind. You are CEO of your own mind. If negative thoughts try to convince you that they’re running the show, face them square on and say, “You’re just a thought. I’m master of my own mind.”