How to Stop Negative Thoughts and Unhappiness
We all have negative thoughts once in a while. Some of us more often than others. Quite often these negative thoughts seem out of our control. We feel angry, annoyed or disappointed, and we blame the world for our unhappiness.
If you have every tried to stop your negative thoughts, than you know that this is almost impossible. Negative thoughts are emotionally charged, and easily reappear.
Negative Thoughts: What Causes Them?
Usually it is quite easy to pinpoint the thing or person that is to blame for our negative thoughts and feelings of unhappiness.
It is our boyfriend that irritates us, because he never does the dishes. We feel depressed, because we have a failing career. We feel anxious, because who knows what misfortune will happen to us tomorrow?
Negative thoughts and unhappiness seem to be caused by other people, our circumstances or our uncertainty about the future. But is this really true?
Taking Responsibility For Our Thoughts
What happens in the world, is often beyond our personal field of influence. But our thoughts are created in our own mind.
Can we take responsibility for the thoughts we think? Yes, we can.
Just like we can take responsibility for our body by eating healthy and doing exercise, we can take responsibility for the kind of thoughts we cultivate in our mind.
Trying to Stop Negative Thoughts Creates More Negativity
If we try to stop our negative thoughts by banning them from our head, this can actually have an adverse effect. We create more negativity in our mind if we attack our negative thoughts with notions like:
I shouldn’t be thinking this…, I have to stop thinking like this…, I am a bad person for thinking these thoughts…
Cultivating Curiosity Towards All of Our Thoughts
Instead, we can start to cultivate curiosity towards our thoughts. Not banning them or condemning them, but making them into a personal research project.
Just like a researcher, we can take a step back and watch our thoughts from a little distance.
Instead of believing every thought that runs through our mind, we can start to question the truth of each thought. Slowly, we will notice that thoughts come and go, and that they do not represent who we really are.
Becoming Aware of Our Thoughts
Every day, we think thousands of thoughts. However, most of the time we are unaware of their content.
So one thing we can do when we start to become curious about our thoughts, is to become more aware of what we think from moment to moment.
Observing Thoughts as an Inner Dialogue
Often, we can observe our thoughts as an inner dialogue. Our thoughts are then comprised of words. Let’s take the ‘I am a failure in my career’ as an example. Our inner dialogue might be going somewhat like this:
I feel so depressed. This is nothing like I had in mind for my age. I thought I would have everything in order. I thought I would have a flourishing career. I am a failure. My whole life is a failure.
Thoughts Appearing as Images or Feelings
Sometimes we have to be more attentive to our thoughts, because they can be subtle and appear as images or feelings. In the above example this could be:
- A feeling of inadequasy
- A feeling of not deserving love
- An image of ourselves being depressed for the rest of our life
- An image of all other people being successful and happy
Thoughts: Reality or Fiction?
Thoughts seem very real to us. However, they are products of our own creativity. They are the interpretations we give to situations. They are a lens through which we perceive the world around us.
Sometimes we have created the same thoughts so many times, repeating them over and over, that we start to believe they are the truth.
The Essence of Negative Thoughts
When we closely observe our negative thoughts, we can define their essence like this:
I want this moment to be different.
In our example, this would create the following inner dialogue:
I am a failure in my job. I want my job situation to be different than it is. Only when I am successful in my job, I will be happy.
Negative Thoughts: A Rejection of the Present Moment
We are so focused on the future, or on hypothetical situations, that we do not realize that the only moment in which real happiness can occur, is the present moment.
How I Practice ‘Stepping Out of Negative Thought Patterns’
- When I observe feelings of unhappiness inside of me, I stop with whatever I am doing and I direct my attention inward. My feelings might be connected to tiredness, loneliness, failure, doubt, anger, irritation, anxiety, etc. I might not always be aware of what exactly has gone through my mind, but when I start to listen carefully, it can usually be traced back to the basic thought: ‘I want this moment to be different’.
- I take a moment to realize that the moment and my circumstances are the way they are. It is my thoughts and judgments about the present moment that bring feelings of unhappiness. From these feelings of unhappiness, I can have many ideas and plans on how I should obtain happiness in the future, but whether I will actually be happy when I fulfill these prerequisites, is never certain. The only moment I can truly choose to be happy is now.
- I realize that, in this moment, I have a choice where to direct my thoughts and energy. I can choose to believe the particular thought or judgment that was in my mind, and to keep on going with its emotional charge. Or I can choose to take a step back and to stop engaging with this thought. Accepting the moment the way it is, and seeing the beauty of that what is.
Someone who has done a lot of work on the power of thought, is Byron Katie. Through her website and simple method, you can become more aware of stressful thoughts.