There are times in my life when I find myself falling into unhelpful trains of thought: “I have no friends.” “My face is ugly.” “I’m not any good at … anything.” I’ll have driven myself almost to tears before I even realize where my mind is or what I’m doing to myself.
It was just recently, when I was going through a particularly rough patch of negative self-talk and silent self-loathing and destructive, distracting thought cycles that my husband suggested – wait for it – not doing that.
Obvious, right? Just stop it. Don’t even go there.
But it wasn’t that easy. It took me a couple of weeks to realize that stopping negative thoughts is actually a three-step process that I have to go through over and over and over again to break the bad habit and retrain my brain.
1. Be mindful of my thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing on the platform, waiting for the crazy train to come by so I could stop it in its tracks, and then totally missed the part where I got on and started riding. At first, it could have been 5 minutes, 10 minutes before I noticed the track I was on. Once I started paying attention to my thoughts, I got pretty good at seeing the train coming. Or noticing that I was in that place again. And once I was able to catch sight of the train coming, I moved on to step 2.
2. Stop thinking. (Just for a moment). Stop the train. It’s not enough to see it coming and think that you can watch it go by. Because then you’re thinking about how you dodged it, and then you’re thinking about how, if you had gotten on it, you’d be thinking those destructive, dispiriting thoughts, yeah, like that one, and that one. And then, oh, wait. You are thinking those thoughts. So stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath. Look at your surroundings. Notice where you are and how you’re feeling. And then move on to step 3.
3. Replace those thoughts with something helpful. If I do manage to stop the negative train of thought, but then leave it at that, the train is still sitting there, waiting for me to get lazy and climb on board. So something needs to be put in its place. Something positive, or hopeful, or generous, or kind. Sometimes I’ll sing a song to myself. Sometimes I’ll repeat a mantra. Sometimes I’ll try to think of something I can do for someone else, to keep my mind off me.
If I’m able to get that far, usually, I’m good. For a while. But it takes consistent effort, constant vigilance. Because it takes a lot more effort to break bad habits than it is to make them.
Do you have any secrets, any tricks to overcome negative thought patterns?