How to Reframe Negative Thinking
Going down the rabbit hole of a negative thought-spiral is no fun, and yet sometimes it’s so automatic that it feels like there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It only takes one negative thought to blast my mind into a dark place where I feel lots of anxiety and no control. If this happens to you, too, it’s not your fault–but you can learn to reframe negative thinking so these nasty thoughts taunt you less and less.
Don’t Judge Your Negative Thinking
One of the most difficult practices to master is to withhold judgment. For example, a common negative thought I experience with schoolwork is, « This assignment is really difficult. I don’t think I can finish it on time. » And then immediately afterward, almost instinctively, I judge. I think, « I’m not smart. » Do you see the difference between the thought itself and the judgment? Try catching your negative thoughts when they come, and allow them to exist without judgment. Give yourself permission to not turn the fault all onto yourself.
Another part of no-judgment means that you can’t stifle your negative thoughts, either. We’re really good at running away from things that are uncomfortable. Or we go to the other end, where we try to convert negative into positive instantly (which isn’t always possible or healthy). However, you can’t blame yourself for a negative thought. So allow your thoughts to state their case. Hold one end of the ball of yarn as it unravels. And just watch. Don’t judge.
Have a Conversation With Yourself
After your thoughts have had the opportunity to stretch their legs, it’s time to start talking to yourself. I’m serious–hold an actual conversation with yourself. It can be out loud, in your head, or even written down (which is my personal preference). Listen to your negative-self as you would a friend, and then express empathy. It’s amazing how much this helps. Returning to my example, when I slip into a thought trap about school assignments, I say to myself, « Dang, that is a lot to deal with. School is tough! You’re doing such hard things and look at you! You’re alive. »
And then I reality-check. I address worst-case scenarios if they show up in my negative thought-spiral. I say, « Hey, even if you don’t get this assignment in before the deadline, you’re still a good student. You had a lot of stuff to do today! And guess what? If you end up failing this class, you can retake it. There’s no rush to graduate. » Reassuring yourself that things will be okay no matter what can make the negative thoughts seem a lot less negative.
Reframing Negative Thinking Takes Time
Everyone has some negative thought habits, which aren’t always easy to change. And in-the-moment, you might not want to put forth the effort to reframe your negative thinking. It takes a lot of practice and, unfortunately, a lot of failures. But you can use these same tools–refraining from judging yourself and talking kindly to yourself–in the process. Congratulate yourself for the little successes. One day, reframing will be your new normal.