Every day unwanted thoughts enter our minds: "What's wrong with me?" "I keep doing this to myself," "I'm stupid," "I'm all alone," "I never get a break" and "How will I ever get out of this?"' 'Our minds are vulnerable to negative thoughts, causing us doubt, worry, anxiety—and frequently, it's the same negative thoughts that return over and over.
Repetition is a sign that you need to change. A part of you is calling out to get your attention. These thoughts are like having a rock in your shoe. It's not reasonable to ask the rock to quit hurting you or to see it as your enemy. The pain the rock causes is only asking for a remedy.
The first step is making a decision, one that only you can make: to walk away from the false solutions and futile tactics that have kept you stuck in your mental misery. It's not the thoughts that are making you miserable; it's the lack of a viable strategy.
Psychologists have asserted for decades that there is a huge difference between having a negative thought and turning it into action. Yet this lesson never seems to sink in. Thoughts are just fleeting mental images. They have no consequences until you choose to make them important. Let's look more closely at the five choices that will help you take the mental rock out of your shoe.
1. Turn Negativity into Positive Action
If an obsessive thought is a cry for help—and it is—bring the help that's asked for. You wouldn't neglect a crying child, yet we all neglect our negative thoughts, which are the mental equivalent. Let's say you are in a difficult situation and you start thinking, "What's wrong with me?" or "How will I ever get out of this?" Acknowledge that you are feeling scared, which is the real event occurring in your mind. Don't push the anxiety away. Take a break and walk away from the immediate stress. Sit quietly and take some deep breaths. Do your best to center yourself.
Once you feel calm enough to address the situation, make a plan. Write down the possible steps you can take that will be positive, achievable actions. (The point here is to use the rational side of the brain rather than giving in to runaway emotion.) Once you have your list, put the positive actions in order of which to do first, second and third. Now take the first step. Turning an emotional event inside yourself into a set of rational steps is one of the best ways to rise above the level of the problem to the level of the solution.
2. Get a Healthy Outside Perspective
If a negative mental habit—like feeling insecure, scared or helpless—has been with you for a while, you need to check if your plan for action is workable. Seek outside validation. Go to someone you trust, preferably someone who displays the qualities you want to acquire (e.g., a firm sense of self, a lack of fear and plenty of self-reliance), and discuss the practical things you intend to do. I'm not talking about the kind of adviser who says things like "Get over it," "Everyone feels that way" or "Poor thing." Such statements are copouts. Seek someone who genuinely empathizes and can validate your plan to change.
Next: How to put an end to a bad habit