Updated: Jun 29
If you have negative thoughts, and have tried unsuccessfully to suppress them, congratulations: you’re human!
To varying degrees, we all have negative thoughts, and we all share an inability to suppress them. Research confirms that the more we try to push a thought down, the more prominent it becomes. Remember that well-known mind trap, “Don’t think of a pink elephant”?
The good news is that there are ways to loosen the emotional hold that thoughts have on us. Here are three tried and tested strategies:
Preface your thought with “I am having the thought that…”. This reduces your identification with the thought, and demotes it to something you *have*, rather than something that's part and parcel of you. Imagine you were thinking “I’m completely out of my depth”. What happens when you turn it into “I am having the thought that I’m completely out of my depth”? Now you’re having a thought, just like sometimes you have an itch – it’s temporary, mildly inconvenient, and suddenly more mundane than it used to be.
Talk about it in the third person. Working with the same example, think “Mary is completely out of her depth” (if you’re called Mary, of course – or substitute your name!). This also creates distance from the thought and reduces its emotional intensity.
Voice your thought, but say it really slowly – very, very slowly, as if you were running out of battery. You will find that your thought loses credibility – it sounds unnatural, the words lose meaning, the impact it had is diluted. And it’s ok to have a giggle while you do it! Slow down even more… play around with your voice. It’s not so scary and overwhelming now, is it?
Use these strategies on anything which attempts to grow big and scary in your mind – you will find that, if it fails to get your attention, the negative thought will soon end up scuttling back off into obscurity.