How To Combat Negative Thinking

Wellness and self-help articles are filled with ways to combat negative thought patterns. I write often about strategies to combat limiting beliefs, which may be getting in the way of your optimal functioning. However, this sort of approach often leaves out the question of how specifically to identify unhelpful styles of thinking.

Often we only notice the negative thoughts that are the loudest, ignoring other thought patterns, which may be subtler, but are equally contributing to unhappiness. Take some time to review the 10 most common styles of negative thinking. As you read the list, consider the fact that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. How are the thought challenges you experience impacting your feelings and behavior?

Black or White Thinking: “If it’s not perfect, then I’ve failed.”
Over-Generalizing: “My life is always awful.” Watch out for always and never!
Mental Filter: “It doesn’t matter that I got that job.” Only seeing your failures.
Ignoring the Positive: “That doesn’t count because ______.”
Jumping to Conclusions: Predicting the future or imagining we know what others might be thinking.
Catastrophizing or Minimizing: Making a big deal out of something small or making a small deal out of something big.
Emotional Reasoning: “I feel anxious, so I must be crazy.”
“Should-ing”: Using self-critical words like should, have, and must.
Labeling: “I’m an idiot” or “she’s a horrible friend.”
Personalization: “It’s all my fault.” Taking responsibility for other people’s behavior.
What surprised you about this list? You may consider for a moment how our negative thoughts often contribute to feelings that may lead to less than desirable behaviors. Helping yourself to challenge these limiting beliefs can increase your awareness and overall sense of contentment. The following strategy will help you begin to challenge the thoughts.

Recognize the thought and write it down.
Which type of unhelpful thought pattern does this fall under?
Draw a line through the thought (or scribble it out!).
Re-write the thought. For example, if your thought was “I didn’t go to the gym so I’m lazy,” you may consider challenging that thought with “Today I’m doing the best I can. I’ll get to the gym tomorrow.”
Want to learn more? These principles are adapted from Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which is a proven method for healing anxious or depressed thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You are what you think, so think with compassion and love!

Haley Neidich, LCSW earned her masters degree from Columbia University and is a Licensed Mental Health Professional providing in person and online psychotherapy to clients in Florida, Connecticut and abroad. Haley is passionate about using mindfulness, spiritual principles and animal-assisted therapies to help people live happier, healthier lives.