“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Do you ever catch yourself being critical, judgmental, or full of fear and worry? And do you ever worry about how many negative thoughts you have? If you do, this post is for you.
We’re taught that negative thoughts are bad, that they’re “toxic,” they “lower your vibration,” keep you stuck, and so on.
We’re taught that in order to feel self-assured and confident, we should banish negative thoughts from our lives. Kind of like, goodbye, negative thoughts; hello, higher vibration, better boyfriend, nicer car, inner peace, and so on.
So what do you do with all that negative junk in your head? How do you make it stop? And is trying to jam a positive thought over a negative one really the best way to manage the situation?
The reason I’m thinking about this today is that it’s 7:30am and for the past three hours I’ve been watching Mad Men. Yep. Instead of setting myself up for the day with a restful sleep, I’ve been watching T.V. for half the night.
To be fair, it’s an unusual thing for me to do, but still, you should hear the rubbish my mind is telling me:
You’re such a lazy little missy.
You’re going to have a bad day.
You’re not going to get anywhere like this.
People often advise you to trade a negative thought for a positive one using techniques like affirmations. Quick, quell those negative thoughts! But is this really the best way forward?
Most people misunderstand this whole negative thinking debacle because they misunderstand what thoughts are in the first place.
Happiness doesn’t depend on how few negative thoughts you have, but on what you do with the ones you have.
This brings me to the first piece of good news:
1. It’s normal to have negative thoughts.
The human mind thinks about a squillion thoughts every day, and on average about a squillion minus a hundred are negative. It’s true. I Googled it.
Most of us are awash with negative thoughts. Even ones that seem positive, like I’m so great because I just got a new car, are really only negative ones in disguise, since they reinforce the belief you weren’t great before you got the new car.
And that’s the good news—negative thoughts are a normal part of human functioning.
This means you don’t have to worry about the fact that you’re having them in the first place. No matter how gnarly they get, it’s all pretty normal.
This brings me to the second piece of good news:
2. You don’t have to believe your negative thoughts!
You don’t actually have to believe your thoughts. It’s as simple as that. Sort of. No, it is, but let me explain.
Your mind would like you to believe that all of your thoughts are correct. One of the ways it does this is by having you think that you and it are one. The truth is your mind is just one part of you; it isn’t you.
Being able to separate your thoughts from your sense of self is one of the most useful things you can do. Try this: think of yourself as being made up of four parts.
- Physical body
- Spiritual aspect
This means: You. Are. Not Your. Mind. Your mind is just a tool for you to use.
All of your thoughts and perceptions are filtered through your unique belief system, and it’s this filter that causes negative thoughts. The negativity is in the filter.
When you try to “heal” and “grow,” what you’re trying to do is change the filter; you’re trying to change your belief system. You are the bit underneath your thoughts, and you will never change. You can’t—nor would you want to. You’re perfect.
You don’t have to analyze your nasty, critical thoughts, or worry about them. They’re just thoughts. If you really want to have fewer of them, stop listening to them.
Feeling solidly peaceful and contented occurs when your mind is quiet, or in the moments, no matter how small, when you remember that you don’t have to believe your thoughts.
Or, as I like to say, ”I don’t feel bad; my mind does!”
One thing I find helpful for dealing with a long held critical belief is to treat it like a game.
I think to myself, what if I didn’t believe this, even for a few seconds? The result is always strangely exhilarating. I can actually feel what it’s like to not believe it. (And sometimes it does only last for a few seconds!)
So what about thinking positively—that’s good for me right?
Sure, but the trick is in how you go about it, which is the third piece of good news:
3. You can get positive about negative thoughts.
There’s nothing wrong with choosing to have a positive thought. Just know that the negative thought didn’t matter in the first place. It probably wasn’t true and it doesn’t “mean” things about you.
When you jump on “negative” thoughts and reject them in a knee-jerk way, you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not good enough. If I were good enough, I wouldn’t have had that thought in the first place.”
This is at least as negative as the initial thought.
It may seem a subtle difference, but that tiny step of noticing the thought and not believing it is where the growth lies. And the more you do this, the less “negative thoughts” you have and the easier it is to recognize them when you have them.
People think that “thinking positively” is the way to healing, but the quickest way is to first accept that the only reason you feel bad in the first place is because you’re listening to the rubbish your mind is telling you.
You could try and figure out where your negative thoughts come from—but since they’re just based on faulty beliefs, why not just ignore them?
Learning to ignore the voice inside our head telling us we’re not good enough, not worthy of love, and so on is what we’re here to do. Next time you have a thought that makes you feel uneasy, try this:
Notice your thought, as in: ah, hello, thought. I know you’re not real; you are just a thought. Oh well, you can stay there if you like, but I have things to do today so I’m just going to go ahead and do them.
Then if you want to think a positive thought, go right ahead!
And as for me I’m headed to the kitchen to make porridge after which you’ll probably find me tucked up on the sofa having a nap.
Negative thoughts image via Shutterstock
About Lisa Esile
Lisa grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Los Angeles. Lisa and her husband Franco are the authors of WHOSE MIND IS IT ANYWAY: GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND INTO YOUR LIFE (Penguin Random House, 2016). You can grab a FREE copy of her book, “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Feeling Awesome and Ultimate ALL the time,” here!