Allowing negative thoughts to run rampant in your mind unchallenged, is sort of like trying to raft down the Amazon River without a paddle: Soon enough, you will be submerged in negativity. This is especially true in the midst of the current crisis. You think one negative thought, which breeds the next one and the next one, each thought feeding on itself, until you're convinced the world is coming to an end. You then become nostalgic and wistful, wishing you had traveled more, said what you really wanted to say to people, and not spent so much time worrying about things that never actually happened. That, in a nutshell, is the thought process of a ruminator.
It doesn't mean, however, that you can't learn how to reign in your thoughts like a bunch of wild horses. Whether you realize it or not, YOU choose your thoughts, much like you choose what to wear every morning. The ability to regulate negative thinking is a power you can learn to harness.
Make it a point to challenge negative self-talk. If you have been a ruminator or a pessimist for most of your life, or are struggling to muster a more hopeful attitude, it is likely the result of negative thinking patterns. Here are some examples of such patterns, and what you can say or do to break them:
"Should" Thoughts (or "Must," "Have to," "Ought to").
Example: "I should have known better" or "I should not have done that".
Counterattack: Replace "should" with "prefer". For example: "I would prefer to have made a different choice, but there is no way to accurately predict what could have happened."
Mind Reading or Fortune Telling Thoughts
Example: "Everyone heard the manager point out the error I made; they must all think that I'm incompetent." Or "I will catch this virus soon. It's inevitable."
Counterattack: Ask yourself, "What are the chances that this is true?" (And then write down a percentage). Or, "Do I have solid, irrefutable proof that my belief is true?"
Catastrophizing or Overgeneralizing Thoughts
Example: "If I fail this project, I will be fired, and no one will want to hire me." Or "This lockdown will never end."
Counterattack: Ask yourself, "How likely is it that my belief is true? How much money would I be willing to bet on it coming true?" Or, "If a friend was thinking in this manner, would I tell him that he's exaggerating?"
Filtering or Minimizing Thoughts
Example: "I know my boss said she really liked the project, but she also pointed out mistakes. She probably thinks I'm not very good at my job."
Counterattack: Create a list of all the positive and negative aspects of the situation you are ruminating about. Try to come up with as many as you can. If you can come up with almost as many positive aspects as negative ones, you've got proof on paper that your belief is erroneous!
Example: "I will either succeed or fail - there’s no other option."
Counterattack: Ask yourself, "Is this really the only way to view this situation? What are some alternative perspectives?" Or, "If things do not turn out exactly the way I want them to, what would be the second best outcome?"
Emotional Reasoning Thoughts
Example: "I feel like a failure." (Therefore, I am a failure.)
Counterattack: Ask yourself, "Would I make a million dollar bet in Vegas based on a feeling? Of course not! So how could my feelings in this case be totally accurate?" Or, "What happened the last time I made an assumption based on my feelings, and ended up being wrong?"
Stay tuned for more tips! And make sure to check out the free Pandemic Resilience Test