Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Mental Declutter Habit #3: Reframe ALL Negative Thoughts

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way, you are right!” – Henry Ford

Our thinking processes are necessary for survival and for competing in a modern world. Critical thinking gives us the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively. Creative thinking allows us to develop original, diverse, and elaborate ideas and connections. But it’s the uninvited negative thinking that clutters our minds and often drains our enthusiasm for life.

According to Australian psychologist Dr. Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living , “Thus, evolution has shaped our brains so that we are hardwired to suffer psychologically: to compare, evaluate, and criticize ourselves, to focus on what we’re lacking, to rapidly become dissatisfied with what we have, and to imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen. No wonder humans find it hard to be happy!”

Many people go through their entire lives victimized by their negative thoughts. They feel they have no control of what thoughts take up residence in their brains—and worse, they believe the “voices” in their heads that tell them the sky is falling.

While the negativity bias is real, it isn’t impervious to your efforts for change and self-awareness. Though it may feel natural to allow your mind to wander into worry and despair, you’ve reinforced negative thinking by not challenging it, and by accepting your thoughts as your identity. But you have the power to recognize this tendency and change it by building the reframing habit .

The first step is to notice your thought patterns and interrupt them before they get out of control.

Here are six strategies you can use throughout your day to break the pattern and begin taming your mind.

Each of these strategies takes just a few minutes to employ.

Strategy #1. Be the Watcher

Start by becoming aware of your thoughts. Separate your “self” from your thoughts, and just observe what is going on in your mind.

The trick here is to do this in an impartial manner where you’re not judging any particular thought. Simply be conscious of yourself as a detached witness to your thoughts.

This exercise can be done sporadically throughout the day or during a meditation session. Observing your thoughts rather than attaching to them disempowers the thoughts and the emotions they foster.

Strategy #2. Name That Thought

Another way to separate yourself from your thoughts is by mentally acknowledging that they are nothing more than thoughts—not your reality.

For example, if you think, “I’ll never get all of this done,” change the mental dialog to “I’m having the thought that I’ll never get all of this done.”

This reinforces the fact that you are not your thoughts.

Strategy #3. Just Say No

When you catch yourself in mental looping or worry, simply say, “STOP!” out loud (vocalizing reinforces the interruption), and then visualize a heavy metal wall slamming down in front of your runaway thoughts.

Barrie sometimes visualizes pushing negative thoughts into a deep hole or putting them into a balloon that floats away.

Strategy #4. Try the Rubber Band Trick

Wear a rubber band on your wrist. Whenever you see it, stop and notice your thoughts. If you are stuck in negative thinking, put the rubber band on the other wrist or gently pop it on your wrist. This physical action interrupts the flow of negative thought.

Strategy #5. Know Your Triggers

Often, overthinking and negativity are triggered by a person, situation, or physical state. Pay attention to common worries and anxieties you brood about.

Is there anything that happens that sets these off in your mind?

If so, write down the triggers so you’re aware when they happen. This awareness can help prevent you from being ambushed by negative thoughts.

Strategy #6. Distract Yourself

Break the cycle using distraction. Do something that will occupy your mind so there’s no room for the negative thoughts. Immerse yourself in a project that involves focus and brainpower.

If you’re stuck in the car or waiting in line, go through the multiplication tables in your head or try to memorize a poem.