Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)
Part I. DECLUTTERING YOUR THOUGHTS
Mental Declutter Habit #4: Teach Your Old Mind New Tricks
Truthfully, you will always struggle with some amount of negative thinking. You can’t overcome millions of years of evolutionary wiring through sheer willpower. As Dr. Russ Harris says, “Any search for a ‘pain-free existence’ is doomed to failure.”
However, you can manage the pain by being more proactive in what you allow to remain in your thoughts.
Interrupting cluttered thinking is only part of the process of retraining your brain and learning to disassociate from negative thoughts. Your mind abhors a vacuum, so you need to fill the void with constructive thought so you don’t careen back into old patterns.
Here are four ways to do this:
#1. Challenge the Thought and Replace It
You may notice that many of your thoughts are wildly exaggerated. They are not the truth, or at least not the whole truth. You might think, “I’m a loser, I can never do anything right.” In the moment, you certainly feel like a loser, but if you examine the thought, you recognize that it’s not entirely truthful. You’ve done plenty of things well and have been successful on many occasions.
Rather than allowing “all or nothing” thinking to have a free pass, challenge these negative thoughts whenever they occur. This simply means coming up with a concrete example that contradicts the thought by reminding yourself of a positive event or previous “win.”
For instance, let’s say you’re a writer who receives a negative review on a recent book. Your first thought might be, “I’m a terrible writer—everyone hates what I write.” However, if you take the time to look at the 100 previous positive reviews, then you’ll recognize that the majority of your readers love your content.
Using positive reminders might feel awkward at first, but eventually you’ll train yourself to interrupt those cycles of negative thinking. This habit helps you take control of your reality and puts a roadblock in front of the never-ending highway of self-sabotaging beliefs.
#2 Practice Acceptance
One question you might have is “what do you do about those negative thoughts that are true?” In other words, how do you cope in those times when there is a legitimate reason for having negative thoughts?
The truth is that there are times when you’ll feel like it’s impossible to maintain a positive outlook. However, it’s also true that the thoughts and feelings about these challenging situations are often far worse than the situation itself.
You can’t completely eradicate your troubled thoughts during hard times, but you can lessen them through acceptance. When you struggle against the reality of a bad situation, you’re adding another layer of suffering to your psyche. You can’t worry or guilt yourself into a solution. Instead, you need a clear head and a calm mind.
When you find yourself struggling and ruminating, stop for a moment and simply say, “I accept this situation is happening.” Take a deep breath and try to stop mentally fighting against it. As you begin to accept this challenge, you can…
· Determine any actions to take to improve or rectify it.
· Seek out anything positive you can learn from it.
· Find ways to get support as you are enduring it.
Acceptance of a situation doesn’t mean you avoid action. It means you don’t blindly fight and claw to escape. You put yourself in a state of mind that allows you to take correct and useful action.
#3. Take Mindful Action
Overthinking is usually a pointless activity, so why not turn that energy into structured thinking and then action?
When your thoughts are cluttered, do something positive that will distract you from negative thoughts. Just about anything that requires some brain power and focus will do the trick, but we suggest you take mindful action—action that focuses on your values, goals, or priorities.
A quick way to do this is to define your goals, which is something we discuss in the next section. In fact, one of the first mindful actions you could take is to define your values and priorities for the next year.
Some other ideas that you might try include:
· Practicing an instrument
· Constructing something by hand
· Painting or drawing
· Working on a complex problem
· Memorizing something
· Practicing a speech
· Designing something from scratch
All of these activities require focus and some level of mental challenge, which helps prevent you from falling back into random overthinking or worry.
#4. Set a Worry Timer
You can’t completely break the worry habit . There will be times when you’re flooded with such powerful negative thoughts that no amount of self-talk or distraction works.
But even during these times, you don’t have to fall headfirst into the quicksand of negative thinking. You can limit the amount of time you spend in your head so you don’t sink so far you can’t easily get out.
Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes and allow yourself to stress over whatever enters your mind. Get it all out! Take this time to express all of the bottled up feelings and thoughts. In fact, during your “worry time,” you might even write down your thoughts in a journal. Writing in longhand helps you process your thoughts and can often lead to a creative solution to your problem.
When the timer goes off, get up and do something distracting (as suggested in the previous strategy) to help you taper off of this worry time. If you find one worry session isn’t enough, plan for one early in the day and one later in the afternoon. When you start to get back into your head in between sessions, remind yourself to hold off until the next one.
Final Thoughts on Decluttering Your Thoughts
You may not use all of these strategies for training your mind to work more constructively, but they give you an arsenal of tools to choose from so you’re prepared. Barrie has found the ability to challenge thoughts and recognize how they don’t always reflect reality to be particularly helpful in reducing worry and overthinking.
You’ll discover which of these practices work best for you and the mental clutter that often occupies your mind. Don’t get discouraged if you find yourself falling back into old patterns. With any new behavior, you have to practice regularly before it becomes more automatic.
Now, let’s switch gears by talking about the importance of identifying your “why” and how it can eliminate many of the mental obstacles that occur and streamline your life where you focus on what matters most to you.