Hey guys! First thing’s first, I had a couple good friends who read my last post ask me about how to overcome the guilt that we get when we take time for ourselves. I thought this was such an important question that needed some well thought out and researched answers.
Here We Go…
Writing is a powerful outlet for me that helps me better understand myself and find grounding. Once I use realistic and positive thinking, I can re-center.
I have used this strategy when I feel anxious, hopeless, resentful, pained, sad, or angry to stop the negative thoughts from continuing to run on a loop in my head.
If we keep negative thoughts and feelings inside, we can become overwhelmed and lose touch with reality. Writing is a form of meditation; it can bring your mind back down to earth.
Get Your Journal Out
I think journaling about our feelings is an important part of the process of rewriting thoughts. When I ask myself questions, I am able to reflect and become more aware of what is lying underneath, and then I can confront it.
To stop thinking negative thoughts, we first have to recognize that they are there. We can’t solve every problem at once, but we can better understand what is going on in our heads. When you understand your thoughts, you are less afraid of them.
In order to stop negative thinking by rewriting a negative thought into a positive thought, we must first understand our thinking errors. To learn more about unhelpful thinking patterns (thinking errors), you can read from the author, David D. Burns, who coined the term in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
There are more than just ten and there are quite a few ways that psychology describes and names these thinking errors, but these are the ten terms and quick descriptions that I have found to be most prevalent in my life and helpful to identify when I want to stop the negative thoughts by rewriting them.
1- “All-or-Nothing” Thinking
AKA: Thinking in black and white. This is when we leave no room for middle ground. For example, if you didn’t do something perfectly, then you think you have failed.
This is when we assume the worst possible outcome or blow a situation out of proportion. For example, making a small mistake at work and worrying that you will get fired.
3- Emotional Reasoning
Basing thoughts and decisions off of emotions alone. For example, feeling shame or guilt about something you did and assuming this means you are a despicable and repulsive person.
4- Jumping to Conclusions
We assume what people think of us (mind-reading) and assume that things will go poorly for us (fortune-telling). Kind of like Eeyore, we expect bad luck and that “nobody cares”.
Assuming that it’s about you. An easy example of this is when your partner is acting quiet and distant; you assume they are mad at you instead of the many other possibilities.
6- Mental Filter
Disqualifying the good and focusing on the bad. This is when we don’t credit good things we do or good things that happen. We only pay attention to what’s going wrong.
Taking one event and assuming it is a pattern in our lives. We use “always” and “never”. For example, your partner forgets about your date night for the first time and you think “My partner isn’t reliable. Every time I try to connect with them, they don’t reciprocate.”
This is attributing mistakes or actions to character. This is thinking that someone who said something that offended you is a “jerk”, and since you couldn’t do something by yourself you are “useless”.
Looking at others’ circumstances to gauge what our value and quality of life should be like. We can often identify this type of thinking when we are feeling jealous, inferior, or superior to others.
10- Making “must” and “should” statements
This is making unrealistic ideals for ourselves and others. This often leads to guilt and shame with ourselves, and resentment with others. You can catch this kind of thinking when you use words like “should” and “supposed to”.
Getting Closer to Positive Thinking
Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a founder of positive psychology, shares in his book, Flourish, 14 successful positive psychotherapy exercises he tested on group therapy clients. Side note: This book has so many more than just the 14 positive thinking exercises that work! I am really enjoying reading it; it is super interesting, eye opening, honest, and uplifting.
The positive thinking exercises were shown to help clients with mild depression reach a non-depressed state and continue to maintain that state for the entire year they were tracked; those are some pretty amazing results!
What I found most interesting though, was that most of the exercises involved a combination of mindfulness, reflection, positivity, or gratitude with writing. Most of the exercises required clients to write; it was such an important factor in the clients’ progress. Clients were able to stop the negative thoughts are start positive thinking through writing and reflection.
So, although there are many, many, many ways we can reach a happier and more peaceful state of mind, I believe writing is a powerful tool that has been shown to help people stop thinking negative thoughts and turn them into grateful, hopeful, forgiving, and positive thoughts.
Now, this is what works for me. The process does take a little time, but I honestly can’t think of a time where I have done this and haven’t felt much better.
The 5 Steps to Stop Negative Thinking
1- Use a pen and paper.
Positive thinking starts with mindfulness. I can’t be all the way present when I’m getting notifications on my computer or phone and I’m just tapping buttons instead of forming the words with my own hand.
The pen and paper help me remember to focus on what I am saying and be present in my thoughts. I can’t just backspace, I need to think about each word and idea. When I have a visual of my thoughts in my own handwriting, I am better able to understand myself.
2- Write down your initial thought that’s been causing you trouble and log your stress level.
Be honest about the first thoughts that are coming to your head. It might feel a little weird to write down something so negative, but that’s the point, to help you realize that your negative thoughts are most likely on the irrational side of things. Remember- honesty is the first step to clarity.
3- Journal about it- Ask yourself a few questions, especially, “Am I using a thinking error?”
The ten thinking errors I mentioned are not the only ones. Again, feel free to explore the depth and breadth of thinking errors in David D. Burns book. Another way of asking ourselves if we are using a thinking error is “How is my negative thought hindering me from seeing this from a more hopeful and accurate view?”
A few more questions that I have found to be helpful in helping me understand my thoughts and work through them are “Why do I feel (negative emotion)? What are some things that make me feel (positive emotion)? What can I do that might make me feel truer to myself?
These questions can help us get to a place of positive thinking. Make sure to right for the present moment. Continue to write as your emotions change. Pay attention to the way hopeful and grateful thoughts make you feel.
4- Now that you’ve got it all down, rewrite the thought.
Take what you have learned from your journaling, and counter the initial negative thought you started with by making it more realistic and hopeful.
For example, if you said, “My friend must hate me because she didn’t text me back yesterday”, it could be rewritten to say “My friend is probably just busy. It is pretty typical for her to take a few days to get back to me. I don’t need to panic about it.”
5- Believe it!
Read what you wrote and believe it! It is in your handwriting and you thought it yourself! This part takes a little more practice. However, journaling and rewriting thoughts has made it so much easier to reach a healthier state of mind. It’s like a therapy session with myself.
Of course, journaling and rewriting can’t solve every problem and may not resolve the deepest of issues, but it can help us slowly change our patterns of thinking to be healthier and more accurate. If we continue to practice, we can stop thinking negative thoughts as often and stop negative thinking in its tracks.
Here is a little visual model I made to help you keep it organized.
Okay, so here are the 5 steps in action from an entry in my personal journal:
Initial Thought: I feel like there is no end to my exhaustion, it’s hopeless. I can’t remember the last time I felt relaxed. I honestly don’t know if I will ever not be stressed out again.
Stress level: 8
Journal Prompt: What is it that is making me feel this way? Are there any thinking errors in my thoughts? Is there something about this situation I can feel grateful for? What are some things that make me feel hopeful? What can I think or do that might make me feel truer to myself?
Journal Response: Well, I really am tired right now and I want a break. I just feel overwhelmed because I have so many goals, but I feel like they are so far away and then it feels like my happiness is far away with it.
I guess I am feeling so hopeless because I am putting a lot of pressure and expectations on myself. Working and going to school definitely makes me tired and stressed, but they are important to me. They are the things that will help me achieve my goals.
I am grateful for my job. It makes me feel so happy when I help a client learn something new. I love what I am learning at school and I know I am in the right major, the homework load is stressful, but I have done it before, and I can do it again.
I feel hopeful when I remember I can sleep in on Saturday, and I feel super grateful that I don’t work on weekends anymore. That extra time for friends, family, sleep, and homework has been such a blessing for me.
Rewritten Thought: I am not exhausted all the time, I just get really tired a few times a week if I’m being realistic, and that is okay. I can get through the busy days by having a positive attitude, getting enough sleep, and eating right.
On my less busy days, I can take some time to relax if I need. I feel pretty calm now that I’ve written down what’s been going on with me. Things really are going pretty well now that I think about it.
Stress level: 3
Are You Thinking Positively Yet?
Writing can be a healing experience by helping you turn a jumble of overwhelming thoughts into clear, honest, hopeful, and peaceful thoughts. As I have continued to rewrite my thoughts, I have been able to rewire some unhealthy thinking patterns, which has helped me regain so much peace in my . So, stop the negative thoughts from invading your mind, you don’t deserve it! We can learn the skill of positive thinking with patience and practice!
Here are links to the hard-copy books/articles: