Negative thoughts are natural. Humans didn’t get to be the dominant species on the planet by assuming the best. We got here by worrying like crazy about what might happen and preparing for catastrophe at any given moment. So negative thoughts aren’t inherently bad, if they help us maintain an awareness that promotes our safety and wellbeing. It’s good to have an apprehension of consequences. That’s what largely keeps us alive. Anyone who’s ever tried to “stop” negative thoughts from showing up in their head knows it doesn’t exactly work that way.
There's a Point
There’s a point, however, at which negative thoughts become unhelpful and even destructive. That usually occurs when we A) start interpreting the meaning of facts, and B) start treating negative thoughts as The Way Things Are instead of just one of many possible explanations.
Here’s an example that resonates for many of us:
Thought: I expected my [husband/wife/child/partner/mother/father] home an hour ago. Something must be wrong.
Interpretation of meaning: There could have been a car accident. Or a bridge accident. Or a bomb. Or, everything’s fine but he/she just didn’t text me. Because he/she doesn’t care how I feel. Because he/she doesn’t think about how I will worry. Because he/she doesn’t think about me. Because he/she doesn’t really care about me.
Interpretation translated into The Way Things Are: He/she doesn’t care about me or how I feel or this relationship and this is just one more example of that because if he/she did care, he/she would have texted instead of putting me through this hell that could have easily been avoided with a stupid text.
Treating Negative Thoughts
When we start treating negative thoughts as The Way Things Are, we create an alternate reality for ourselves and start reacting to it as if it were The Truth instead of just a possibility among many.
Regarding the example above, imagine the difference in thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviors, and outcomes between a person who believes that that the other person is late because of an unavoidable delay and god-knows-what complications, and the those of the person who has decided that the other person doesn’t care about them and is knowingly putting them through hell. We behave very differently towards a person who has had a terrible day than we do towards someone who we believe is deliberating ruining our day.
You Have a Choice
You likely don’t have a choice about what negative thoughts pop into your head. You do have a choice about which ones you grab onto. Thoughts are a lot like buses pulling up to the stop. You can’t make them stop and you shouldn’t try because you’ll get run over. However, you can certainly choose which bus to get on and which ones to let go by. And all you have to do is wait . . . if you don’t get on, they will naturally drive away. If you do get on . . . you’re stuck until you get to the next stop and decide to bail.
Notice what thoughts are pulling into your head, and like buses, decide if those thoughts are going in the direction you want or no. If not, don’t get on. Wait patiently for them to pull out of your head and look for the thoughts that get you mentally where you want to go.