Negative thoughts that automatically come to mind: how they distort reality and how to process them
Negative thoughts that automatically come to mind, also known as negative automatic thoughts, are thoughts that spontaneously and uncontrollably appear in our minds. They are typically negative, pessimistic, and not based in reality.
How negative thoughts distort reality
Negative thoughts can distort reality in a number of ways, including:
- Seeking evidence to support negative thoughts. When we have a negative thought, we tend to focus on the evidence that supports it and ignore the evidence that contradicts it.
- Overgeneralizing. We base ourselves on a single negative event to generalize about ourselves or the world. For example, if we have a public speaking engagement that doesn’t go well, we may think that we are a terrible public speaker, even if this is a single experience.
- Negative filtering. We focus only on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore the positive aspects. For example, if we receive positive feedback on a project at work, we may focus only on a single negative comment and ignore our accomplishments.
- Catastrophic interpretation. We imagine that things will go wrong, even if there is no evidence to support this interpretation. For example, if we have an important meeting, we may think that we will be rejected or that we will make a mistake.
How to process negative thoughts
There are a few things we can do to process negative thoughts in a healthier way:
- Observe our thoughts. The first step is to become aware of our thoughts. When we have a negative thought, we can try to observe it as a simple thought, without judging it or taking it personally.
- Evaluate them based on reality. Once we have observed our thoughts, we can begin to evaluate them based on reality. We ask ourselves if our thoughts are accurate or if they are based on evidence.
- Replace them with more realistic thoughts. Once we have evaluated our thoughts, we can replace them with more realistic thoughts. For example, if we think that we are a terrible public speaker, we can think about all the public speaking engagements we have given that were well-received.
- Focus on the positive aspects. We can focus on the positive aspects of our lives, instead of focusing on the negative aspects.
Here are some specific tips for dealing with negative thoughts:
- Don’t judge your thoughts. Negative thoughts are just thoughts. They are not true and you don’t have to take them personally.
- Don’t let yourself be controlled by your thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to let them dictate your emotions or behavior.
- Focus on the present. Don’t get caught up in the past or the future. Focus on the present and what you can do to deal with the situation.
- Take care of yourself. Negative thoughts can be caused by stress or other mental health problems. Make sure you are taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising.
It is important to remember that negative thoughts are just thoughts. They are not true and we don’t have to let them control our lives.