Most of us occasionally — or more than occasionally — fall prey to automatic negative thought cycles: periods (more than a few seconds) of generating unproductive negative thoughts that tend to loop and build on each other, leading to an agitated and unproductive mental state.
7 Methods for Stopping Automatic Negative Thought Cycles
1. Say “Stop!” loudly and firmly. You can also coordinate this with a physical act, such as smacking your palm against a table or the wall.
2. Distract yourself with a work task that requires your full concentration.
3. Distract yourself with another activity. Exercise or a walk are always good, or perhaps listening to music or watching a funny show on television. Do positive activities rather than eating junk food or drinking alcohol.
4. Quickly change your surroundings. Walk outside and focus on something interesting, such as birds or animals, flowers or trees, or the movement of clouds across the sky.
5. Argue with yourself. Take both sides of an internal debate and examine the negative thought. Is it even true? Are you exaggerating it? If it is true, so what?
6. Ask yourself, “What will continuing to stay in this negative thought cycle cost me in terms of productivity and happiness?” Think of both the short-term and long-term consequences.
7. Just think of something else—something positive, interesting, or uplifting.
Of course, there are times when you need to deal with a negative situation in your life, so you’ll have to think about it and figure out how to respond to it. Automatic negative thought cycles occur when you needlessly focus on negative thoughts for long periods with no positive outcome.
Do you ever experience automatic negative thought cycles? How do you deal with them?