Mindfulness.com
Meditation
See all Meditation

Browse

Top articles

How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners

10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation

What is Meditation?

Mindful LivingSleep
CommunityFor Work

00:00

00:00

7 Tips to Stop Negative Thoughts

In this talk we explore seven techniques to work through negative thoughts. Pick and choose which ones most resonate and see how they work.

In this episode, I'm going to share seven tricks to work through thoughts, specifically negative thoughts. I want to come on that in a moment, but first it is two bell Tuesday. So I am going to ring the bells twice, you listen for the full duration of the sound of the bell and let it serve as a mini meditation before we go into our episode. Here they are. Okay.

So in this episode, we're going to be talking about working with the thinking mind, specifically those negative thoughts that can arise that are often stubborn, frustrating, and cause extra stress and anxiety. We all deal with these thoughts from time to time and how to work with them is one of the biggest questions that I receive. Now, before I go into the seven strategies I would recommend, I do just want to acknowledge that in times of tragedy or great pain or abrupt difficult experiences, it's normal to have negative thoughts. And the, the tips I'm going to offer here are less for those times, which I think are experiences that just require we're more feeling and space and letting the mind do what it's going to do. And more for those times where we're just caught in these difficult ruminative loops, or we get caught up in stressful thoughts before something we anticipate that scares us, or when we're just trying to get better at working with thoughts in general.

So now that we have that framing, let's get into the seven strategies. The first is one you've probably heard before in this podcast and is our usual default way of working with difficult thoughts. And this is simply to redirect your focus. This is what we tend to do in a basic meditation practice. Maybe focus on the breath.

We notice the mind wander and we practice bringing it back to the breath. That redirection is kind of like a bicep curl for your brain. You're getting better and stronger and not being swept away by the neurotic chatter of the mind and actually stabilizing it or redirecting it someplace that you want it to be. This capacity, like a muscle, does get stronger with training and a meditation practice is one of the best ways to train it, in my experience. So strategy one, just simply redirecting your focus to something else.

A skill that can get strengthened with practice. Strategy two is to make a mental note of the thinking mind. So as a thought arises, instead of redirecting the attention away from it or instead of letting it proliferate into more thoughts, you actually label it with another thought, which is thinking. So the mind might go, I'm an idiot. Thinking.

What if that goes wrong? Thinking. Why did I say that to that person? Thinking. My teacher used to describe this as a throwing a cast net of awareness onto the thinking mind. If you've ever seen someone use a cast net, you know, they throw it out to a very specific location, usually with bait fish and it sinks down low, scoops everything up, kind of smothers it with the net. We want to do that with our awareness of the thought.

As soon as the thought arises, we throw the cast net of awareness on it by giving it a very simple and quick label, thinking. You can do this in your meditation practice, in conjunction with redirecting your focus. So you notice that thinking mind, come up, label it, thinking, and then redirect back to the breath. Or you could just do it throughout your day to day life. While you're doing the dishes, while you're walking, while you're driving, and every time a thought arises, you just note it as thinking, thinking, thinking.

And it might literally sound like that for many minutes at a time. Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. I've had meditations that go hours like that. It's a great training of your awareness and to not let thoughts completely overwhelm you and go wherever they want. So strategy number two, just label the thoughts as thinking.

Strategy number three is to take a step back, disidentify with the thoughts, and observe them as an impartial witness. So I like to see this as a imagining that you're eavesdropping on a conversation that someone else is having, or that your brain is just having with itself. So, whatever the thoughts are, and instead of redirecting the focus, instead of labeling them, you're just sort of watching the mind think, as if you were in the coffee shop listening to someone else have a conversation. This is a really powerful technique to cultivate in conjunction with the redirecting of focus and labeling as thinking, because it does start to develop a relationship with the thinking mind where you don't have to take it so seriously. The thoughts can be there, but your peace doesn't have to be contingent upon labeling the thoughts or redirecting the focus.

Sometimes that's really useful, but overall, we do want to develop this capacity where a thought can arise and we don't have to immediately get rid of it in order to be at peace. Again, just like anything, this one takes some practice. In the beginning, it might feel overwhelming to just be watching your thoughts. It might be hard to disidentify, but over time you'll get better and better and it will become easier and easier. So strategy three is to simply observe your thoughts as if you were eavesdropping on another conversation.

Strategy number four is to actually shift the content of the thought to something different or to something positive. Now I think this is one that we often think of in the personal development world. We're thinking negative, and we just need to think positive. In my experience, people tend to fall in two camps with this. They're either really into that, or they're really against that.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there are times where it's not really useful and it can feel oppressive to try to be positive. And there are other times where shifting a negative thought to something positive can feel really relieving and joyful. So you get to use your own discernment when trying this out. But if you've never experimented with shifting the content of a negative thought to a positive thought, you might be surprised at how powerful it can be.

One of the best times I find to use this is when anticipating something that can happen. So I do this with a lot of public speakers. Usually when they're very nervous, it's because they have all of these ideas and thoughts in their head of everything that can go wrong. They imagine people rolling their eyes, not liking the content, not clapping at the end. They imagine their own hands getting really sweaty or that they choke and they don't know what to say.

So this would be like negative thoughts in general, some negative imagery, but a lot of negative thoughts. Well, my first suggestion to them in these moments is just to imagine what if everything went well? What if you were super calm and grounded and the words came easily to you and you saw the audience and they were engaged and they were excited and you got that standing ovation? Right? You don't know what's going to happen at the end and during the process. You could think about the negative. You could think about the positive. Either one is a subjective flavor on something that we can't control.

So you might as well use the thought process and imagination that is serving you to feel better and most likely putting you in a better state going into the situation. And although it may sometimes feel easier to think about all the negative stuff that could happen, you have the capacity to also think of the positive stuff, even if it's something small. So if you find yourself anticipating an experience in the future and having lots of negative thoughts about it, you can acknowledge them and then just say, well, what is the positive side of this? If this were to go well, what would it look like? What would I be thinking about? So that's strategy four, changing the thoughts to something positive. Strategy number five is actively manipulating how you experience the thoughts in real time. I'll explain more about that in a second, but this one I find to be particularly useful when you have really stubborn thoughts.

You know, those negative thoughts that you try to refocus you try watching them, you try eavesdropping on them, maybe try changing it to something positive, but they are just there. And they feel like cement in your mind, doesn't change, the tone of voice is the same. It creates the same emotion over and over, and it just feels like such a burden. For those thoughts, we're not going to try and change the content, but we're going to change how the content is presented. We're going to get a little playful with it.

Usually with those thoughts, they have a very particular tone. There's a particular voice, maybe it's your voice or a parent's voice. It probably has a volume. There's a cadence to it. And when it goes through your mind, you could just feel the heaviness and the emotion that it elicits.

Maybe it's a thought like, what's wrong with you? Do you hear how that's presented? What's wrong with you? It's serious. It's mean. And it feels very authoritarian. Well, what if we started manipulating the accent of that voice or the voice itself or the volume of it, the cadence of it? It might sound different. So it might sound something like, what's wrong with you? That sounds like a Southern California accent.

No offense to anyone in Southern California. Or, maybe we give it an Australian accent. What's wrong with you, mate? That wasn't a good one, but you're kind of getting the gist of it. Or we make it really soft in our mind. What's wrong with you? Or really high pitch.

What's wrong with you? Do you see what starts to happen? It gets difficult to take that voice as seriously. In fact, you might almost start laughing at this thing that was causing such negative emotion before. And that's precisely the point. This exercise starts to recondition that thought to a new emotion so that when it comes up, instead of feeling heavy, it feels light. And that lightness, over time, just gives the thought less fuel and very often it can go away entirely.

You can even play theme songs in the back of a thought. Remember earlier in the podcast, I would sing that jingle. Hey, welcome to this podcast. Or, maybe you play that in the background of the thought going in your mind, like what's wrong with you? Hey, welcome... Right? You're just going to start laughing and that's what we're going for.

This is a technique I gleaned from the neuro linguistic programming and Ericksonian hypnosis. So strategy number five is to manipulate and change how the content is experienced in your mind. Strategy number six is to meet your thoughts with a 'yes and' mentality. This is used particularly for thoughts that tend to have a good point. Maybe they're negative thoughts about what could happen.

And those things or whatever the mind is worrying about, it has happened in the past, and there's a chance that it could happen again. For those thoughts sometimes manipulating them isn't really helpful because they're coming from a place of trying to protect you and from a place of like having a track record of truth. So for those thoughts, you want to really acknowledge them and offer an alternative. So this is an improv strategy where you meet what arises and you build off of that. Yes, and.

So maybe the thought is I can't go on this date because last time I went on a date, I said something stupid and it didn't go well and I felt like an idiot. Okay. So you can meet that with yes, that happened, and you could tell your mind that that was a learning experience. No one that ever got good at anything, including dating or relationships had it the first time. They needed to go through a struggle, a period.

Everyone has a history and a story of all their different perceived failures and things going wrong. So maybe this is just checking off the boxes of all the things not going right before we hit the one where it does go well. So you see what we did there? We met the truth of what the thought was saying. It was like, okay, we hear you. Yes, that did happen, and there's this other truth.

By meeting it with logic, it's much more likely to let down its guard and actually help you go in that direction. So strategy number six is to take a 'yes, and' mentality with your thoughts. Last, but not least, strategy number seven is to simply hear your thoughts out. Similar to strategy. number six, this assumes that the thoughts are trying to help you in some way, and they need to be seen, acknowledged, and honored before they're going to simply go away.

For this one, I think it's helpful to imagine yourself sitting down at a table or on a park bench with the thought. And if there's more thoughts, you could imagine a whole group of thoughts at the table and just let the thought share whatever it needs to share. If it needs to tell you everything that can go wrong, well, let it share that and get that out. If it needs to be rude and rant, well, let it go on and share that. And you give the thoughts as long as they need to run their cycle, to say their peace and then to move on.

And if there's a period of silence and no other thought comes up, you ask it again, say, is there anything else? Have you said everything? And once it says, yes, you just say, okay, I hear you. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your input. And I promise I'll use your advice if it seems useful. The dialogue and how you interact with the thoughts will depend based on what the thoughts are, and the content and how the thoughts are blocking you.

So feel free to adjust what that dialogue sounds like. The main point here in strategy number seven is that you're near creating a bit of a collaboration with the thoughts, you're giving them space to share without shunning them or turning them away, you're acknowledging what they say, and then moving on. So these are our seven strategies for working with thoughts, specifically, negative thoughts. Redirecting the focus, note the thought as thinking, observe the thought like eavesdropping on a conversation, change the thoughts to something positive, manipulate how the content is delivered, practice 'yes, and' with the thoughts, and then have a collaborative conversation. This is a longer episode and these are a lot of strategies.

So I do imagine this will be one that you go back through maybe multiple times and practice one each day or each week or each month in a way that you feel inspired to. These are not presented in a stepwise fashion. You don't need to do one before you practice the other. It's more of a buffet. You can pick and choose which ones you want to work with based on which ones resonate with you.

Okay, that concludes our episode today. I hope you found some use in this. If you know someone that you think would benefit, feel free to share this episode. I know there are a lot of people out there. Most of us that are navigating difficult thoughts.

So it would be good to share the love. I'm sure people will be able to find some value in this and it could potentially be very useful in their life. I'll talk to you tomorrow. And until then, take care.

Talk

4.5

7 Tips to Stop Negative Thoughts

In this talk we explore seven techniques to work through negative thoughts. Pick and choose which ones most resonate and see how they work.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

In this episode, I'm going to share seven tricks to work through thoughts, specifically negative thoughts. I want to come on that in a moment, but first it is two bell Tuesday. So I am going to ring the bells twice, you listen for the full duration of the sound of the bell and let it serve as a mini meditation before we go into our episode. Here they are. Okay.

So in this episode, we're going to be talking about working with the thinking mind, specifically those negative thoughts that can arise that are often stubborn, frustrating, and cause extra stress and anxiety. We all deal with these thoughts from time to time and how to work with them is one of the biggest questions that I receive. Now, before I go into the seven strategies I would recommend, I do just want to acknowledge that in times of tragedy or great pain or abrupt difficult experiences, it's normal to have negative thoughts. And the, the tips I'm going to offer here are less for those times, which I think are experiences that just require we're more feeling and space and letting the mind do what it's going to do. And more for those times where we're just caught in these difficult ruminative loops, or we get caught up in stressful thoughts before something we anticipate that scares us, or when we're just trying to get better at working with thoughts in general.

So now that we have that framing, let's get into the seven strategies. The first is one you've probably heard before in this podcast and is our usual default way of working with difficult thoughts. And this is simply to redirect your focus. This is what we tend to do in a basic meditation practice. Maybe focus on the breath.

We notice the mind wander and we practice bringing it back to the breath. That redirection is kind of like a bicep curl for your brain. You're getting better and stronger and not being swept away by the neurotic chatter of the mind and actually stabilizing it or redirecting it someplace that you want it to be. This capacity, like a muscle, does get stronger with training and a meditation practice is one of the best ways to train it, in my experience. So strategy one, just simply redirecting your focus to something else.

A skill that can get strengthened with practice. Strategy two is to make a mental note of the thinking mind. So as a thought arises, instead of redirecting the attention away from it or instead of letting it proliferate into more thoughts, you actually label it with another thought, which is thinking. So the mind might go, I'm an idiot. Thinking.

What if that goes wrong? Thinking. Why did I say that to that person? Thinking. My teacher used to describe this as a throwing a cast net of awareness onto the thinking mind. If you've ever seen someone use a cast net, you know, they throw it out to a very specific location, usually with bait fish and it sinks down low, scoops everything up, kind of smothers it with the net. We want to do that with our awareness of the thought.

As soon as the thought arises, we throw the cast net of awareness on it by giving it a very simple and quick label, thinking. You can do this in your meditation practice, in conjunction with redirecting your focus. So you notice that thinking mind, come up, label it, thinking, and then redirect back to the breath. Or you could just do it throughout your day to day life. While you're doing the dishes, while you're walking, while you're driving, and every time a thought arises, you just note it as thinking, thinking, thinking.

And it might literally sound like that for many minutes at a time. Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. I've had meditations that go hours like that. It's a great training of your awareness and to not let thoughts completely overwhelm you and go wherever they want. So strategy number two, just label the thoughts as thinking.

Strategy number three is to take a step back, disidentify with the thoughts, and observe them as an impartial witness. So I like to see this as a imagining that you're eavesdropping on a conversation that someone else is having, or that your brain is just having with itself. So, whatever the thoughts are, and instead of redirecting the focus, instead of labeling them, you're just sort of watching the mind think, as if you were in the coffee shop listening to someone else have a conversation. This is a really powerful technique to cultivate in conjunction with the redirecting of focus and labeling as thinking, because it does start to develop a relationship with the thinking mind where you don't have to take it so seriously. The thoughts can be there, but your peace doesn't have to be contingent upon labeling the thoughts or redirecting the focus.

Sometimes that's really useful, but overall, we do want to develop this capacity where a thought can arise and we don't have to immediately get rid of it in order to be at peace. Again, just like anything, this one takes some practice. In the beginning, it might feel overwhelming to just be watching your thoughts. It might be hard to disidentify, but over time you'll get better and better and it will become easier and easier. So strategy three is to simply observe your thoughts as if you were eavesdropping on another conversation.

Strategy number four is to actually shift the content of the thought to something different or to something positive. Now I think this is one that we often think of in the personal development world. We're thinking negative, and we just need to think positive. In my experience, people tend to fall in two camps with this. They're either really into that, or they're really against that.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there are times where it's not really useful and it can feel oppressive to try to be positive. And there are other times where shifting a negative thought to something positive can feel really relieving and joyful. So you get to use your own discernment when trying this out. But if you've never experimented with shifting the content of a negative thought to a positive thought, you might be surprised at how powerful it can be.

One of the best times I find to use this is when anticipating something that can happen. So I do this with a lot of public speakers. Usually when they're very nervous, it's because they have all of these ideas and thoughts in their head of everything that can go wrong. They imagine people rolling their eyes, not liking the content, not clapping at the end. They imagine their own hands getting really sweaty or that they choke and they don't know what to say.

So this would be like negative thoughts in general, some negative imagery, but a lot of negative thoughts. Well, my first suggestion to them in these moments is just to imagine what if everything went well? What if you were super calm and grounded and the words came easily to you and you saw the audience and they were engaged and they were excited and you got that standing ovation? Right? You don't know what's going to happen at the end and during the process. You could think about the negative. You could think about the positive. Either one is a subjective flavor on something that we can't control.

So you might as well use the thought process and imagination that is serving you to feel better and most likely putting you in a better state going into the situation. And although it may sometimes feel easier to think about all the negative stuff that could happen, you have the capacity to also think of the positive stuff, even if it's something small. So if you find yourself anticipating an experience in the future and having lots of negative thoughts about it, you can acknowledge them and then just say, well, what is the positive side of this? If this were to go well, what would it look like? What would I be thinking about? So that's strategy four, changing the thoughts to something positive. Strategy number five is actively manipulating how you experience the thoughts in real time. I'll explain more about that in a second, but this one I find to be particularly useful when you have really stubborn thoughts.

You know, those negative thoughts that you try to refocus you try watching them, you try eavesdropping on them, maybe try changing it to something positive, but they are just there. And they feel like cement in your mind, doesn't change, the tone of voice is the same. It creates the same emotion over and over, and it just feels like such a burden. For those thoughts, we're not going to try and change the content, but we're going to change how the content is presented. We're going to get a little playful with it.

Usually with those thoughts, they have a very particular tone. There's a particular voice, maybe it's your voice or a parent's voice. It probably has a volume. There's a cadence to it. And when it goes through your mind, you could just feel the heaviness and the emotion that it elicits.

Maybe it's a thought like, what's wrong with you? Do you hear how that's presented? What's wrong with you? It's serious. It's mean. And it feels very authoritarian. Well, what if we started manipulating the accent of that voice or the voice itself or the volume of it, the cadence of it? It might sound different. So it might sound something like, what's wrong with you? That sounds like a Southern California accent.

No offense to anyone in Southern California. Or, maybe we give it an Australian accent. What's wrong with you, mate? That wasn't a good one, but you're kind of getting the gist of it. Or we make it really soft in our mind. What's wrong with you? Or really high pitch.

What's wrong with you? Do you see what starts to happen? It gets difficult to take that voice as seriously. In fact, you might almost start laughing at this thing that was causing such negative emotion before. And that's precisely the point. This exercise starts to recondition that thought to a new emotion so that when it comes up, instead of feeling heavy, it feels light. And that lightness, over time, just gives the thought less fuel and very often it can go away entirely.

You can even play theme songs in the back of a thought. Remember earlier in the podcast, I would sing that jingle. Hey, welcome to this podcast. Or, maybe you play that in the background of the thought going in your mind, like what's wrong with you? Hey, welcome... Right? You're just going to start laughing and that's what we're going for.

This is a technique I gleaned from the neuro linguistic programming and Ericksonian hypnosis. So strategy number five is to manipulate and change how the content is experienced in your mind. Strategy number six is to meet your thoughts with a 'yes and' mentality. This is used particularly for thoughts that tend to have a good point. Maybe they're negative thoughts about what could happen.

And those things or whatever the mind is worrying about, it has happened in the past, and there's a chance that it could happen again. For those thoughts sometimes manipulating them isn't really helpful because they're coming from a place of trying to protect you and from a place of like having a track record of truth. So for those thoughts, you want to really acknowledge them and offer an alternative. So this is an improv strategy where you meet what arises and you build off of that. Yes, and.

So maybe the thought is I can't go on this date because last time I went on a date, I said something stupid and it didn't go well and I felt like an idiot. Okay. So you can meet that with yes, that happened, and you could tell your mind that that was a learning experience. No one that ever got good at anything, including dating or relationships had it the first time. They needed to go through a struggle, a period.

Everyone has a history and a story of all their different perceived failures and things going wrong. So maybe this is just checking off the boxes of all the things not going right before we hit the one where it does go well. So you see what we did there? We met the truth of what the thought was saying. It was like, okay, we hear you. Yes, that did happen, and there's this other truth.

By meeting it with logic, it's much more likely to let down its guard and actually help you go in that direction. So strategy number six is to take a 'yes, and' mentality with your thoughts. Last, but not least, strategy number seven is to simply hear your thoughts out. Similar to strategy. number six, this assumes that the thoughts are trying to help you in some way, and they need to be seen, acknowledged, and honored before they're going to simply go away.

For this one, I think it's helpful to imagine yourself sitting down at a table or on a park bench with the thought. And if there's more thoughts, you could imagine a whole group of thoughts at the table and just let the thought share whatever it needs to share. If it needs to tell you everything that can go wrong, well, let it share that and get that out. If it needs to be rude and rant, well, let it go on and share that. And you give the thoughts as long as they need to run their cycle, to say their peace and then to move on.

And if there's a period of silence and no other thought comes up, you ask it again, say, is there anything else? Have you said everything? And once it says, yes, you just say, okay, I hear you. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your input. And I promise I'll use your advice if it seems useful. The dialogue and how you interact with the thoughts will depend based on what the thoughts are, and the content and how the thoughts are blocking you.

So feel free to adjust what that dialogue sounds like. The main point here in strategy number seven is that you're near creating a bit of a collaboration with the thoughts, you're giving them space to share without shunning them or turning them away, you're acknowledging what they say, and then moving on. So these are our seven strategies for working with thoughts, specifically, negative thoughts. Redirecting the focus, note the thought as thinking, observe the thought like eavesdropping on a conversation, change the thoughts to something positive, manipulate how the content is delivered, practice 'yes, and' with the thoughts, and then have a collaborative conversation. This is a longer episode and these are a lot of strategies.

So I do imagine this will be one that you go back through maybe multiple times and practice one each day or each week or each month in a way that you feel inspired to. These are not presented in a stepwise fashion. You don't need to do one before you practice the other. It's more of a buffet. You can pick and choose which ones you want to work with based on which ones resonate with you.

Okay, that concludes our episode today. I hope you found some use in this. If you know someone that you think would benefit, feel free to share this episode. I know there are a lot of people out there. Most of us that are navigating difficult thoughts.

So it would be good to share the love. I'm sure people will be able to find some value in this and it could potentially be very useful in their life. I'll talk to you tomorrow. And until then, take care.

Available everywhere.

Access on the web or in our mobile app.

Talk

4.5

Duration

Available everywhere.

Access on the web or in our mobile app.

Play in-app

Scan the following QR code with your camera app to open it on our mobile app

Already purchased?

Get Unlimited Access

Start your mindfulness journey today.

A Mindfulness Plus+ subscription gives you unlimited access to a world of premium mindfulness content.

  • Over 1,800 meditations, sleep, calm music, naturescapes and more
  • Daily mindfulness video meditations 365 days a year
  • 100s of courses and tools to help manage anxiety, sleep and stress

Email Missing

We couldn’t detect your email with the SSO provider you have selected.
or

Mindfulness Guarantee

We are here to make a positive impact on the world. We never want to sell you something that hasn’t helped you live a better life. That’s why if you’re unhappy with any purchase from us, you have 30 days to get a full refund and your money back.

If you subscribed to Mindfulness Plus+ and are unhappy with your purchase, please get in contact with us within the 30-day period and we’ll refund your purchase.


Learn more about our Mindfulness Guarantee.

Mindfulness

Bring balance into your everyday life.

We believe in a world where everybody has access to the life-changing skills of mindfulness.

  • 2,000+ Guided Meditations
  • Daily Coaching
  • Sleep Content
  • Mindful Exercises
  • Mindful Radio
  • 10+ Courses from world-class teachers

Private Browsing

Added to your cart!

Checkout

Claim your free access

Create a mindfulness account and we’ll unlock this premium session in your account forever.

or continue with
By continuing, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Do you already have an account?

Start a free trial to play this session

7-Days free trial, cancel anytime.

Finish personalizing your account

Complete a few quick questions to make your own personalized mindfulness plan.