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When I Focus on My Negative Thoughts, I Just Become More Anxious. How Do I Work With This?

Mark Coleman






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When I Focus on My Negative Thoughts, I Just Become More Anxious. How Do I Work With This?

Mark shares how loving awareness can free us from negative thoughts and incline us towards that which is beautiful and uplifting.

Hello, Mark Coleman here.

I've been asked to answer the

question, When I focus on my negative

thoughts I just become more anxious.

How do I work with this?

First, thank you for your question and

know that you're definitely not alone.

When we focus on a negative thoughts,

negativity, it's quite natural that

we often feel distressed, anxious,

nervous, triggered, unsettled.

And in this larger conversation about

working with the critic, a significant

part of those negative thoughts

can be our judgemental thoughts.

And often when we're beating

ourselves up, when we're criticizing

ourselves, we become more anxious,

more perturbed, more worried.

I remember when I first started

meditating, I had a fair amount of

anxiety, but particularly a lot of

thoughts, a lot of negative thoughts.

I noticed a lot of judgmental thoughts,

a lot of self-deprecating thoughts.

And then of course, I would

project those out onto the world.

A lot of judgment and blame towards

the government, towards other

people, towards institutions.

Just a lot of negativity.

And I noticed that caused me to feel quite

disturbed, anxious, upset, irritated.

And of course, listening to my mind, to my

judging mind, just made that feel worse.

Reminding me all the things I wasn't

doing, all of the ways I wasn't

enough, all of the things I should

be doing or could be doing better.

And I feel very grateful to have

learned a particular teaching that

I learned from my Buddhist practice.

And it's a line from the Buddha that goes

like this, "Whatever the mind frequently

dwells and ponders upon that becomes the

inclination of the mind and the heart."

Whatever the mind frequently dwells

and ponders upon that becomes the

inclination of the mind and the heart.

Basically whatever we're attending

to, which is really the basis of

neuroplasticity, whatever we're

attending to, what we attend to and how

we attend to it really significantly

affects our brain and our wellbeing.

So as I started developing mindfulness

practice, I realized most of the

time, my mind was oriented to negative

thoughts as the question is asking

about, but also negativity in general.

I would look at what's wrong in

myself, in the world, in people, in

society, in government, in politics.

And that just created a lot of

agitation and anxiety and sadness.

And so there were two things

that I learned from that.

One is mindfulness helps you understand

the content of your mind, whether the

thoughts are negative or positive,

constructive or not, critical or not.

And that I had agency over

where I placed my attention.

Just because a negative thought

arises doesn't mean we need

to give it a lot of attention.

We can just notice, Oh, look at that.

Thinking's happening.

Negative thinking's happening.

Negative bias is happening.

Negative perspective on

the world is happening.

And with that, with that

awareness, we have some choice.

We can continue going down that negative

thought, negative pathway and perspective.

Or we can shift our attention.

One of the practices that I teach

about working with the critic is

what's called a replacing practice

.Every time that you judge yourself.

Oh, you're so lazy, or, no one's going

to love you, or, look at your life, it's

pathetic or whatever the judgments are.

You replace that judgment

with, oh, and may I be happy.

Oh, may I be peaceful.

May I be free from judgment.

And so you're shifting the attention from

the negative thought to something more

constructive, more kind, more positive.

So when I learned that practice of

inclining my attention away from

negativity, from reactivity, away

from negative thoughts and perspective

and incline my attention towards

that, which was beautiful and that

which was uplifting, that which was

calming, focusing on the goodness

of people or the goodness of myself

or the beautiful things around me,

then I noticed the anxiety softened.

And I started to see myself in the

world with new eyes with more positive,

more appreciative perspective.

So that's one thing you can do is

bring mindfulness to your thoughts,

noticing whether they're negative or

positive, critical or constructive.

Acknowledging them.

Then shifting your attention to

something that's more easeful.

And if you are anxious of course,

then we want to bring a kind,

loving awareness to that feeling.

You might notice where you

feel the anxiety in the body.

Perhaps in the breath, tightness in

the throat, fluttering in the belly.

And then again, inclining your attention

to something which helps ground you.

Maybe feeling your feet on the floor,

somewhere in the body that feels calm.

Maybe your legs or your hands,

or your shift, your attention to

something in this space around you

look out the window, listen to sounds.

Something that allows

that anxiety to calm.

And then you keep orienting towards that,

which is supporting a sense of wellbeing

rather than going to the negative

thoughts that keep spiraling the anxiety.

And the important thing to notice is

we do have that capacity to choose

our response in any moment, to decide

whether we go down the same tunnel of

negative thinking, which causes in your

case anxiety or negativity or fear.

To notice that, to release the

thought and to come back to

something that's more wholesome,

more supportive of your wellbeing.

Like a phrase of loving kindness, like

listening to sounds, like focusing

on the task at hand rather than

being stuck in the negative thoughts.

And of course, one of those main facets

of negative thinking is the critic.

And so we want to really pay attention

to when that's happening, to notice it,

to acknowledge it and then to let it go.

So again, thank you for this question

and I hope these responses allow you some

different ways to work with the anxiety

that comes from the negative thoughts.

And lastly, just to remember to be kind

and gentle in your practice and to enjoy

your practice as much as you're able.

Thank you.

Included in

Q&A on Negative Thinking null Playlist · 5 tracks

Q&A on Negative Thinking

Playlist · 5 tracks4.9

More by this teacher

Where Does the Inner Critic Come From?Talk by Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman

Where Does the Inner Critic Come From?

Talk · 8 mins4.4

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