I dare you to read this without thinking about an orange gorilla. Now, think of anything you can without thinking of the orange gorilla and count to 10. No matter how hard you tried, you thought about the orange gorilla, didn’t you? No matter how hard we try to suppress our negative thoughts, our brains are hardwired to focus on negative thinking.
Think of a positive moment in your life. Now think of a negative moment. Which memory is more vivid and stands out to you the most? It’s more than likely you’ll remember that time you bottomed out, got into a serious conflict with your ex, got arrested, came close to death or a loved one left you versus a more enjoyable moment.
So what are some helpful ways you can reach your goals and beat negative thinking:
1) Let The Thoughts Flow.
The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California estimated that we have somewhere between 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day, but it’s an inconclusive study and based on a very subjective definition of a “thought”. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, it’s difficult to put a true number on it. The point is that we think a lot during the day and more often the thoughts we recall the most are negative.
Just because you think negative thoughts daily or you believe you’re a borderline pessimist, doesn’t mean all is lost or you have to suppress your thoughts to reach your goals. In fact, you should let them flow. The more you try to avoid and block negative thoughts, the more negatively you will think. However, just because the thought comes, doesn’t mean you have to believe it and that the thought is true.
2) Retrain Your Brain.
If it’s stuck on your brain, question the evidence of the negative thinking and look for positive alternatives. The brain is elastic so the brain can be trained to create new neural pathways and develop different thoughts, even in a sea of negativity. How do you do that?
Work on your self-talk. Whenever a negative thought arises, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the evidence of my thinking?
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
- Is there another perspective I haven’t considered?
- Will this even matter tomorrow, in a year or the next five years?
- How likely is something to occur?
- Is thinking this way going to help me achieve my goals?
Developing positive self-talk helps you challenge unhelpful thoughts. If you find this difficult to do on your own, a licensed psychologist or therapist can help you learn effective techniques you can practice.
3) Be Creative and Mindful.
When most thoughts are experienced as facts, you get caught up in ruminating and overthinking and the repetitive thoughts become your life. And that’s just no way to live, right? Here’s where the practice of mindfulness through meditation becomes helpful. Mindfulness may seem like one of those cool “new agey” buzzwords, but in consistent practice, it really works. What is it exactly?
Mindfulness is the practice of awareness of feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations in the present moment. You become aware of your negative thinking at the time it’s occurring, but you don’t obsess over it. Instead, you might engage in positive self-talk, think of a funny joke or meditate by doing yoga, taking a walk or short road trip, listening to music, going to the gym or engaging in a creative exercise like writing, drawing or painting.
4) Exercise and Boost Mental Health.
Exercise is a natural mood-enhancer. Engaging in more of it may be a part of achieving your goals. The physical effects from exercise carry over into emotional and mental health. Exercise not only boosts your cardiovascular system and stimulates your physical and emotional health, but you tend to become more confident and think more positively.
The physical activity from exercise alters your brain chemistry. Exercise releases dopamine, the pleasure center of the brain that boosts satisfaction and happiness. It also boosts endorphins in the brain that relax your muscles, ease pain and inflammation, and thus, ease stress. Stress doesn’t become as impactful and over time, your cognition changes. You make better decisions, think more clearly, engage in positive self-talk, and mindfulness becomes easier.
Reach Your Goals in Recovery
The above are just a few ways to challenge the hamster wheel of negative thinking, and become more motivated to achieve your goals. If you’re in recovery from addiction, these four helpful tools can help you avoid the pitfalls of relapse. The more positive you think, the better able you are to weed through the negative clutter and focus on your goals and achieve them.
At Transformations, our outpatient program provides several programs to help clients stay active, engaged, and focused, while developing healthier thinking patterns. To learn more about us, check out our outpatient program or if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call 800-270-4315.