How to stop thinking bad thoughts

4 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking

“Humans, and our brains, have evolved such that we are capable of language, something no other mammals have,” explains McLean’s Lisa W. Coyne, PhD.

“Our ability to speak, think abstractly, and reason gives us the ability to plan, problem solve, collaborate in groups, and learn indirectly, in the absence of our direct experience. For example, you might have learned not to touch a hot stove because your parents told you ‘Don’t touch, it’s hot!’”

Moreover, Coyne states, “Everyone has a mind that ‘talks’ to them. We think of this as our verbal mind or our ‘advisor.’ It’s the part of you that is linked to your languaging brain, whose function is to serve as your threat detector.”

Having a threat detector or “critical voice” is a good thing. It points out things that could be dangerous to us, including things that might happen in the future and missteps from the past.

The function of the critical voice is to help us to avoid making the same mistakes so that we are physically and existentially safe.

Keep Reading To Learn

  • The benefits and harms of listening to our critical voice
  • Treatments and strategies for managing negative thoughts

How We Experience Our Critical Voice

People “do not hear voices, per se,” Coyne explains. “But we do notice critical thoughts popping up as we go through our days.”

She shares that “we have evolved to experience our thoughts as literal truths. It’s what allows us to learn indirectly by listening to what other people say, rather than only directly through our own experience.”

Our inner voice, Coyne states, “is always on, and it’s overinclusive in its estimation of what is threatening.” These are “features, not bugs” of our critical voice, she says.

“It wouldn’t be a great threat detector if you could turn it off at will, and it wouldn’t be a great threat detector if it somehow underestimated threats, right?”

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Getting Stuck

Our nonstop, always cautious critical voice, Coyne says, is “an incredible ability, a boon to our survival, but also comes with a dark side.”

“People run into trouble when they get stuck listening to their mind solely, rather than being out in the world and noticing that sometimes the mind isn’t correct about what it thinks,” Coyne states.

The critical voice can cause people to focus solely on avoiding unwanted thoughts and to avoid situations that trigger those thoughts. This is defined as “experiential avoidance.”

However, if this is our default for managing unwanted thoughts, it can trap us such that we lose our focus on other, more important things in our lives.

This focus on getting thoughts out of our heads not only captures our attention, but it also often backfires—sometimes the more you try not to think about something, the more it sticks around.

Coyne offers a real-world example of how this works: “My mind may say something like ‘Better not speak up in that meeting, people will think you are stupid, and that would be embarrassing. ’ I might experience a physical reaction (my heart rate might increase). Or an emotional reaction (I’ll feel nervous),” she shares.

“And, of course, I’d have a cognitive reaction (should I not speak up? What’s the right thing to say so I don’t look stupid?). This is important because we also treat unpleasant or unwanted thoughts—even though they are just thoughts—as actual truths that we must avoid, or fix, or suppress, or change.”

Self-Acceptance and Mental Health

Dr. Lisa Coyne discusses the importance of self-acceptance for better mental health and answers audience questions on how we can be more accepting of ourselves, each other, and our daily lives.

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Detaching From That Critical Voice

“Having a critical, threat-detecting mind isn’t the problem,” Coyne asserts. “Rather, it’s our response to that critical mind that can trap us.”

To avoid these, Coyne reports that some people engage with mental health professionals by using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). “This approach will teach you skills for how to manage these types of thoughts by helping you undermine their faulty logic or overestimation of threat.”

Approaches like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or acceptance-based behavior therapy can also be helpful. These methods, Coyne says, “help you change your relationship to your thoughts, such that you become more skilled at noticing them mindfully and making a space for them without reacting so that you are no longer hooked by them.”

In essence, you might notice your critical mind chattering away at you, but it will no longer take up central importance it once did and leave you free to choose what direction to take in your life.

Simple Steps to Stop Negative Thoughts

While some may need to seek help from professionals, Coyne says there are “simple steps that folks might practice, helping them detach from that critical voice and build more joy and vitality and connection in their lives.

1. Pause a Moment

If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or stuck in negative thinking patterns, PAUSE. Focus your awareness on the world around you with your five senses.

2. Notice the Difference

NOTICE the difference between being stuck in your thoughts vs. experiencing the present moment through your five senses. Notice also what you have been up to in your mind.

Were you arguing with yourself? Struggling with disproving negative or critical self-evaluations? Trying to push unpleasant thoughts or images out of your head?

Ask yourself whether this mental struggle is serving you well.

3. Label Your Thoughts

If it isn’t, see if you can step back and LABEL your thoughts as they are, rather than literal truths. For example, you might practice slowing down your thoughts and adding to them the stem “I am having the thought that ….”

Continue this practice of labeling, without attempting to soften, change, or avoid whatever thoughts you happen to be having. See if you can notice what it is like to have some distance between you—the thinker—and your thoughts.

4. Choose Your Intention

Once you have PAUSED from your mental struggle, NOTICED what’s happening and how it’s been working, and LABELED your thoughts for what they are—simple, mental weather that will come and go—you are better able to CHOOSE your intention, and the next right step for you.

Are you going to continue to struggle with your thoughts? Or you can choose to take a small step toward something that matters to you in your life.


  • Lisa Coyne

5 Ways to Stop These Invading Thoughts

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One gradual habit can become a powerful mental tool

With most external wounds, treatment is usually pretty straightforward. For instance, when you cut your finger, you can use antibacterial cream and a bandage, and after some time, the wound will close. You’re pretty much good to go.

Treating your thought processes isn’t as easy or prescriptive. Especially if they stem from general anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition.

Negative thought patterns are like a paper cut you keep getting when you have only a vague idea of what’s causing it. Or maybe you don’t notice the cut at all… until it starts to sting.

Each person, depending on their condition and triggers, will require different approaches to medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. And when therapy is out of reach, it can be difficult to get fast treatment.

One gradual habit that might help is making mental shifts

Shifting the way you think means you’re consciously stopping an established thought pattern. You re-evaluate how you reflect on a situation, or even what you think about, to focus on something else.

It’s like switching gears in your brain so your train of thought isn’t just looping and relooping.

In a lot of ways, this is about undoing a lot of negative behaviors and mental programming you may have learned from others. For example, if you grew up thinking you had to be the best in school and life, you’re likely programmed for stressful perfectionism.

Making a mental shift is a way to combat your anxiety and stress, or snap out of winding thoughts.

Learn the most common thought patterns, how to recognize automatic negative thinking, and ways to reorient and give yourself the kind and constructive consideration you need.

“I should do, act, or feel better.”

“I should go to the gym every day.”

“I should eat healthier.”

“I should stop thinking this way.”

It’s not that the intention behind these thoughts are bad. Depending on your situation, it can be healthier to eat more whole foods and go to the gym. What’s potentially damaging is the word “should.” This can trigger guilt and send you down a frustrating path of spiraling negative thoughts.

Stop leading your thoughts with “I should”

Should statements can contribute to anxious thought patterns because they put a demand on you that’s sometimes impossible to live up to.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Behind these “should” statements, there may be a form of cognitive distortion known as automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).

ANTs are your first thought when you have a strong feeling or reaction to something, like a reflex rather than free thinking. They’re persistent and learned, often repeating themes such as danger or fear. It’s common in anxiety and depressive thinking.

For people with anxiety, ANTs make these themes the showrunner of your mind, turning thoughts into paralyzing panic attacks.

However, recognizing ANTs isn’t that easy. After all, you may have had them your entire life.

Identify and tackle your ANTs by keeping a thought record

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According to “Mind Over Mood,” a hands-on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) workbook, you can do this by breaking down a scenario into three parts:

  • the situation
  • your moods
  • the thought or image that automatically springs to your mind

After you identify these, you need to actively change the thought into a more productive, helpful, or wiser one.

1. What situation is causing your anxiety?

Creating a thought record is essentially putting your thoughts to the test. Start by asking yourself who, what, where, and when. This’ll help you describe what happened while sticking to the facts instead of your feelings.

  • Who were you with?
  • What were you doing?
  • Where were you?
  • When was it?

2. What’s your mood in this situation?

Describe your moods in one word and then rate the intensity of these moods on a percentage scale that equals 100. For instance, if you’re handing in a work project, your moods may include:

  • irritated
  • nervous
  • guilt, perhaps if it’s being handed in late

In this case, if nervousness — which falls into anxiety — is your predominant mood, you’d rate it around 80 percent. Irritation and guilt would then fill up the remaining 20 percent.

The percentage doesn’t have to be perfect — just go with your gut. The main point of rating them is to see how much of your thoughts were influenced by a specific type of mood — an anxious mood versus a guilty one, for example.

3. What are the automatic thoughts running through your mind?

This is the most important step in your thought record: List the thoughts and images that popped into your mind relating to that situation. Try to remember what you were thinking at the time.

Automatic thoughts can include:

  • I’m so dumb.
  • I’m going to mess this up.
  • Nobody likes me.
  • The world is an awful place.
  • I can’t cope with this.
  • I’m going to end up alone.

If you find yourself caught with ANTs like these, breaking down the situation into “tasks” may help shift your mindset away from the predominant mood controlling your thoughts.

For example, evaluate why the situation is causing you to think “I’m going to mess this up” before you begin.

If it’s a work situation, ask whether you’re afraid because of past projects that have gone awry? How is this situation different from past projects?

Play out the worst-case scenario and see how you feel about it. Break down your emotions and moods to see if your anxiety or automatic thoughts have any legs to stand on.

As you dig into the details, you might discover that this work situation is independent of your past and future.

Identifying your automatic thoughts is the first step in gaining control of your emotions. What are you telling yourself? Now how can you change it?

Once you discovered your automatic thoughts, it’s time to put them on trial.

Is there evidence to support this thought? If this evidence is based on the past, why does this apply to this new experience?

You want to focus on credible evidence — not feelings or thoughts. Then it’s time to focus on evidence that doesn’t support your thought.

Let’s run through one to show you how it works.

Thought: I’m going to mess this up.

Credible evidence for my thought:

  • I made a mistake early on that set this project back by a few weeks.
  • I don’t have strong skills as a presenter.
  • I’ve never done this big of a project on my own before.

Credible evidence against my thought:

  • My manager and I discussed the timeline of the project and came to an understanding.
  • I’ve been practicing my presentation for over two weeks and have practiced in front of a co-worker who gave me helpful feedback.
  • I know the topic, so I should be able to answer any questions that come up.

Now it’s time to find an alternative to your original thought

You have your evidence for both sides, so now it’s time to be a judge. A helpful tip is to act as if you’re judging the thought of a friend rather than your own thought.

Now, you can find an alternative, more balanced thought. This new thought will consider all of the evidence for and against you and give your wiser mind a shot at running the show.

For instance:

“I have made mistakes, but in general I work very hard.”

“I’m genuinely trying my best.

“I’ve gotten good feedback so far and my manager trusts me to do this.”

Reminder: Everything can be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Find a place where you can pause and check-in with your thoughts to see where in the process you may be able to give yourself a break.

Like recognizing ANTs, there’s also power in simply acknowledging that you feel overwhelmed. Don’t automatically put yourself in defensive mode and whirl into an anxiety tailspin. Whether it’s from stress, anxiety, or another condition, the first step to combatting mental strain is welcoming it.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would I ever welcome all the shakes and jitters that take over my brain and body?

Because embracing it can take a lot less energy than dreading it.

Instead of using extra energy to forcibly fight back, realize that this reaction means you’re encountering something that’s important to you. It also means you may not have to force yourself to operate at 100 percent all the time. That’s exhausting.

Understanding your anxiety and what it means is one of the first steps to managing the stress that comes with it. You may discover that there’s a trigger. When you find it, you can act to avoid or you may find yourself spending less time dreading it.

Spend more time asking yourself, “Oh, hello anxiety, what do we need to do to function together today?” and you might end up fighting against yourself less through the stressful event.

Reminder: There’s always another option — even if it means opting out or saying no. If your anxiety or stress is based on a situation, ask yourself if you can opt out. Chances are you can!

Making mental shifts isn’t about turning “I feel sad” into “I feel happy.”

First off, if this worked, general anxiety would be far easier to treat and could be thought out of existence.

There will be times when, no matter how hard you try to change your thought pattern, you can’t. And during those times, it’s important to remember that simply recognizing the thought, or acknowledging it — as mentioned above — is enough.

It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to feel anxious. Take a break and give yourself another day.

When you do have the energy, you can slowly work toward moving past initial thoughts of “I feel sad” to recognizing there may be a problem and considering a workaround.

The more you remind yourself of these things, the more your thoughts will untangle so you can reach the next stage of growth and strength.

Reminder: It’s OK to ask for professional help. Forcing positive thoughts isn’t authentic or helpful, especially if you live with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. If you find yourself in a thought pattern that you can’t shift out of, consult a mental health professional.

Jamie is a copy editor who hails from Southern California. She has a love for words and mental health awareness and is always looking for ways to combine the two. She’s also an avid enthusiast for the three Ps: puppies, pillows, and potatoes. Find her on Instagram.

How to deal with bad thoughts: 7 techniques


Know YourselfPractices how to

It turns out that there are a number of methods that will help block the appearance of bad thoughts or deal with them if they have already come. These are the methods offered by the American psychologist Daniel Wegner, who has devoted decades of his life to the problem.

1. Switch

Don't try not to think of a white monkey - think of a black one instead. Better yet, a purple flamingo. Try to switch your mind to some other subject that you also like to think about very much, but which at the same time has positive connotations. nine0003

Get yourself a few "continued" thoughts that raise more and more questions and the need for answers to them - and therefore draw you into a completely different stream of thoughts. Is it true that Brad Pitt has silicone muscles? I read about it somewhere. But if so, how does he use them? After all, silicone is not able to contract like real muscles - or is there some way to make it do this?

The more you shake up your emotions, the weaker the brain is before the "alien invasion" of unwanted thoughts

And then there is the conspiracy theory that our Earth is really flat, and only a group of evil scientists have been convincing us for several centuries that it is spherical. Wait, what about satellite images and records from space? And they are falsified by the same scientists. But what about the poles? There is only one pole - the North one, it is in the center of the Earth, which is flat as a disk, and along the edges of the disk there are glaciers that scientists pass off as Antarctica.

And so on - soon the seething stream of this nonsense will take you in a completely new direction. nine0003

2. Avoid stress

Some people find that a strong impression will help them cope with intrusive thoughts, such as a scandal with their neighbors or a naked run through a winter city at night. However, studies show that the more you shake up your emotions, the weaker the brain is before the "alien invasion" of uninvited thoughts. On the contrary, try to calm down and rest - the more strength you have and the better your brain is, the more chances you have to repel an attack. nine0003

3. Set aside bad thoughts

Agree with an obsessive thought - you will definitely pay attention to it, but only later. Include in your daily schedule "half an hour for painful thoughts" - but not before bedtime, but, for example, at the height of the working day. Thinking about what is bothering you during your lunch break will quickly take your mind off your problems and plunge back into work.

Sooner or later, the subconscious will get used to the fact that obsessive thoughts have their own time with strictly defined limits, and will stop pestering you at other hours. Now you can think about how to exterminate annoying thoughts at this time. nine0003

4. Concentrate on the obsession

Once upon a time, a patient came to the great physician Abu Ali ibn Sina, who complained that his eyelid was twitching. Ibn Sina prescribed him an extremely dubious remedy: every hour to begin to blink on purpose with an obstinate eyelid. The patient chuckled, but promised to strictly follow the prescribed.

Meditation is a great way to organize your mind, making your thoughts under control

A few days later he came to thank the doctor. Like the remedy prescribed by Ibn Sina, this method works on the principle of "by the contrary": when an obsessive thought comes to you, try to force yourself to think it over from all sides, turn it this way and that, make yourself afraid that it will slip away from you - and you will soon feel that her grip is weakening and she herself would be glad to escape from you. nine0003

5. Recognize the inevitability of a bad thought

Another way, somewhat similar to the previous one, is to replace the fear of the appearance of an indestructible thought with complete indifference to it. Learn to think of it as something external: for example, if it is the thought that a loved one left you, get used to the idea that this thought has nothing to do with him (or her), but exists on its own: here now I will go to bed, and my number one Thought will come to me again.

Accustom yourself to the fact that this thought does not develop and does not tell you anything new - it just comes and goes, as twelve o'clock at night or winter come and go. And very soon you will feel that she is really leaving. nine0003

6. Meditate

Meditation is a great way to organize your mind, bringing your thoughts under control. Practice it daily, trying to achieve a state of complete thoughtlessness. It is not easy, but if you learn how to do it, you will be able to induce this state at will, including it at the time of the day when you are most prone to bad thoughts, or in the situation when you become most defenseless against them.

Obsessive thoughts are especially fond of people who have neither a major lifelong goal nor an interesting hobby

If an evil thought does not receive positive reinforcement in the form of your willingness to devote your brain resources to it, it begins to weaken - and soon disappears.

7. Think about your goals

How is a bad thought different from gas? Gas, as we know from a physics textbook, occupies the entire volume provided, and a bad thought is not yet provided . .. It teaches us to concentrate on it, forgetting that there is so much good in the world that it is much more pleasant to think about. nine0003

Obsessive thoughts are especially fond of people who have neither a major lifelong goal nor an interesting hobby. Take yourself out of the state of sad thoughts, thinking about the path to success, about what will bring you satisfaction. If you make an effort, you will gradually be able to accustom yourself to positive dreams.

Text: Ilya Nosyrev Photo credit: Getty Images

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A life

Positive attitudes and a heavy blanket will help you become an optimist.

You can listen to the article. If it's more convenient for you, turn on the podcast.

"Try to think positively" - you've heard this advice a million times. There is nothing wrong with it, of course, but not everyone succeeds in following it. nine0003

Pamela Gale Johnson

Founder of the Secret Society of Happy People.

It is easier for people to think about the bad than about the good. Once faced with danger, like cavemen, we begin to look for other things that can harm us.

Therefore, you need to make an effort to learn to think that nothing bad will happen, and then look for something positive. Here are a few tricks to help you do just that.

1. Find a way to incorporate positive attitudes into your daily activities

Positive attitudes or affirmations that we repeat every day help to increase self-esteem, if we really believe in what we say. This has been confirmed by scientific research.

Until affirmations become a habit, most likely you will forget about them during the day. To fix this, try this hack:

Greg Shepard

Health Expert.

I have created passwords for all online services that consist of the first letters of words in a sentence. For example, one of the passwords was a short version of the phrase "Every day I get better and better." And I repeat this setup daily by logging in. nine0003

2. Imagine that the negative thoughts are the passengers of the bus you are driving

Joe Eclair

Licensed psychologist.

My favorite technique is this: I imagine that negative thoughts are unsolicited advice that I will never follow. I say "thank you" and ignore him.

This cognitive strategy can teach you to control your thoughts and not attach too much importance to them.

You just imagine yourself driving a bus with negative thoughts. You can even give each passenger a personality and voice. They ride with you and annoy you with their incessant pessimistic talk. And here the main thing is to remember that you are the bus driver. And only in your power to drive them out of the cabin. nine0003

This is a good strategy for understanding that it is not your thoughts that control you, but the opposite.

3. Turn Negative Thoughts into Neutral Thoughts

Sasha Heinz

Developmental Psychologist and Certified Personal Growth Coach.

If we are haunted by negative thoughts, it is easiest to turn them into neutral ones first.

It is difficult to switch from an anxious state to a happy one just thanks to the settings. For example, if you have been worried for a very long time that you still have not met your love, affirmations are unlikely to help you join positive-minded people. It's not that easy. Therefore, it is better to neutralize the negative first and only then practice positive attitudes. nine0003

It's much easier to move from "I'll never find my love" to "I just haven't met the right person yet" than to immediately shout "My other half is already halfway there!" Your brain will more easily accept such changes.

4. Try the Emotional Freedom Technique

Use your fingertips to explore the meridians of the body, such as the crown area, tap on them and repeat the affirmations. Thanks to this, emotional blocks can be removed.

Please note that the technique requires a complete understanding between body and mind. Some may think that this is too much. But if the technique aroused genuine interest, you can try. However, there is no scientific evidence of its effectiveness. nine0003

5. Cover yourself with a heavy blanket

Negative thoughts bother you not only during the day, but also at night. And this is where a blanket comes in handy. It turns out that sleeping under a heavy blanket (from two to 13 kg) will help to cope with anxiety. As experts explain, it puts a palpable pressure on your body, and this promotes relaxation and helps you fall asleep faster.

This may be due to the body's grounding effect, which reduces stress and pain and improves sleep quality.

6. Try Aromatherapy

Although aromatherapy is not well researched, there is some evidence of its effectiveness. It helps to cope with feelings of anxiety and improves the quality of sleep.

Lindsey Elmore

Pharmacist and health expert.

When you inhale the aroma of oils, it affects the limbic system of the brain, which is also responsible for our emotions.

You can use a diffuser or just take a bath with a few drops of oil. nine0003

7. Stop fighting

Couples who believe their relationship is doomed from the start do end up falling apart. This is the Pygmalion effect in action: you unconsciously do what leads to the expected result.

Learn more