Motivation Articles

3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking

Don't Let Negative Thoughts Sabotage Your Efforts

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You’ve gone over your calories for the day or eaten something on your “forbidden” list. You figure that since you've blown your diet, you might as well keep on eating and start over tomorrow. You keep eating, but despise yourself for it.

You’ve done well all week, but the scale says you’ve gained a pound. You panic, feeling certain that you’re doomed to be fat forever.

You set the alarm an hour early to exercise, but hit snooze. Feeling like a lazy slug, you wonder if you have any willpower to do what you know you need to.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

The tendency to leap from minor, trivial problems to overblown, unrealistic conclusions is something that everyone struggles with to some degree. This type of negative thinking is one of the biggest reasons that people have difficulty sticking to their weight loss plan—and why small problems can cause stress and misery that is often avoidable.

Of course, there are dozens of deep, psychological reasons why individuals get caught up in this negativity. But you don’t have to know why you do it to stop being negative. All you have to do is to take a close look at what you are actually doing and decide to stop doing it for that moment. Here are three techniques you can use to stop all those negative thoughts before they stop you:

1. Look for Hidden Thoughts and Assumptions

The process of moving from an event (like going over your daily calories) to a conclusion about the meaning of that event (I’ve blown my diet) and what you should do about it (keep eating, start over later), typically involves several more mental steps that you probably aren’t aware of. Psychologists call these intermediate steps automatic thoughts because they are habitual, happen quickly, and feel so “right” to us that we don’t even notice them.

Although you can’t completely prevent automatic thoughts from occurring (after all, they naturally help us make good decisions in a hurry), these thoughts are not always accurate. Chronic negativity about yourself or your situation is a good sign that your automatic thoughts are inaccurate.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to learn how to identify your automatic thoughts, figure out if they make sense, and change the ones that aren’t working for you. The first step is to develop the habit of asking yourself: "What would have to be true in order for the negative conclusion I reached to be justified?"
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Dean Anderson really knows how to speak my language. I know his articles have been around a very long time, and so have I . . . maybe that's why.
    This was a great article. Thank you for posting it.
    8-) - 10/16/2015 6:58:57 PM
  • CAMPER531
    i needed to read this today people say that they will so this or that and they don't and I am left fell sad. I am still in the I thought you said you would..... thank you for the article. - 6/21/2015 2:28:16 PM
    I needed to read this today. Thank you. - 6/14/2015 10:00:31 PM
  • Brilliant. Brilliant. The idea that the beast is a child is dramatically working for me. I now carry around a lightweight shawl (or at least a shawl/scarf). If I can find a quiet spot (even a bathroom) for a couple of minutes and sit wrapped in the shawl (a blankie?) I'm ok. This is a revelation. - 3/22/2015 6:45:25 PM
  • Great article! I tend to over-blow simple things up, and use precious energy beating myself up, knowing it's not the end of the world, nor am I going to put on10 lbs over a cookie. This process will be especially useful at work with so much blame game. I'm quick to take blame and beat myself up about "another" mistake. Instead I should stop and analyze what the problem is, and if it even has anything to do with me. If it's not, then reject it. If it's my problem, then I need to determine whether I just didn't do it right, or whether this is a result of indecisive management. Often times, the situation is a learning opportunity. - 2/7/2015 10:39:16 AM
    A game that can help fight negative thinking: https://www.faceb
    e/379583468880678 - 1/28/2015 3:24:26 PM
  • But if you removed all my negativity, I'd disappear. - 10/18/2014 5:01:15 PM
  • This was RIGHT ON!!! - 10/18/2014 1:36:25 PM
  • Really needed this article today. Yesterday was my husbands birthday and we splurged, going out for pizza with my husbands brother and wife, have Chinese for dinner. Have a piece of cake and some candy as it was his birthday. But knowing this morning we needed to get back on track! Thank You! - 10/18/2014 10:14:52 AM
    This article was very helpful, and it can be useful on many levels. Although I've maintained a healthy weight for five years, I still make mistakes and hate the feelings they create. The advice about examining those intermediate and automatic thoughts is another step I can take to attain the healthy mind and body I seek. - 2/18/2014 8:15:02 AM
    I've found that wearing a rubber band on my wrist helps with banishing negative thoughts and exchanging them for a more positive thought. Whenever I feel a negative thought come into my head or a negative feeling, I pop the rubber band on my wrist as a way to "wake myself up" , become aware of my thoughts and substitute it for a better one. You'd be surprised how many times a day you'll find yourself popping that rubber band! It's called Aversion Therapy. (I think) Give it a try! - 1/5/2014 10:01:21 AM
    Very informative and empowering. I think this advice could change my life for the better. I've been struggling with negative automatic thoughts almost my entire life. Thank you for this article and congratulations on your achievements! You reinforced one of my favorite quotes: "It's never too late to be what you might have been"! A million thanks! - 1/5/2014 9:57:16 AM
  • I will try this today! This rainy, dark day is not going to get me. - 10/19/2013 11:37:51 PM
  • BETAB77
    I so need this today !! Feeling blue today...
    - 10/19/2013 10:52:28 AM
  • After learning that I am a codependent, I begin each day with my affirmations. Right now, those affirmations come in the form of the Spark Coach program on Spark People. I found your article this morning. This was the perfect affirmation for me. I hurt my foot and cannot exercise as much as I like right now. I get so down on myself because of those negative thoughts coming to the forefront each morning. Thanks for reminding me about the tools to confront those thoughts! - 10/19/2013 8:16:49 AM

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