By Jenny Peterson
(For an audio version of this blog, listen to episode #51 of my podcast)
I often get asked, Jenny, what can I do about my nonstop negative thoughts, it feels like they don’t shut off and are consuming my days?
Whenever I get asked this, it takes me back to my days on my healing journey. Waking up with negative thinking, spending my day with them and then ending my day laying in bed with them.
I know exactly what this negative thinking train feels like, but I’m also thankful that I jumped off that train and changed my life for the better. You can do the same and today I’m going to give you some steps that can help you do that.
As frustrating as negative thinking may be, the truth is that your brain is only doing this based on two things, the programming in your subconscious and survival. You can stop worrying that you have a devil in your head or something wrong with your brain. It literally comes down to 2 things.
Lets talk about these 2 areas so you can fully understand the root cause to your thoughts.
First lets talk about survival. Your brain and body are literally wired for it.
Your brain is naturally negative. This trait, called negativity bias, actually began as an evolutionary advantage. Your brain’s top priority is always your survival, not your happiness.
It’s constantly scanning the environment looking for signs of danger. Your brain learns from and holds onto anything it considers a danger with much more importance than something neutral or pleasant.
It files away anything that feels like danger so it can be prepared.
Now keep in mind, danger doesn’t always have to be a physical danger like a bear chasing you. It can also be fearing what other people think, something scary in the future that you are making up in your head or doing something and failing at it.
As long as it's perceived as danger, your brain is storing it.
Let's talk next about programming.
A human brain works on thought patterns, which are nothing but programming that has been indented into its neural network. When you think a thought long enough, it automatically goes into auto pilot because the neural pathways for this thought become strongly embedded in the neural network of your brain.
For example, it’s possible that your brain is in the habit of creating a pattern of negative thinking, where it seems to give a negative “flavor” to all its interpretations. In this case your brain is subconsciously in the habit of looking at reality in a negative manner.
The brain is programmed with repetition because survival is its priority. If it doesn’t need to create new thoughts or learn new things daily, its energy can be focused on other things. Imagine if we had to relearn 2+2 everyday? That would be exhausting and our time would be spent on relearning all the time.
For example, when you learn to drive a car it’s a very conscious effort initially, but after a few months the patterns become so embedded in the brain that the whole action of driving becomes subconscious or on auto pilot.
Remember that every subconscious thought was once a “new thought” that you ingrained and believed. You were not born with these thoughts, you programmed them. Your experiences and environment around you set you up for these thoughts.
These core negative thoughts end up coloring your perception of reality and create new negative thoughts constantly. Experiences in your life support these thoughts. They are your perceptions of what has or is happening to you. This is because at some point you took these patterns to be the truth of your life and invested belief in them to the point where they became “ingrained” patterns.
The environment that you grew up in or are surrounded by now is also a big factor.
If you were always on high alert as a child because your environment didn’t feel safe, your brain was always looking for what was next. You were thinking ahead and covering all options to stay safe. This is how patterns of overthinking start. Where the mind doesn’t shut off because its constantly on alert.
If your parents were negative people, you were programmed to look for the negative. Think about what your mom and dad like to talk about. Is it always bad news, criticizing other people or being in a state of fear? You will take this on because it was programmed through repetition in your environment.
In your current life, who do you hang out with? What do they like to talk about? If you have chronic symptoms, are you part of groups that talk and complain about these symptoms?
The people you surround yourself with are going to be a part of this programming.
Sadly no one teaches us how to use our mind and we end up programming it with patterns that show up as problems later in life.
WHY YOU WANT TO SHIFT THESE THOUGHTS
Non-stop negative thinking patterns are greatly affecting your healing. Think about it, if your brain isn’t turning off from all these thoughts, what kind of message are you sending your body?
A mind that is in this kind of thinking pattern is in a conflict state. Meaning the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Healing can’t take place here. Your brain is sending a message that there is a threat, the body is not considering healing as a priority right now.
This is a big reason why those with chronic symptoms are not healing. When you start out having a symptom, your brain isn’t in a negative thinking pattern day in and day out. You might have a lot of hope in the beginning, thinking that you will be better in no time. Then you don’t get answers, you try everything you can to heal and before you know it, you are thinking all day long about your symptoms and how your life will never be the same.
So after years of having a chronic symptom, its no wonder your brain is thinking like this. It was wired from your perception of your experiences and now it runs on autopilot.
But like I said this is not a mental space that brings healing. The body is constantly getting a message of not feeling safe when we are thinking in negative patterns. And because our brain is wired for survival, these messages are telling the body that this threat is way more important than healing.
In addition, this kind of thinking also affects your behavior and how you respond to life. It's a domino effect. Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked, so our thoughts impact how we feel and act. When you're wired to respond to life negatively, your behavior will follow that. If you respond to everything with fear, worry or doubt then you're most likely not going to take action to move forward towards your goals or dreams. If you start your day in this head space, your day will most likely be shitty because your head will continue down that rabbit hole and your actions will follow.
These negative thinking patterns are taking all the joy out of your life and greatly affecting your health, so it's time to put a stop to them.
HOW TO STOP THEM
So, how do you put a stop to the constant negative chatter and find some peace and happiness when even your brain is working against you? I’ve got 5 actions you can start implementing today.
1. BECOME AWARE
Negative thoughts can be changed only if they’re recognized and acknowledged first.
A simple awareness of the subconscious negative patterns is enough to start becoming free of them.
While you already know that you have these thoughts on some level, its important to really see with your eyes how much of your day that they are taking up. I recommend doing an awareness exercise. This is where you set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes or an hour and when it goes off, you write down what you were just thinking about.
The following is an 8-hour journal of thoughts from a student of the MBR program. As you listen to it, notice how their thoughts may be similar to what thoughts play out in your head throughout the day.
My son really needs to take better care of himself.
My gut hurts. I’m so tired. Is this going to ruin my evening?
I am really worried that my husband is going to want to go out tonight and I won’t be able to.
What am I going to eat tonight? I wish I could just eat anything I wanted.
I wish I would’ve responded differently to my friend today.
I’m dreading my appointment tomorrow.
Noticing my rash and feeling bad.
Why is my mind always spinning?
Are my symptoms ever going to go away?
After doing this exercise, students are able to see how much of their day is consumed by negative thinking patterns. In this student's case there was a lot, it consumed most of their day. Like I mentioned this is very normal for someone with chronic symptoms.
By becoming aware of this, seeing it on paper, it really puts it into perspective, and it helps to bring evidence to the table why symptoms are not going away.
A simple exercise like this done for a few days will help to build your awareness muscle so you can start taking the next action.
2. STOP BELIEVING THEM
The problem isn’t that you have negative thoughts. The problem is that you believe them.
You give them power and believe that it’s the truth of who you are. However, the truth is that subconscious patterns are simply thought patterns that have been thought so many times that they’ve become ingrained as an autopilot of your functioning.
When you know that it's just an old pattern, it's just old programming, you can make a choice to whether you continue believing them or not.
Your negative thoughts are not a trustworthy source of information. They are literally bullshit on autopilot. You can’t take what your mind says seriously. Think about it, would you give someone respect and trust that said the things to you that your mind does?
It is your torturer, and yet you worship it. In what other situation would you ever want to worship your own torturer?
Thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts are not facts.
There is a healthier way to approach your mind: don't take it so seriously. Don't believe everything it says. Don't treat your mind as a trustworthy source of information, especially about the things that make you anxious.
Don't get me wrong, you don't have a bad mind. It's not that your mind feeds you meaningless, negative thoughts and everyone else's mind is on target. This is how all minds work.
Your mind is just doing what minds do. Our minds like to warn us about stuff because our minds think they are keeping us safe by doing this. But just because your mind is doing its job, that doesn't mean the thoughts actually mean anything. Again, thoughts are just thoughts.
When you have a thought that your relationship partner might leave you, that's just a fart noise in your head. Treat it as such: ignore it and move on with whatever you were actually doing with your day.
When you have a thought that you touched something dirty and you might catch a deadly disease, that's just a random neuron firing in your brain. It means nothing. Treat it as such: be dismissive toward your mind and don't give it any of your attention or time.
When you have a thought that your anxiety will never get better, that's just a buzzing sound in your head. Treat it as such: sarcastically say to your mind, "Good one, thanks for that!" Or something that our students like to do is say “shut up Fred!”
So the next time your mind starts spinning about why you should feel anxious about something, try to react to it differently. Don't worship your mind, recognize that it is a false god unworthy of your trust, respect, time, or attention. Instead, get back to whatever you are doing right in front of you in the present moment and put your effort into that.
3. CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
If you are surrounded by negative people or things, it can be very difficult to remove negative thoughts from your subconscious mind.
Many of us have negative friends or family that we are around daily. If you have a group of negative friends that sit around and complain, gossip, and talk bad about other people.
Take a break from them for a while. I am sure you’ve heard the saying misery loves company. Try and meet some new positive friends that you can hang out with.
I know when I was on my healing journey, I joined a lot of groups with those that had the same symptoms as myself and honestly it was one of the worst things I did. There were people posting obituaries of those that died from Lyme disease, doom and gloom talk, and just constant negative thinking in those groups.
I would go on those groups and would be awake all night from all the bad things I heard and feared that would happen to me. These kind of groups are not helpful for your healing, they are doing more harm than good.
Avoid negative media – If you want to feel better fast, avoid negative media for a while. Which is basically all of it. Bad news sells, that’s a proven fact.
Ever notice how excited the newscasters get when there’s a major storm coming or a major accident or wildfire. Bad news sells. Watching the news or scrolling through social media can be a major contributor to negative thoughts, as you are constantly exposed to negativity.
Instead, try spending some time reading uplifting books or listening to music that makes you feel happy, go out in nature. You will be surprised at how much better you feel when you are not constantly bombarded with negativity.
4. REPLACE YOUR THOUGHTS
Just like you trained your brain to be negative, you can train it to be positive. You have to take control and guide your mind in a different direction.
I love how the word “maybe” makes a simple shift in the thinking process.
For example, if you have a negative thought like “I’ll never be able to do this,” then you can counter that thought by saying something like: Maybe I can try. Maybe I can just take the first step.
Its a softer way to shift your thoughts because your mind would give you probably some resistance by going right to “I am capable and competent at what I do” or “This will be easy for me!”
While that would be a great thing to say, if you are already thinking that you’ll never be able to do something, there is most likely a core belief that is connected to that driving that thought. Going all out on positive thinking won’t do much for you in that case.
So a softer approach to replacing your thoughts, isn’t such a shock to your brain.
Another way to replace your thoughts is when you notice them to go to something better. Smile, sing, visualize what you want in your life, take a deep breathe. Tell yourself its just an old pattern. The more you do this, the more you will interrupt those old pathways in your brain. Now the goal with this isn’t to be on the lookout all the time for negative thoughts and make it your goal to “kill them all.” This will only cause you to be stressed out.
The purpose with this is to shift your thoughts to something else so you don’t keep traveling that pathway. It also trains your brain to make shifts quickly rather than sit in old patterns.
Byron Katie’s The Work is good for helping you interrupt and analyze your thoughts. The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround. The questions are:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
After you’ve analyzed a situation with the four questions, you turn it around. Each turn around is an opportunity for you to consider and experience the opposite of your original statement. Katie says the turnarounds are the prescription for happiness.
Lastly, start thinking and talking positively. Train your brain just like you did to think negatively. With repetition.
Start by adding gratitude in your daily routine. I suggest making a list of 3 things you are grateful for and why daily. When something happens, consciously choose to see the good in the situation rather than the bad. Compliment others or when talking to others, choose only to talk about the good things that happened in your day. Train your brain to start seeing the good instead of always looking for the bad.
5. FIND WHAT IS REALLY DRIVING THEM
If you listened to my last podcast, I talked about beliefs being the core of our thoughts. You can’t have a thought, feeling, or behavior that isn’t rooted in a belief. The belief is the root to all of them.
So, if you really want to get to the core of your thoughts, then you need to find the limited beliefs underneath them.
To do this, you will first need to write out a thought that you want to find the belief to. Then from there, you will ask, what does this mean or what does it mean about me? You keep asking this question until you find a limited belief or core belief.
Let's do some examples here:
I never get things right.
What does that mean about me?
Are my symptoms ever going to go away?
What does that mean?
It means that there must be something wrong with me
What does that mean?
My friends never want to spend time with me
What does that mean about me?
No one likes me, I’m unloveable.
My husband didn’t call me to ask how I was today
What does that mean about me?
I’m not important.
As you can see all of these thoughts have beliefs that are driving the bus. If a person didn’t believe that unconscious belief about themselves, they wouldn’t have the thought that follows it.
Once you have the belief, you then need to debunk it.
There are several ways of doing this. I teach how to do this in a step by step process in MBR, which includes a lot of individual details that I can’t do in this format. But a simplified version of my process includes using the following questions:
When did I adopt this belief?
Is it 100% true?
When did I experience this belief for the first time?
Is it possible that I had limitations at that time that caused me to come to this belief? What were those limitations?
Is it possible that those that were involved had limitations that made me come to this belief? What were those limitations?
What would my life look like if I let it go?
What other belief could I adopt instead?
Once you have the new belief that you can replace it with, then its about practicing that new belief and taking action to support it. Those old thoughts that you had won’t keep showing up when you pull out the roots to the thoughts. This method will be the most effective but will require your willingness to do the deep work.
So lets recap the 5 ways to stop negative thoughts:
Stop believing them
Change your environment
Replace your thoughts
Find what is really driving them
This work is going to require patience and perseverance. You have to remember that this is all programming that your brain doesn’t want to let go of. Its comfortable and doesn’t want to change. It will try to pull you back into old patterns. Don’t get frustrated that your thinking doesn’t change because that will only make things worse.
Instead have patience with yourself and your brain because you are both working on wiring new thinking. Just keep working at it and eventually, you will see a change in your thinking patterns.
The point of these tools is to allow you to work with your thoughts to then consciously choose how you want to feel, think, behave, and proceed in any situation. Working with your thoughts and guiding your mind puts you in control of your life. You never have complete control of what happens around you and never will, but you can control and choose what you say to yourself about what happens.
These practices, over time and with repetition, will actually physically change your brain so that more positive thinking and reacting becomes easier and even the default mode. Your life and health will change because of it as well.
So don’t just listen to these actions and tell yourself these are great ideas, I will start them tomorrow. Most likely tomorrow will come and that won’t happen. Again you can blame your brain on that.
Take conscious control of your life and health right now by putting one of these into action. My suggestion would be to start with awareness.
I suggest you print these actions out so you have an action plan in front of you. Because doing anything without a plan will only lead you to the same place you are now.
Speaking of a plan, if you don’t have one for your healing, you're throwing darts blindly. Spending time, money and energy on things that you hope will work but most of the time don’t. You are unique, your symptoms are connected to very specific patterns within your subconscious.
Without a plan unique to you, you will continue struggling and miss out on the life you deserve to be living!
To help you get started on your long-lasting healing journey, we would love to provide you with a healing plan that is unique to you. Get Your Healing Plan Here
We get it, you're desperate to have your illness be a thing of the past, not something that defines your days. But trying to heal WITHOUT a custom plan is costing you precious time, money and energy!
You are unique, your symptoms are connected to very specific patterns within your subconscious.
Without a plan unique to you, you will continue struggling and miss out on the life you deserve to be living! To help you get started on your long-lasting healing journey, we would love to provide you with a healing plan that is unique to you. Get your custom healing plan today!
You can also download my free healing guide, “Why Can’t I Heal” where you will learn the 5 reasons that you haven't healed despite everything you've tried. These are the missing pieces to your healing and the key to resolving your symptoms for good.
Jenny Peterson is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Rewire (MBR). She teaches those that are overwhelmed with trying to heal chronic symptoms how to simplify their healing by focusing on just one place, the subconscious mind. Learn more about MBR here.