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July 27, 2021

3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking With CBT

3 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking With CBT

Learn CBT skills to stop negative thinking in this episode.

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Negative Thinking

Do you struggle with negative thinking because they cause anxiety or stress? Is it difficult to turn off the negative thoughts that creep into your mind? Welcome to episode 13 of the Anxiety Therapist Podcast. In today’s show, I want to discuss how to stop negative thinking with help from CBT.

You know, I can't tell you how many people come into my private therapy office who want help with motivation because they've got these negative critical voices in their mind and they're just eating them alive, right? I mean the self-talk, this toxic talk that goes on in their own minds is keeping them from reaching their goals. So wouldn't it be great if you were able to think about things in a different way, if you had the ability the tools, if you will, to have a more positive outlook on life. Now, just a real fast disclaimer, before I continue, this show is not meant to be a replacement for mental health counselling, and I'm not your personal therapist,

Show Highlights

  • Understanding negative thinking patterns
  • How to use a thought journal to recognize distorted thoughts
  • Using (CBT) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to challenge self-defeating thoughts
  • Learn to externalize maladaptive thinking
  • Listener Email on How to get over a grudge.

Negative thinking leads to anxiety.

What is Negative Thinking?

Negative thinking. You know, we all have this inner voice that speaks to us and it speaks to us all the time whenever we think. It tells us when we like the taste of something and it tells us when it's time to brush our teeth and when it's time to go to bed. it tells us if we look attractive when we look in the mirror and sometimes it'll tell us if there's danger ahead. but for many people, that inner voice can be so overly critical that it says all kinds of things to us, that we would never, never in a million years tolerate from another person.

That negative, useless energy-sucking voice can come in and say garbage like you've made terrible mistakes in your life and you deserve to be unhappy. Or it might say you're a workout sucked and you deserve to be in bad shape. Or it could say, you look like crap and you shouldn't even be going out with your friends because you look so nasty.

Sometimes that critical voice might say, you're not even good enough to be loved by anyone. And when this voice gets really bad, when it really gets its self-worked up into a frenzy, it can make you believe you're a total failure. Now think about this for a moment. If you went out there and you told some little kid every day that he was a failure over and over again, and you kept saying to this kid you're not good enough, you suck you're worthless. Well, at one point, this kid develops a low self-esteem and the words you tell him, take on meaning until they eventually turn into this self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you can imagine talking to a little kid like that, just think about how devastating it is to talk this way to yourself. 

How to stop negative thinking

You see when you're super hard on yourself, the motivation for change, it's completely gone. It disappears. And that's because you've already convinced yourself that you won't succeed and that's exactly what we want to avoid. We want to get out of the habit of living those negative thoughts take over because they're just thoughts and thoughts can only become bigger if we allow them to grow. a thought is merely a thought and that's it. Now, this is where cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT can be a powerful weapon against negative thinking. Now, before we talk about CBT, I want to do a thought experiment with you. And if you listen to other episodes, you know that I love to do these thought experiments. 

Externalize Negative Thoughts

So for a moment, I want you to imagine in your mind's eye, that this critical voice has a face that's right. I'm asking you to give this critical voice that you imagine in your mind's eye a face. And if you can't think of one, try to think of it as something kind of other image in your mind's eye, make it a monster or a dark cloud or whatever works for you. You might be thinking right now, what the hell is he having me do? I mean, this is just nuts. And trust me when I have patients to do this, this imagination exercise in my office, they laugh because they've never thought about giving a face to their negative voice. They sort of describe it like it's always been there or it's faceless. It's kind of in the shadows. Well, the reason I want you to visualize this is so that you can disassociate from it. You want to be able to externalize it. You want to be able to observe that critical voice and then start to challenge all the awful stuff it says to you.

You want to be able to break that mindset and cut it off before it can grow further and manipulate you. And that's right. I said, manipulate you even further. Think of it like that girl Reagan in the movie, The Exorcist, where she manipulates the priest. You want to be able to stop that right in its tracks. Language has power words have power and your own inner voice has the most power of all. You see in my mind's eye, my negative voice looks like this really mean lawyer. And it's different for everyone, but that's what it looks like for me. So he's always angry looking with this bald head and red face and who knows. I probably imagined him up from some TV show I've seen in the past. And so that's what mine looks like. How about you? What does your negative voice look like when you imagine it? And for me, this critical voice hovers and floats, and it's always waiting for the opportunity to make judgment and even prosecute me. 

So let's see what we can and to, to combat that critical negative voice. The first thing I want you to do go out and get yourself a notebook, and it can be any kind of notebook. You can get these at the dollar store. And the reason I want you to start getting a notebook is so that you can keep a thought journal. Now, this thought journal is a lot different from your regular diary or journal, where you write out your emotions. And those can be really helpful because you become aware, right?

Realizing that a thought journal where you basically just write down an individual thought it can be just a sentence, the shorter, the better. And the reason I want you to keep this thought journal is so you can literally train your brain to become aware of the negative thoughts that creep up in your mind. 

Train Your Mind to Combat Negative Thinking

Think about it. Remember back to when you were a child, you didn't always know that 5 and 5 make 10 or that 8, and 2 make 10 or that 7 and 3, make 10. It took time for you to keep on practicing it until you memorized it until you learned it. well, in a similar way, you can train your brain to become aware of critical voices in your mind, but this takes work. It doesn't happen overnight. It's going to take a little while. and through this self-work you can achieve the goals that you want. You can become aware of that negative voice and start to do something about it. Okay, so once you get your journal, I want you to write down these three words should, must and ought.

Now these three words should must an art or what you're going to start using to defend yourself against that critical voice, that critical voice that wants to manipulate you. And these are going to be some of the main battle weapons you're going to use to start changing your state of mind and bring yourself into a positive place. 

All right. So I'm going to use myself as an example for this first should statement. You know, just the other day I was at my CrossFit class and there was this intense workout scheduled. We had to do all kinds of barbell work and box jumps and sit-ups. And it was nuts and yeah, not to get off the subject, but even me, right?

Like there are days where I just don't want to get out of that bed and show up to an exercise class, but I forced myself to do it. So anyway, my critical voice starts jumping in with that should statement. And it's trying to manipulate me into thinking, I can't do the workout. And it starts saying these things to me like this, it says you should be able to lift more weight. And because you haven't, you're no good at cross fit or it might say, In fact, it did say you should have more energy to work out because you don't, you're weak. And here's another one that likes to say you should be faster than everyone. Because you're not, it's not even worth going to the gym. 

CBT Thought Journal

CBT Thought Journal

So yeah, that's a lot of negative self-talk, isn't it? And if you are familiar with cognitive therapy, you know that there's a lot of all-or-nothing thinking going on here. And in another episode, I'll talk about all or nothing thinking, but let's see if we can do something to scare away those distorted thoughts. So, the voice pops off and it says, hey, listen, you know what? You should be better at exercise. Well, this is how you could respond to it. You might use this kind of sentence.

Should Statements.

You might say, where is it written that I should be better at exercise? Aren't there a lot of people out there who aren't the best at exercise, but they continue to go and get in the best shape they can. Isn't it true that there are some days where you just have more energy than others? Does everyone always feel like working out? Why are you talking to me this way? Who gave you the right to be able to talk to me in such a negative way? 

So do you see what I'm doing? Folks, I'm defending myself against this negative voice so that it doesn't have power. It's like the negative voices, is a prosecutor. And you're your own defense attorney. And if you don't defend yourself, it will just run wild. It'll take you over completely. And so you want to cut it off. You want to cut it off, so it's gone. and you do this by writing down the alternative thought in your journal. When it says a should statement, you come back and you write an alternative thought, just like in the example I gave.

Ought Statements.  

The ought statement or ought sentence, and the ought sentence in your mind says something like this. It says you ought to have had a big house right now with kids and a white picket fence. And this beautiful life. Or it might say you are to have had more money saved in the bank at this point. And you might write in your thought journal to defend yourself something to this effect. Hey, where's there a law that says I ought to have had a bigger house right now with a family? Isn't it true that there's lots of people my age, who don't have a big house right now, or who don't have lots of money in the bank, are they bad people? Are they losers? Who the heck do you think you are by coming into my life and talking to me this way, trying to manipulate me into thinking that I'm some kind of failure? you know, you just need to tamper down because you know what Mr. or Mrs. Negativity you're not wanted here. 

 Must statements. 

Recognizing the must statement.  And the must statement might say something like this. I must have everyone like me, or I must have the perfect body. And if I don't, well, then I'm just no good. Now in your thoughts journal, you would challenge this. You would write something down to the effect that says, well, wait, is this 100% accurate? I mean, is this true? What would a friend say to me about this?

Would they say, I must be likable by everyone? Isn't it true that not everyone is liked by everyone else? I mean, that's just ridiculous. So negative a voice what are you trying to do right now? You're just trying to, again, manipulate me and to take over my mind so that I'm in a negative place all day and that's not going to happen. And that's because I deserve to be happy.

 As you're writing this, you can replace that should an ought with the word wish. For example, you could say, I wish I had a better body, or I wish I had more money in the bank or in my own example, I wish I were better at CrossFit. So I guess I'm going to need to go to more classes and get myself in better shape. Do you see how I changed my reference, how I changed the mindset, those words that you're using in your mind every single day should must and ought, they can be devastating if you let them take control. 

Listener Email on Letting Go of a Grudge


Let's move on to today's listener, email. Today's listener email comes from Bruce out of New York city. I'll just read you his message and I'll share my response. Here's what he wrote. He wrote, "Hey, Frank, I liked your episode on toxic parenting styles, but I was wondering if I could get your take on forgiving people from the past and letting go of grudges that have lasted for years.

This includes people who I'll never see again, because some of them have basically passed on sincerely, Bruce." So, yeah, Bruce, thanks for your question. I want you to know that I really appreciate that you took some time out of your day to listen to this podcast. Well, here's the message I sent back to Bruce. I said, "Bruce, holding under grudges against someone else is something that a lot of us do. I mean, look, we're all human. And when someone has harmed us or emotionally wronged us, these feelings can take on the form of just a heavyweight. And it can last a long, long time. And this grudge, it can fester inside of us, right? To a point where it just consumes our whole reality. And we can't think of anything else. 

So I gave Bruce an example from my own life because that's all I can really think to do. And I told them in my own life, my adopted parents never told me the truth that I wasn't their biological child. They just sort of went around casually and made me think that I was their biological kid the whole time hiding the truth from me. It was just this big fat lie. Now both of my adopted parents have long since passed away, but that feeling of sadness and anger and just frustration stayed with me for a really long time. I mean, there's no doubt about it. It was hard to start letting go of that anger. And I held under this bitterness and this sorrow for way too long, because I felt such disdain such resentment at them because they had caused this trauma in my life. And I have to tell you that if discovering you're adopted later on in life, isn't traumatic, then I don't know what it is.

Now, Bruce, I don't know the exact circumstances of the grudge you hold towards someone else in your own life. But I can tell you this, holding a grudge, isn't useful. It isn't serving any purpose except to bring you down and cause you to feel bad. I want you to imagine that this grudge you have is like a heavy bag and you have to carry it over your shoulder. And this bag is full of toxic waste. It just gets heavier and heavier as time goes on. To be the best version of yourself Isn't it time you allow yourself to put down that bag so that you can live the rest of your life with more positivity and happiness. Don't you deserve Bruce to finally let go of that pain from the past? 

Bruce, you can start doing this slowly by realizing that it's okay to love yourself. It's okay to identify with that pain that someone else caused, but allow yourself permission to accept the things that have happened and that you don't want to waste any more time holding onto this grudge and possibly retraumatizing yourself all over again. I did a little research for you and came across this really useful article written by Renita Williams, over on psych central. I'll make sure to leave a link in the show notes so that you can check it out yourself. The article is titled eight steps to letting go of a grudge and here they are: first acknowledge the problem.

You know, Bruce, this sounds helpful, right? You have to know what the grudge is about before you can start to heal. 2 share your feelings. So the article is basically asking, asking you to contact the person who's involved with this grudge. If you feel like it. 

And I just want to throw in my 2 cents here, Bruce only contact the person when you're ready. Don't force yourself to have a conversation with someone. If you're emotionally not ready. think about the outcome you want to have for sharing your feelings with this person. In other words, what do you want the results to be after you had the conversation? And in your case, if the person already passed away, this conversation isn't going to be possible, but you might be able to talk with someone else you trust just to sort of vent some of those feelings to get it off your chest.

Number 3, in the article, it says, switch places with the other person. All right, well, this can often be easier said than done. If what the other person said to you was so horrific or what they did was so horrific, then no amount of switching places is going to help. On the other hand, if what happened, wasn't too terrible. Then you might be able to put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to gain a better understanding and why they made the decisions they made. Again, this one can be tricky. 

Number 4 accept what is now, Bruce, this goes back to what I mentioned earlier about acceptance. The truth is some people are completely unable to realize when they were in the wrong. We all know people like this.

They can totally be devoid of any kind of self-reflection or responsibility. So why waste your time continuing to try to convince someone that they were in the wrong, if they absolutely had- they just don't have the mental capacity to realize the error of their ways. Acceptance is one of the main keys to healing. Number five is don't dwell on it. So this one's pretty self-explanatory because you don't want it to just let it fester and let it ruin your life.

Onto number six, take the positive. She goes on to say that it's important to learn something positive from every experience. Even if that something was terribly painful. in my own life, Bruce, I had to come to the realization that if it weren't for all the pain and suffering, I went through as a child, I probably wouldn't be in the place where I am now, where I have the opportunity to help others in need.

None of that would have happened. None of these experiences I've had as an adult would have happened if I wouldn't have experienced the pain I went through. And when I look at it in that kind of light, I can see it as positive.

Number seven, let it go. So this one can be difficult and it isn't likely to just happen overnight. It's not magic. Letting go is a process where you consciously choose to allow whatever happened in the past to stay in the past. So it doesn't continue to be a part of your everyday life. Onto the final one and that's number eight and that's to forgive. Now, Bruce, I have my own ideas about forgiveness and it probably means different things to different people, but here's what works for me. Forgiveness.

Isn't the same thing as forgetting. It wouldn't be realistic at all to think you can just forget the pain that someone else introduced to your life, but you can forgive them. You can forgive them for not having the knowledge or the wisdom or the empathy to understand that they caused you such a deep pain. And since they didn't have that sense of empathy or understanding inside, it can be easier to forgive. 

Finally, Bruce, I want you to know that it's totally okay that you feel the way you do and that you have this grudge. but here's the thing you get to decide if you want to allow that spell, they cast on you to stay in place for the rest of your life. You get to decide if you finally want to break that spell and move on with your life and to a place that's more prosperous and fulfilling, warm regards, Frank."

Stop Negative Thinking Summary

Okay. Okay. So you heard my response to Bruce. Well, we've come to the end of another episode. We went over a lot today. Wouldn't you say? You learned some of the strategies for standing up to the negative voices in your head, by using a thought journal and defending yourself with the all or nothing statements like should must or ought. I also shared a listener's email on the subject of holding a grudge and how you can move forward with your life in a positive, meaningful way. Before I go I just want to take a moment to let know that I'm glad you took the time out of your day to listen to this show. Being a dad, to my little girl and working full-time in private practice can make creating episodes really challenging. So I want to say thank you to you right now to everyone who's been leaving me feedback on the website or writing reviews. It just gives me inspiration to keep going.

It means so much to me to know that I might be able to provide information that helps someone else out. If you'd like to send me a message head on over to the website @anxiety From there you can read different articles or you can even follow us on social media by clicking one of the links again, thanks for stopping by. And finally, before I go, just remember, we all have critical voices in our minds that are ready to be hard on us. Those words should ought and must can be the first line of defense.

Take a visit on the blog page for more tips on how to handle negative thoughts. 

Whenever these voices try to manipulate us into negative thoughts. You have the power to defend yourself and you have the power within you to thrive in your life. Thank you for listening to the Anxiety Therapist Podcast.