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How to Challenge Negative Thinking

Sad woman looking out the window
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

“Why didn’t I just do it when I had the chance?”

“I can’t believe she would say something so awful to me.”

“I’ll never be good enough.”

Do you often have negative thoughts such as these? Chances are that you probably do. People have around 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts each day. That’s a lot of thinking!

Eighty-five percent of what we worry about never happens, but that doesn’t stop our minds from constantly buzzing with concerns and imaging the worst-case scenarios. Constant stress can have devastating effects on our mental and physical health including premature aging, heart problems, weight gain, and shortening our lifespan.

How do we deal with these persistent and negative thoughts? Here are a few strategies you can try:

Become aware of your thoughts.

Here’s where mindfulness comes into play.

Start by identifying what makes you feel stressed out. Common triggers include school, work, relationships, family, and money. Write down your negative beliefs about this situation and ask yourself if they’re rational or justified.

For example, you might be worried that you’ll be fired from your job because you messed up on a big project. How likely would that happen?

First, replacing a worker costs the company about one-third of that person’s salary. If you make $45,000, the company will pay $15,000 to replace you in training, hiring, and severance payment. It’s certainly not in your company’s best interest to replace you so easily.

Then, consider what else is happening in your workplace. Do they fire people often? If so, it’s not a place you’d want to work at anyways. Do your other co-workers mess up? Of course they do and they still have their jobs.

Lastly, look at your track record. Messing up once or twice shouldn’t be enough to tarnish your reputation forever. More likely than not, you can recover from your mistake and make a good impression by doing good on your next project.

Taking all these points together, you can conclude that it would be irrational for your company to fire you after your mistake.

Identify logical fallacies in your thinking.

Most people are guilty of committing logical fallacies without realizing it. You might be familiar with the more common ones such as the strawman, red herring, or ad hominem. However, you should notice if your thinking falls into any of these traps:

  • Black-and-white thinking: This presumes that everything is one way or another without shades of gray. (“If they don’t want to promote me, they’re probably okay with firing me!”)

  • Filter thinking: Filter thinking or cherry-picking means that you only see one part of the whole situation. (“This mistake will ruin my career, despite that I’ve been a good worker for over two years!”)

  • Catastrophizing: This is when you jump to the worst possible conclusion, no matter how illogical it may seem. (“I’ll get fired and then I won’t be able to pay rent, so I’ll become homeless!”)

  • Emotional reasoning: You’re thinking with emotions instead of reasoning. (“I’m so scared of getting fired. Of course it’s going to happen. Why else would I be so worried?”)

  • Labelling: You assign yourself or someone else a label based on one instance or trait. (“Wow, I turned in my project a day late. I must be a terrible worker.”)

Are you guilty of falling for one or more of these kinds of thinking? Once you recognize it, you’ll realize the errors of your ways.

Woman thinking
Photo by Jonathan Cosens Photography on Unsplash

Positive Solutions

The way you talk to yourself can drastically change your thoughts and feelings. Next time you feel overwhelmed, try one of these approaches:

  • Will this matter five years from now? The average person lives to be about 79 years old. Chances are that you have a long life ahead of you. So what’s the point of fretting over this one event? Is it something that you’ll even remember next year? If not, you’re probably worrying too much.

  • Think like an outsider. Imagine someone else was telling you all the negative things you’re telling yourself. Would you be okay with someone saying that? Who are they to judge you? If you wouldn’t accept that abuse from another person, why would you accept it from yourself?

  • Identify solutions. There’s no problem that can’t be solved. What can you do to counteract this problem? Let’s say that you’ve already imagined the worst-case scenario. How will you prepare in case that does happen (which is unlikely)?

  • Think of the future. What have you learned from this situation? Did you grow from it? Remember that nobody lives without mistakes. Everyone from Elon Musk to Oprah Winfrey failed countless times before they succeeded. When trying to create the lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

  • Add a “but” at the end of your negative statements. Use this technique to reframe each negative into a positive. “I might’ve turned in this project late, but I did so because I wanted it to be perfect.” See how much better that sounds?

  • Forgive yourself. Everybody makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. You’re a human being just like everyone else and worthy of love and respect. Self-love is one of the most important things you could practice.

Physical Activities

What’s good for the body is good for the mind. One of the best ways to make yourself happier is to take care of your physical health. Here are a few things you can try:

  • Box breathing: Is your life as stressful as that of a Navy SEAL? Probably not, but we can use their stress relief techniques anyways. Box breathing is simple. Do these steps for four seconds each:

1. Exhale and empty your lungs.

2. Inhale through your nose.

3. Hold your breath.

4. Exhale.

  • Meditation: There’s so much written about the wonders of meditation that it’s almost impossible to cover it all. Set a timer for five to ten minutes. Then, close your eyes and sit with your back straight. Try to clear your thoughts and focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. It’s a simple process that requires no equipment or training, but you can use guided meditation apps or videos for help.

  • Exercise: Much like meditation, exercise is like a wonder drug that does nearly everything. It boosts your mood, concentration, willpower, and keeps you in shape. You should aim for at least half an hour of exercise each day.

  • Express gratitude: Write down a few things you’re grateful for in your life and why you’re thankful for them. It could be anything from your best friend to great weather. Research shows that expressing gratitude can have long-lasting positive effects on the brain.


Learning to combat your negative thoughts takes time, but you will be all the better for it. Everyone has insecurities, failures, and doubts that they struggle with every day. It’s okay to have negative thoughts – just don’t let them bring you down.

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