I like to think I’m an unofficial expert on negative thinking. It’s not unusual for me to start and finish the day ruminating on something that could go wrong—but most likely won’t. And, I typically take my lunch with a side of worry, too.
I’m far from alone: The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Of those thoughts, 95% repeat each day, and, on average, 80% of repeated thoughts are negative.
I’ve tried numerous tactics to cut the negativity, including, but not limited, to: shouting “stop” in my head when a negative thought appears, softly singing “Oops!…I Did It Again” to drown out the thoughts (thanks, BritBrit!), writing down all my negative thoughts to see my irriational thinking, and meditating.
Today, thanks to a variety of tactics and professional help, I’ve learned to better manage my anxiety. But that doesn’t mean I’m “negative thought-free.” I’m still human—so I’m always on the lookout for new strategies to check my negativity.
You Control Which Thoughts Matter
I learned about this mindfulness hack from popular self-help blogger Eric Barker, who runs the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree. In a recent post about emotional strength, Barker explains that we can’t control which thoughts “bounce around” in our mind. What we can control is the thoughts we focus on.
t’s a tactic he learned from Joseph Goldstein, a Buddhist mindfulness expert. It’s designed to help you assess if a thought is serving you or others—or if it’s just irrational.
“If the worry is reasonable, do something about it,” Barker writes. “If it’s irrational or out of your control, recognize that. Neuroscience shows that merely making a decision like this can reduce worry and anxiety.”
This past week, I decided to put the strategy to the test. When negative thoughts (unsurprisingly) popped into my head, I challenged them with a peaceful, “Is this useful?”
Pausing to ask that question did a few things: First, it forced me to climb out of my thoughts and see them from a new perspective. I became CEO of Haley’s Mind, Inc. My mission: To make sure thoughts bettered the company. Adopting that point of view made me more curious than concerned about what went on in my head.
Second, asking, “Is this useful?” made me more intentional when I challenged my thoughts. Unlike desperately shouting at my thoughts to “stop,” I calmly faced them head-on and assessed them. I quickly decided if the thoughts served me, and I let those that didn’t fall to the wayside.
I started viewing my thoughts like a Tinder scenario: I swiped left for those that didn’t prove beneficial to me, and right for those that I could actually act on. I was making my thoughts work for me, not against me—and it felt good.
Take Back Your Power
I’m definitely sticking with the “Is this useful?” tactic—and I’d recommend people with negative thoughts give it a try.
But one thing I’ve learned as a “negative thought expert” is this: What works for one person might not work for everyone. Mindfulness, journaling, a classic early 2000s jam—there are lots of ways to combat negative thinking. It’s all about what works best for you.