3 Key Questions to Ask to Combat Negative Thoughts

3 Key Questions to Ask to Combat Negative Thoughts

How To Combat Negative Thoughts

How to Use Self-Compassion to Improve your Thinking

It’s 3:00 a.m. and you are wide awake. Your thoughts begin to race, none of them positive, all of them seem impossible to cope with, and all of them magnified by the quiet and darkness of the night.

  • What did my boss mean when he said I have room for growth?
  • I’m a total failure at work.
  • My sister-in-law “likes” everyone’s posts on Facebook except mine.
  • My kids probably hate me because I feel like all I do is yell at them.
  • My new baby deserves a better mom than me.
  • Why does it seem like everyone has a bunch of awesome friends, and I have a hard time finding one person on this planet that I can trust? 
  • I hate my body. I have been fat and disgusting all my life, and that will never change!
  • All my friends have graduated, found a great career, and are starting to have kids. I’m the only one that doesn’t know what to do with my life. Everyone else makes this all look so easy.

Sound familiar? These may not be your precise thoughts, but the tone is likely similar.

Thoughts like these can grip our spirit and cripple us, holding us back from becoming the best version of ourselves. So, what do you do when that inner critic rules your thoughts, reminding you constantly of your deepest fears, shortcomings, inadequacies, insecurities, and failures? A starting point would be to ask yourself three key questions.

Question #1: Is this a helpful thought?

In these moments, I can promise you the answer will be a resounding “NO!” Not helpful at all! These unwelcome, unhelpful thoughts run rampant in our brains convincing us we will never overcome our challenges and heartaches. These thoughts lead us to conclude more global and painful thoughts such as “I am unlovable” or “I am worthless.”

So, you have determined that your thoughts are absolutely not helpful, so what next?

Question #2: Would I talk to a friend the way I am talking to myself in my head?

The answer again is likely an absolute “NO! NEVER!” Would you tell a friend they are fat and disgusting? Would you tell your friend that they are a complete loser and will never succeed in life? Would you tell a friend that they are completely unlovable? Of course not! Yet you are saying these most offensive and painful things to yourself on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that you feel horrible?

The most common response at this stage is, “I can see these are not helpful thoughts, but they are true!” Our brains have a fascinating way of convincing us that all our thoughts are true. After all, why would I have a thought if it also was not true? In essence, our minds can brainwash us to believe just about anything we tell ourselves. The truth is that the majority of our negative thoughts about ourselves are loaded much more with judgment than truth.

Question #3: Are my thoughts self-compassionate?

If you are like many, you have probably never asked yourself this question. Most of us have been raised and socialized to be kind and compassionate to others but being kind and compassionate to ourselves was not typically part of that message. In fact, some of us learned that taking care of ourselves is selfish. Often the main message of taking care of ourselves is focused on the body with a cultural emphasis on diet and exercise. Though eating well and exercising does contribute positively to one’s mental health, the bombardment and social pressure of these messages in the media has also hurt the psyche of many.

So, what often is missing in this self-care message? Nurturing and protecting our inner world–our mind and spirit.

One key strategy of strengthening our mind and spirit is addressing how we think. We can do battle with negative thinking by identifying self-compassionate thoughts that provide understanding, non-judgment, and encouragement rather than falling prey to our darker thoughts. The bully in our head will try to pull us down at every turn. So, try shifting negative thoughts to more compassionate thoughts that allow you to be fully human.

Be sure your new thoughts are believable because you are too smart to buy into a new thought that is not. For example, if you are suffering from an estranged relationship with your daughter, a new thought will not be believable if you shift your painful thoughts from “my daughter hates me” to “I’m sure she thinks I am a great mom.” But it might be helpful and believable if you shifted your thought to something more realistic such as “It pains me that our relationship is struggling right now, but I know she is really hurting. I am going to focus on how I can connect to her pain and support her. I am sure many other moms have felt this way too when they have had conflicts with their children. I know I am a loving mom. I know I would walk through fire for her. I know having a conflict with her does not mean she hates me, or I am a bad mom. I know I can love my way back to her.”

Do you hear compassion, understanding, and kindness in these thoughts? Nonjudgment and encouragement? These are self-compassionate thoughts. These are the thoughts a close friend might say to you. They are thoughts that allow you to be human, allow you to have struggles like everyone else, and empower you to see the hope that you can make things different in your life.

Are your negative thoughts bringing you down?

Everyone struggles with negative thinking from time to time. Sometimes our negative thought patterns can be so deeply entrenched that we struggle to budge our perspective. If you are experiencing feelings of low mood and are finding it difficult to lift yourself up, reach out for help. Confide in a close friend, family member, or partner. Some people find that using a journal to process emotions in a productive way can be helpful. Sometimes it helps to get outside perspective and support. Please consider calling North Star Therapy and get the support you deserve. You are not alone.