How to Handle Negative Thoughts

“The Unwelcome House Guests”

Imagine enjoying a peaceful day at home, when suddenly the door flies open and in comes a crowd of unruly people. They are loud, obnoxious, and condescending. They push past you as if you weren’t there, heading to the kitchen for something to eat, piling onto your sofa in front of your television, barging upstairs to take a nap in your bed. You are so overwhelmed by them that you don’t know how to react. They seem overbearing and headstrong, and even though you may want to tell them to leave, you feel powerless to do so.

As the days wear on, they keep inviting more and more of their friends to stay also, until your home is cramped and uncomfortable. They are with you in the shower, in your bed, while you eat your meals, in your car as you drive to work. You feel that your life has been taken over by these barbarians, and you wonder when you lost control of your life and your home.

Who are these creeps, you ask? They are negative thoughts. And they will take over your life if you don’t take control of them.

We often don’t realize how overrun with negative thoughts we are until we become extremely uncomfortable, just like the example above. Negative thoughts can be sneaky, slipping in undetected, yet having a powerful impact on our moods and emotions. Over time, they will begin to take over our thoughts altogether.

Think about these scenarios, and see if you recognize yourself in any of them:

  • Your spouse is 30 minutes late coming home from work, and suddenly the telephone rings. Do you immediately imagine the worst? Does your heart start racing at the thought of an accident?
  • You apply for a great job and feel excited by the possibilities. A few days go by, and you don’t receive a phone call requesting an interview. Do you begin worrying about errors you might have made on the application, or whether your skills are up to par? Do you assume that you won’t get the job, and resign yourself to a low-paying, unfulfilling career for the rest of your life?
  • You’re driving in fast-moving traffic, and you see a large truck approaching from the opposite direction. Do you automatically begin feeling anxious that the truck could veer over to your lane and crush your compact car – even though the driver of the truck has given you no indication that this is a possibility?

These examples demonstrate how easily our thoughts can move into a negative place. It’s actually quite common, so don’t despair if you identify with these situations. There IS something you can do about it.

It’s important to point out that these examples reflect situations that are completely out of our control. Even if they did happen, there isn’t much we could do about it. We’d simply have to deal with it, just as we do with all of life’s challenges. Obsessing over the horrible things that could happen to us only makes us feel powerless and frightened.

What if we choose to turn our thoughts around and focus on happy things instead? We can, you know! That doesn’t mean negative thoughts will never pop into our heads, of course. They probably will. But we don’t have to allow them to stay. Just like our unruly house guests described above, we need to be firm and unyeilding about the types of thoughts we want to welcome in.

So, what can we do when frightening images pop into our heads? In my opinion, the best course of action would be to kick them right out again. Don’t entertain them. Simply turn the thought around to something positive (or at least neutral) instead.

Rather than assuming your spouse is late because of an accident, assume he or she is late because of heavy traffic, a last minute request from the boss, or a quick stop at the supermarket. Rather than assuming you didn’t get the job, assume that it will take time for the hiring manager to get through all the applications. Acknowledge that even if you didn’t get this particular job, there are plenty more great jobs out there if you take time to look for them. And yes, rather than assuming you’ll be killed by a large truck, assume you WON’T be.

Turning these thoughts around will take time and consistent effort, especially if you are used to letting them take over your mind. Remember that unwelcome house guests don’t usually respond to subtlety. You may need to display immense determination and kick some major butt before they will leave. But if you keep at it, they will eventually grow weary of the hostile atmosphere and leave you in peace.

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