Despite the fact that the human brain makes up 2% of the total mass of our body, it still uses 22% of the total energy of the body. Studies show that an average person has 60,000-70,000 thoughts a day, 90% of which are the same as yesterday’s; 80% of which are negative thoughts; 47% of the thoughts are distracted by other thoughts. In other words, almost half of the time, we cannot follow up a thought until the end. So the big question now is HOW TO GET RID OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS? And to answer that, we first need to understand how are thought formed.
How are thoughts formed?
Without getting into the mechanism of how our brain produces thoughts, and without talking about the 86 billion neurons connected in 100 trillion quadrillion synapses, the way thoughts are created is pretty simple.
It all starts with the emotion, the same primordial feeling, that we feel in our stomachs. Emotions are like a big headline – fear, joy, happiness, anger. And as such, it’s only a big title, and not a flow of matters. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Alan S. Cowen and Dacher Keltner PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, has found that there are actually 27 emotions one can have. But at this stage we’re still talking about emotions, and not their “concrete” representation in our minds.
While emotions are only the initial, “uncooked” or raw stage of thoughts. Next, the emotion tries to get expressed, and its well-known representation is a kind of mask or costume. To have an expression that we can experience, emotion becomes a thought.
At first glance, the process is very simple. Emotion becomes thought. that’s it. But this is really not the case. As described by the Neuroscientist Dr. Joseph Dispenze, “95% of who you are by the time you are 35 years old is a set of memorized behaviors and emotional reactions that create and identity subconsciously. 5% of your conscious mind that is plugged into reality is working against 95% of what you’ve memorized subconsciously.”
And that means we are all records of our past. Every thought and emotion we experience at the moment, is nothing but a repeated practice of our beliefs, perceptions and worldviews that we have formed for ourselves during the course of our lives.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are basically a sequence of random, negative thoughts in nature, which are “shot” one after the other because they replicate and continue a negative thought pattern. Each thought is a variation of a thought that preceded it, and together they form a pattern that replicates itself repeatedly. There are 9 types of Automatic Negative Thoughts:
- “Always” thinking – a thinking pattern that begins with words: “always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything”. For example: “I never succeed in job interviews.”
- Focusing on the negative – a thinking pattern that only sees the bad in every situation: “I can’t believe this happens to me again… How come I only date guys that disappear on the second date?…”
- Fortune telling – a thinking pattern that predicts the worst possible outcome to any given situation. For example, “Why should I start my own business if I know that 90% of businesses fail in their first 3 years. There’s no way I’ll beat statistics.”
- Mind reading – a thinking pattern that starts with a false base assumption that you know what another person is thinking and it’s not good. For example: “I wouldn’t only because she looks like the type of girl that only dates ‘bad guys’” As you can see, you haven’t even approached that girl, you never asked her out and thus you can’t assume what is “her type” of guys.
- Thinking with your feelings – A thinking pattern that makes you believe negative emotions without ever questioning them: “I woke up this morning feeling down… It’s definitely not ‘my day,’ and I should probably stay in bed”. The feeling you woke up this morning is probably due to having a nightmare, and the bad feeling you had could easily be challenged by a simple realization of that fact.
- Guilt beatings – Thinking pattern that involves words such as “should, must, ought or have to.” For example: “I should have called her on her last birthday. I know we’re not that close, but I don’t know…”
- Labeling – a thinking pattern that attaches a negative label to yourself or to others: “I’m such a bad employee…”
- Personalization – a thinking pattern that occurs when we grant an innocent event a personal and negative meaning: “She hurt herself, only because I didn’t pay her a visit yesterday.”
- Blame – a thinking pattern that happens when you blame someone else for your own problems: “I turned out to be the worst husband only because a few girls dumped me over the years.”
So Automatic Negative Thoughts are basically negative thinking patterns with a salient characteristic. Tat kink of automation is characterized by repetitiveness and a similar way of thinking when one thought leads to another, and that overthinking is a vicious cycle from which it’s tough for us to break free.
How to get rid of negative thoughts?
To tell you how to get rid of negative thoughts, I would like to share with you my personal experience. How I managed to get rid of my negative thoughts.
After I lost my wife to cancer, and a year later my brother who committed suicide following a post-traumatic experience, I had all the reasons in the world to be the most negative person on earth, following the 2 tragedies I experienced in my life.
It took me a lot of time to take care of myself, a lot of work through psychologists, alternative therapists, mind-blowing workshops and hundreds of courses I’ve proactively taken to understand how my brain works. The process of mental recovery is not a band-aid that is pulled and in one moment the open wound is healed. It’s a long and enduring process that has been going on for years, and is still going on. But it’s a fascinating process that has taken me out of the passive place – lying on the psychologist’s couch and hoping that an outside-factor will give me somekind of “magic pill” that will heal me; Up to the point where I became proactive – I took courses that intrigued me to understand how thoughts work, I went to workshops where they would teach me how to work with my mind, I wanted to learn tools for positive thinking that would help me get through my healing journey. My personal healing journey helped me understand how thoughts work and how to get rid of negative thoughts. Yes, one can learn to harness the horses (negative thoughts) to the galloping carriage (the brain). Automatic negative thoughts can stop when you learn to analyze the way your brain works.
My personal story about negative thoughts
One day, after the two personal tragedies I experienced, I was supposed to celebrate my birthday. At this point in my life, it had been several years since my wife passed away, and I felt ready for a new relationship, I felt that I deserved to experience love… once again. My new partner took me to celebrate my birthday in an air balloon flight. It was already at a stage in my life after I had already overcome and got rid my claustrophobia which I had for 35 years. But emotions are like an unleashed dragon, they come and go, surprising, and may return with varying intensities. Even though I was convinced that claustrophobia had already disappeared from my life, still the fear came back to me with really strong intensity. My fear was expressed in negative thoughts, in which I imagine all sorts of scenarios that has nothing to do with reality: that the air balloon loses control, that I experience hysteria during the flight, and other different variations of the same imaginary script.
To overcome the fear I used the same method that I detailed in the article I wrote (and linked above) on the subject, and in short – I imagined myself getting on the balloon and feeling safe and sound. I imagined the same thought over and over again, until the fear disappeared.
The experience on the air balloon was amazing. Eventually I enjoyed it so much, thanks to the practice of guided imagery. But that is not the purpose of this article.
After I got off the air balloon, negative thoughts emerged again, but this time they were not related to the air balloon flight at all. Just for example, thoughts of fear of not meeting the goals of a particular project at work. There is no connection between projects at work and the fear of flying in an air balloon. So I thought. But it turns out I was wrong as I will expand on in the following lines.
A disguised thought
What actually happened was that the emotion of fear was so powerful that the guided meditation I practiced managed to channel it, weaken its power, and turn it into a positive thought. But the lowering of flames of that fear was momentary. At that moment I realized that I was amazingly able to weaken the emotion of fear, and turn negative thoughts into positive ones, but that was for a while. The feelings of fear were so powerful that they came back again after the air balloon flight, and now disguised themselves as negative thoughts that have nothing to do with my fear of losing control.
That was my a-ha moment. The moment “all the tokens fell” (Hebrew saying), the moment I first realized that although negative thoughts can be converted into positive thoughts, when we have such strong emotions, they don’t go away, and we need to continue to process and work with them.
Now, I explained to myself that my feelings of fear of losing control were like Mentos candy (a thought) inside my vibrant Coca-Cola (brain) bottle. My feelings were just looking for a way out, to get expressed in some way. The way my thoughts chose to escape or get expressed was through a disguise of thoughts from completely different domains – work and interpersonal relationships for example.
Once I analyzed this process, which I described here, I realized exactly what happened here. And to continue the process of practicing relaxation, I said to myself: “Everything is fine, it’s the same feeling of fear that disguised itself as other thoughts from other areas in my life. Everything is fine, the air balloon flight went amazingly, you no longer need those negative thoughts. These are just thoughts in disguise, everything is fine, you’re safe now, everything’s calm”
A logical understanding of the thought mechanism along with the practice of positive affirmations, helped me to get rid of bad thoughts. It helped me challenge negative thoughts, and lowered the level of anxiety.
It was amazing how the process I described here in detail took me no more than 5 minutes. Yep, that’s it.
I hope in this article I’ve been able to show you how you can grow out of negative thoughts. I hope that this practical tool from the world of positive thinking, will be able to serve you in the future when you encounter what is perceived as automatic negative thoughts.
And for those who want it schematically, here you go:
- Primal fear is reflected >>
- Negative thoughts, that were resolved by using >>
- Guided meditation and repetitive positive thinking >>
- Fear was temporarily diminished >>
- After a few minutes up to an hour returned >>
- Fear now disguised/conveyed as negative thoughts from other domains >>
- Recognition of feelings of fear >>
- Fear now analyzed and factorized, its source and origins were explained to the conscious mind and then >>
- Practice of Possitive Affirmation and self-calming statements >>
- Mind is now calm, body muscles are relaxed