How to unhook from negative thoughts

  • Evidence Based

We are brought up to believe that negative thoughts should have no place in our life. We should be happy, radiate self-confidence, stifling any kind of negativity.

But all healthy people have an inner flow of thoughts that also includes those that are unpleasant. This is our brain’s role, anticipate and protect us from potential dangers and problems.

Our focus should not be the kind of thoughts, but the way we interpret and relate to them. For example, just because we think we are failures (thought) that does not mean we are failures (event).

Controlling, substituting, or correcting our thoughts does not seem like a reliable method anymore. Research shows that trying to minimize or ignore negative thoughts only serves to reinforce them. As a result, we avoid situations and miss opportunities in our lives, just because we want to avoid unpleasant feelings.

  1. Recognize when it happens to you

Notice when you get stuck in negative thoughts. There are some indications as to how your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive, bringing to mind experiences from the past to the present over and over again.

  1. Name the thoughts for what they really are

Name the thought as a thought. For example, instead of saying “I’m a failure” say “right now” the thought “I am a failure” appears. This allows you to see thought for what they are: transient sources of information that may or may not be useful to your life.

  1. Accept the thought

If I ask you not to think of a bear, I bet you will think of a bear. This means that you really cannot control your thoughts. And tips like “do not think about it” do not work. So, listen to the thoughts and information they give you. Take 10 deep breaths and do not judge are right or wrong. This method will relieve you, but it will not necessarily make you feel happy.

  1. Consider the functionality of your thought

If a thought causes you performance stress and keeps you from completing your work, how much will it serve you in the long run as well as in the short term? Will it help guide others in the direction that promotes a collective purpose? Does it help you create the life and work you want? How does the way you want to behave match the way you want to live?


Negative thoughts are a form of self-defense that the brain puts into action every day for our survival. The control of thought does not work. A more useful approach is to consider how useful these thoughts are in your life. Listen to what your mind says, and act according to how you want to live your life!


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David, S. and Congleton, C. Emotional Agility. In series Emotional Intelligence. Self-Awareness. Harvard Business Review Press.

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., and Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., and Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: model, processes and outcomes. Behav. Res. Ther. 44, 1–25. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2005.06.006


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