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8 Tips to Change Negative Thinking

How to Change Your Negative Thought Patterns When You Have SAD


Updated January 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Negative thinking contributes to the development and persistence of anxiety in social and performance situations. Most therapies for social anxiety involve a component dedicated to changing negative thinking styles into more helpful and positive ways of looking at situations. The key to changing your negative thoughts is to understand how you think now (and the problems that result) and then use strategies to modify thoughts or reduce their impact. Usually these steps are carried out with a therapist, but they can also be modified to form part of a self-help effort toward overcoming social anxiety. Below are eight articles to help you change your negative thought patterns.

1. Understand Your Thinking Styles

One of the first steps toward changing your negative thinking patterns is understanding exactly how you think right now. Here is a list of 10 types of "faulty" thinking patterns that might be getting you into trouble. For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in "black-and-white" thinking. These 10 thinking patterns differ in subtle ways but they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of viewing situations and people.

2. How to Stop Thinking Negatively

One of the basic components of a treatment plan involving cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring. These process helps you to identify and change your negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses. Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process whereby negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced. Although at first it is difficult to think in this new style, over time and with practice, more positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally.

3. How to Cope With Criticism

In addition to cognitive restructuring, another component of CBT that is sometimes helpful involves something known as the "assertive defense of the self". Since it is possible that some of the time people will actually be critical and judgmental, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection. This process is usually conducted in therapy with an exchange between client and therapist designed to build up assertiveness skills and assertive responses to criticism. These skills learned in session are then transferred to the real world through homework assignments.

4. How to Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. It is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer. During mindfulness training, you will learn how to view your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or let pass you by. The objective of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by allowing the thinking part of your brain to take over.

5. Why Thought Stopping Doesn't Work

Thought stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they be eliminated. The problem with thought stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts the more they will surface. Mindfulness is preferable to thought stopping because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you. Thought stopping might seem to help in the short-term, but in the long-term it leads to increased anxiety.

6. Understanding Thought Diaries

Thought diaries are tools that can be used as part of any process to change negative thinking. Thought diaries help you to identify your negative thinking styles and gain better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions. Most cognitive-behavioral treatment plans will involve the use of a thought diary that you will complete as part of daily homework assignments.

7. Sample Thought Diary

Not sure what an actual thought diary looks like? Here is a sample form that you can use to record your thoughts and examine the connection between your negative thinking styles and your emotional reactions.

8. How to Complete a Thought Diary

Here is a step-by-step description of how to fill out a thought diary like the sample form above. In this particular example, we break down the thought process of a person a date, and the emotional and physical reactions that result from negative thinking patterns. By the end of the thought analysis, we have replaced irrational thoughts about rejection with more helpful and positive ways of thinking.

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