Mental Health

5 Approaches to Reframe Negative Thinking

It is challenging to stop negative thoughts from popping up, especially on bad days. But instead of letting the negative thoughts take over, change the narrative with these five approaches.

By URLife Team
26 May 2024

We all have moments when our thoughts take a negative turn—and sometimes get stuck there. It may be common, but those negative thoughts don’t have to dictate your feelings or actions. Negative thoughts are automatic and pessimistic thoughts that can creep into our minds, more than often without any specific reason. It could take the pattern of catastrophizing.This is when we expect the worst to happen. 

For example, if you make a small mistake at work, you might start thinking that you'll get fired. Negative thoughts can also lead to overgeneralisation. This occurs when we take one negative event and believe that it's going to keep happening. If you have a bad date, you might think, "I'll never find someone who likes me," which probably isn’t true, but your mind will make you think it is. 

Although negative thoughts occur naturally and automatically, it is possible to learn ways to control them. The goal is  to manage them in a way that they don't overwhelm you. Here are techniques to reframe negative thoughts and make a significant, positive change in your outlook and mental well-being.


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5 Ways to Stop Negative Thinking

Identify and Replace Negative Thoughts

As you reflect on your thoughts, it's important to recognise and label any cognitive distortions and negative patterns. Whenever we think on the extreme ends we are actually under the purview of 'black-and-white' thinking. This occurs when you see situations in terms of extreme success or failure without acknowledging shades of grey or anything in between. 

You might experience feelings like ‘’I am the best at this’’, or on the other extreme such as ‘’I am not meant for this’’. Other common negative thinking patterns include 'jumping to conclusions,' where you make assumptions about others' thoughts or predict negative outcomes without evidence, and 'catastrophising,' which involves always expecting the worst without considering more realistic possibilities.

A common pattern involves applying one negative experience to all future situations, leading to feelings of anxiety and a sense of inevitability about negative outcomes. Labelling yourself negatively, such as by thinking and calling yourself bad at math, can influence self-perception across different contexts. Additionally, thinking in terms of "should" statements, which focus solely on unrealistic expectations, contributes to a negative 
perspective, fostering feelings of defeat and pessimism about one's capabilities.

If you find yourself thinking thoughts like "I am not going to get through," you shouldn't replace it with something like "I know I am going to succeed." You instead would want to replace it with something more neutral, which is also showing some self-compassion, like 'I don't know if I am going to be able to do it, but I am trying my best. This is more of a cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive restructuring is the process that helps you to identify and change negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses. When you're working on changing your thoughts, here are some steps to follow:
Ask yourself if what you're thinking is realistic.

  • Think about similar situations from the past and see if your thoughts match up.
  • Challenge your thoughts actively and try to find other explanations.
  • Consider what you'd gain or lose by sticking to this thought.
  • See if your thought might be exaggerated, like thinking the worst will always happen.
  • Imagine what advice you'd give to a friend who had the same thought.


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Avoid Thought Stopping

According to a 2012 study published by the Clinical Psychology Review, thought suppression intensifies the persistence of intrusive thoughts and makes it even more difficult to keep avoiding thoughts. We often try to stop our negative thoughts, but it's not easy because our minds naturally keep on thinking and it is not wired to do that. We can’t stop our thoughts from flowing in and picking selected thoughts considering this thought is positive, let this come. Instead, we should have control over how to manage those. We can't just turn off our thoughts and choose only the positive ones. Instead, we should focus on how we handle those thoughts.

The problem with trying to stop negative thoughts is that they tend to come back even stronger. This is called thought rebounding. Given these findings, it becomes evident that simply trying to shut out negative thoughts isn't an effective strategy. Instead, learning how to manage and cope with these thoughts in a healthy manner is key to maintaining mental well-being. This involves developing skills in recognising and challenging negative thought patterns, as well as cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion to navigate through difficult emotions.


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Detach From Your Inner Critical Voice

Everyone has a mind that talks to them, often called our verbal mind or 'advisor.' It acts as our internal threat detector. Having this built-in threat detector, known as the "critical voice," is actually helpful. It warns us about potential dangers, including future possibilities and past mistakes.

While we don't exactly hear voices, we do experience critical thoughts arising throughout our daily activities. These thoughts often feel like absolute truths. However, problems arise when people only pay attention to their thoughts, rather than also considering what's happening around them. This can lead to relying too much on the mind's judgments, which aren't always accurate.

The critical voice can make people overly focused on avoiding certain thoughts or situations that bring them up. This is called "experiential avoidance." But if this becomes our main way of dealing with unwanted thoughts, it can hold us back from focusing on other important aspects of our lives.

To address these challenges, therapeutic approaches like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and acceptance-based therapies such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) help individuals alter their relationship with their thoughts, enabling them to observe them mindfully without being overwhelmed by reactive responses. 


Related story: What Are Intrusive Thoughts? How To Break Out of The Pattern


Deal With Negative Stimuli

It's crucial to make a conscious effort to avoid negativity as much as possible. You need to be vigilant in monitoring your own awareness. You must intentionally choose what to focus on. However, avoiding exposure to negative stimuli might seem like a good idea to shield ourselves from discomfort but constantly dodging such triggers can actually make us more sensitive to them in the long run. It may also limit our chances to learn and grow by keeping us in our comfort zones. By tackling challenges head-on, we develop the skills needed to thrive even in difficult situations.

Yet, if nothing seems to work, you can take the following measures to navigate through negative stimuli:

  • Skipping social gatherings where you might encounter people who have criticised you in the past.
  • Unfollowing or muting accounts on social media that consistently post negative or triggering content.
  • Avoiding certain movies, TV shows, or books that contain themes or scenes that evoke distressing emotions.
  • Opting out of situations that involve facing your fears or confronting difficult emotions.
  • Steering clear of certain topics or subjects in conversations to prevent discomfort or disagreement.


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Break the Pattern

Negative thinking tends to feed on itself, spiralling into a self-sustaining cycle. These thoughts stick together until we put in some genuine efforts to drift them apart. One effective method is to engage in creative activities that stimulate the mind and shift focus away from negative thinking. Crafting a vision board, practising artistic journaling, or dancing to uplifting music can infuse positivity and provide a fresh perspective. 

  • Splash cold water on your face to awaken your senses and reset your focus.
  • Engage in stimulating yoga poses, like sun salutations, to refresh and rejuvenate your body and mind.
  • Use a mantra to disrupt the negative internal dialogue. Repeat a positive affirmation silently to yourself like ‘’I can do it’’, "I am strong and capable", “I am worthy of good things’’, “I choose to focus on the positive’’, “I am in control of my thoughts and emotions”, “I am surrounded by love and support.”
  • Craft a vision board filled with images, words, and symbols that represent your goals, dreams, and positive affirmations. This visual representation can serve as a powerful reminder of what you aspire to achieve and help you stay focused on positive thoughts.
  • Make a "Positive Jar" by filling a jar with notes of positive experiences, achievements, and things you're grateful for. When you're feeling down, pull out a note to remind yourself of the good moments in your life.


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Managing and reframing negative thoughts is essential for maintaining mental well-being and fostering a positive outlook. By identifying and replacing negative thought patterns, and avoiding the pitfalls of thought suppression, we can significantly improve our mental and emotional health. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate negative thoughts entirely but to manage them effectively, ensuring they do not overwhelm us. By incorporating these approaches into our daily lives, we can transform negativity into opportunities for growth, resilience, and positivity.



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