Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking Patterns


Ever watch two kids get in a tussle and be given a time out? I witnessed this occurrence recently. Sentenced to separate spaces two little boys tearfully dragged their tiny feet to the appointed corner to wait out the clock. What happened next can only be attributed to the blissful innocence of childhood. Thirty seconds into the time out Little Boy A became totally entranced in the scurrying of a large ant as the insect traversed the wall. Meanwhile, Little Boy B found his neon green shoelace an interesting object to remove from his shoe and twirl around his fingers. What was supposed to be a quiet time of reflection and repentance was quickly converted into exploring other options.

When the bell went off signaling punishment was over, both boys were told to apologize and shake hands. They did so grinning and giggling probably not even remembering or caring about the earlier disagreement. It never occurred to them to hold a grudge or debate who was wrong.
Four-year-old boys of twins, in white linen shirts, one embraces another, isolated on the white

Children have the innate ability to quickly move on. No muss, no fuss, no hard feelings. They simply resume fun and frolic. Not always the case with adults. We sometimes dwell on frustrating situations long past the event. Ever catch yourself replaying an incident over and over in your head like a bad dream? Complaining about the injustice to anyone who will listen? How about the inability to quickly rebound from making a mistake, losing a sale or missing an important deadline?

Whether you mentally beat yourself up for a blunder, or cling tightly to the memory of an unfair situation, it’s time wasted! Not only are you running down the clock when you could be doing something far more productive, pondering over provoking incidents can lead to depression. The technical term for getting caught up in a cycle of negative thoughts is rumination. Stop and think how counterproductive this is.

The late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, who taught psychology at Yale, noticed women, more than their male counterparts tend to spend countless hours over-thinking negative experiences. Replaying the scene over and over in your head is like repeatedly watching a bad movie. Not only are you punishing yourself, the act of ruminating accomplishes nothing because nothing changes.

When you find yourself cohabitating with this negative intruder inside your head it’s time to take action. You can get from stomach-in-knots anxiety to peaceful calm by applying one or more of the following strategies.

• Reframe the situation by examining it objectively from 30,000 feet. If you lost the big sale, make a physical list of the reasons your customer said no. Perhaps there were things you could have done differently. Make note of those actions and consider it a lesson learned. Next, remind yourself the past cannot be changed. It’s over, time to move on.
• Change the scenery. Get out of your head and make plans with the most positive person you know. Being around an optimist will help you shake the negative cobwebs from your psyche.
• Change the channel. That’s right, do something to distract yourself. Dive into that novel on your night stand or head off to the gym. Bake some cookies, go for a bike ride or watch a silly sitcom. Surely there is something more worthwhile that requires your attention.

Side shot of woman on bike

If all else fails and you are determined to ruminate on a situation, time it out. Get out the kitchen timer and allow yourself 45 minutes to acknowledge your displeasure. Then, when the bell rings signaling you’ve spent the better part of an hour fretting and employing negative self-talk, stop the nonsense. Come out smiling like the little guys after their time out. Let your negative thoughts evaporate and focus on the positive. Now, go do something that makes your heart sing!

9 thoughts to “Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking Patterns”

  1. Great suggestions! 🙂 Most of us waste too much time listening to negative gremlins. I am kicking them to the curb! 🙂

  2. Great article, Sunny.
    It’s so true about women obsessing over negative events more than men. And, the events that stress women out happen more frequently than those that stress men out. Love your suggestions for how to get out of the negative realm!

  3. Growing up I was always drawn to hanging around the “fellas” and not due to just a passion for sports but as time went on…I realized the fellas were spontaneous, not as sensitive and brutally honest in their interaction which I respected and didn’t take personal. As I matured I witnessed groups of women returning from trips only to be segregated into several different groups most of the time harboring hard feelings towards another. The fellas would all come back buddies and full of stories of adventure…….easy to see in most cases throughout the years it was easier to warm up and pal around with the guys without dealing with as much negativity.

  4. Very good suggestions and options – thank you. Lots to reflect on — and yes, sometimes it is so hard to move one from a negative injustice – but really, moving on is the only option because as you so aptly stated, it’s done, can’t be undone, and (not your exact words) wastes lots of one’s time and energy. Thank you for the reminder(s)..

  5. Ok, If I need to get out of my head I am going to make plans with you. You ARE the most positive person I know!

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