Mastering Your Mind:
How to Eliminate Negative Thoughts From Your Life Once and For All
BY ORA NADRICH
negative thinking is a result of deeper, faulty subconscious programming that must be addressed if you want get rid of negative thoughts once and for all.
It goes without saying that our positive and negative thoughts influence every single thing in our lives. They determine what we feel about ourselves, others, and the world, and what we express about our beliefs, opinions, values and judgments. Because our
An example of this would be when you were young and someone—a teacher, sibling, friend or even complete stranger—told you or gave you the impression that you weren’t “good enough” at something, be it singing, dancing, school, basketball, or whatever. Until that person said that to you, or made you feel that way, you might not have thought that about yourself, but now that someone else’s thought has made its way into your mind, unchallenged, you’ve accepted it as true. Unless you’ve had reason or evidence otherwise to challenge it, you’ve taken that belief on as your own. That negative thought will remain in your mind, even if it’s pushed into your subconscious where you might be unaware of it, until something or someone triggers it, and you react to it emotionally without really knowing why.
In order to better understand our negative thinking patterns, it’s important to know how they work. Imagine our mind as having two levels to it, like a house for instance, with the main floor being the conscious mind and the basement being the subconscious. This analogy allows us to see how there are two parts of our mind, working together, existing “under the same roof”: the conscious and the subconscious.
The conscious part of our mind is responsible for logic and reasoning, and a good portion of your negative thoughts. For instance, if you were asked to count the peas on your plate, it’s your conscious mind that will add it up. The conscious mind also controls your voluntary actions, so when you decide to move your arms or legs, it’s your conscious mind telling you to carry out the action.
The subconscious part of your mind is responsible for all of your involuntary actions. Your breathing and heartbeat are controlled by your subconscious. You don’t have to think about it or tell your heart to beat because it’s doing it on its own—it’s automatic. Think of it like driving a car. When you first learned to drive, you had to really focus and concentrate. But the more you did it, the more familiar and comfortable you became on the road, and the less you had to “think” about what you needed to do. It became automatic because your subconscious absorbed how to drive from you on a conscious level. You were feeding your subconscious information like, “A red light means stop. Green means go.” Once we became proficient at driving, we no longer had to consciously process what we did when we came to a red light; our subconscious took over and our reaction was automatic. The information was stored in our memory—our subconscious, and too often the information it stores can produce persistent negative thoughts.
positive thoughts happen naturally when you remove the deeper roots of negative thinking.
We teach our subconscious everything it knows, meaning we’re constantly feeding it information—and that doesn’t just mean the correct way to drive a car. It means we also feed it information that can also not be positive or productive to our well-being. In other words, our thoughts are not as cut and dry as what to do at a red light; that is, we may not necessarily think we’re telling ourselves things that aren’t good for us when we’re thinking and processing thoughts that are invalidating or detrimental, any more than we would tell ourselves to speed through a red light. However, if we believe our negative thoughts to be true without challenging them, we run the risk of storing them in our subconscious as our reality, whether they are true and real or not, and that can be threatening or dangerous to our well-being too.
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It’s important to also note that while the subconscious mind is the basement/storage area for our thoughts, it is also responsible for the automatically triggered feelings and emotions that we suddenly experience upon facing each situation. Until we know what negative thoughts our conscious mind is telling our subconscious, we are not in control of what we think we are—which can affect every decision we make, every desire we have, every goal we want to realize. More than just facilitating our feelings, which dictate our actions, the conscious and subconscious are our entire thoughts combined, which is a pretty powerful combination.
Conscious vs. Subconscious Thoughts
Napoleon Hill, the 20th century pioneer of positive thinking, once observed that, “The subconscious mind makes no distinction between constructive and destructive thought impulses; (it) will translate into reality a thought driven by fear, just as readily as it will translate into reality a thought driven by courage or faith.” That’s why it is up to us to discern the difference between positive and negative thoughts.
And the only way we can “discern” the difference between “constructive and destructive” thoughts is to question them to find out which ones serve our well-being, and which ones don’t. If they are derived from a distorted perception we have of something we’ve experienced, or have been influenced by a negative opinion or belief of someone else, then they will cause our thoughts to be “driven by fear”, and will not serve our well-being. Sticking with the basement analogy, that the subconscious is like a the storage room of all of your memories from the experiences you’ve had, both positive and negative, it’s not until we delve deeper into our subconscious to find out what beliefs are stored there that we can begin to weed out what is negative (destructive), and keep what is positive (constructive). Until we do, we will constantly be at the affect of our fear-based negative thoughts running our minds.
Questioning your thoughts not only reaches your conscious but subconscious as well.
When a negative thought pops up in our mind, it usually triggers an emotion, like sadness or anger, and it’s only by questioning those thoughts that you can find out why you feel the way you do. By doing so, you delve deeper into what’s stored in your subconscious (and why it’s there). This is necessary, especially if you need to clear out some of those thoughts and let them go. You aren’t just skimming the surface of your thoughts. Overcoming your negative thinking requires you to go deeper into your “thought base”: your subconscious. Unless you reach far in there, you are only putting a band-aid on your negative thoughts—covering them up without addressing the deeper wound. You aren’t getting to the bottom of them to find out why they are there in the first place, lurking below the surface and popping up during periods of stress or emotional turbulence.
The conscious mind monitors whatever thoughts arise, and serves as a filter to either accept or reject them. What it chooses to accept or reject has a lot to do with what thoughts seem useful or beneficial for one’s sense of “self” or “identity.” So if you have a negative opinion of yourself, you will allow for negative thoughts to come in and “stay there,” which your subconscious absorbs as your beliefs, and those beliefs will stay real for as long as you allow for them to. If you’ve accepted as your reality the belief that you’re fat based on something someone said to you about your weight a long time ago, and still hold it as true, it remains stored in your subconscious, and whenever you are in a situation where you have to show your body, like on a summer cruise or on the beach in a bathing suit, for example, you may be prone to feeling depressed or anxious without ever connecting it to when that thought was “accepted” as your reality. You will have a “fixed” belief about your body that it’s not good enough because someone told that to you, and until you question and challenge it with the Says Who? method to find out that it’s not your original thought, you will be at the affect of it time and time again.
Whatever negative thought you tell yourself goes straight into your subconscious and stays there as a belief. The only way a belief can be changed is if you change it on a conscious level, which is done by questioning those beliefs to make sure they are true—that is, whether they are based on fact or simply a “distorted” perception you have.
That’s why, whatever you tell yourself, especially if it’s negative, your subconscious believes it. And why wouldn’t it, since only you are the gatekeeper of all your thoughts and beliefs entering into or exiting from your mind. Whatever you accept as real and true, so does your subconscious. Accepting a negative thought like, “I’m fat” or “stupid” or “a failure,” will be stored in your subconscious as a belief about yourself. Until you challenge that negative thinking, your subconscious will keep it as a fixed belief.
For instance, if you tell yourself something like “I’m fat,” and want to lose weight, your subconscious registers and accepts that negative thought as a belief. If you genuinely want to lose weight, “I’m fat,” is not the motivating or productive thought you need to be thinking; it’s not a useful thought that tells your subconscious what you want to achieve, or what your intention is, but rather it’s just name calling and putting yourself down. You’re sabotaging yourself even before you start. If you really want to lose weight, tell yourself you will, and mean it. If you’re sincere in your desire, your subconscious will believe you, and hold that belief as true, and together your conscious mind and subconscious mind can work in tandem to achieve the optimum results you want.
A few years ago supermodel Kate Moss caused quite a furor when she was asked how she was always able to remain model-thin year-in, year-out and she was quoted as saying, “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels.” Now, you may disagree with her sentiment, but she is an example of someone who is continually reinforcing her desire—to be skinny—to her subconscious. She resists temptation to overindulge in food because she has embedded a negative thought in the form of an image in her mind about how good it looks and feels to be thin.
It’s also important to make sure that whatever it is we desire to do, it’s backed up and supported with positive, affirmative thoughts. Just having the desire to do something, like losing weight, is not enough to make it happen. Just ask anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution! You have to continue your mental discipline by staying focused and vigilant about not letting other mixed or negative thoughts be a part of your thinking process when you want to reach a goal.
Say you’re trying to quit an addictive habit like smoking. It’s one thing to say you want to quit, but it’s extremely difficult to be successful, especially since research shows smoking is one of the hardest habits to break. Yes, saying what we want to do is important and a good place to start, but if you light up a cigarette after you’ve decided to quit and make excuses and tell yourself something like, “I’m just having one after lunch and that’s okay,” you are clearly sending a mixed message to your subconscious that it is okay, and that’s not going to help you quit at all. That is a perfect example of a desire that is not in synch with a thought.
There are people who smoke who will even say, “It’s a disgusting habit, I know,” and light right up anyway. Even though they would like nothing more than to quit, if they’re saying those kinds of contradictory thoughts to themselves and think such words are meaningless and thus won’t interfere with their goal, unfortunately those words and negative thoughts will. Just like telling yourself “I’m fat,” you might say smoking is a disgusting habit, but until you are truly disgusted by it, and everything else you think supports your unhappiness and disgust with smoking, then quitting smoking will remain only a desire you hope to realize “someday.” Unless you’re telling yourself exactly what you want to do productively and actively, which I call an “Action Thought,” then you won’t be able to reach your goal successfully.
Remember, your conscious thoughts and your subconscious beliefs must be one and the same in order for you to achieve your desire. The best way for that to happen is to challenge any negative thought you have, and remove it before it gets stored in your subconscious as a belief.
We have to be careful, also, that we don’t set ourselves up to fail with our positive thinking, which is why it’s so important to be clear about our conscious thoughts, and the message they’re sending to our subconscious. Sometimes our goals are set so high that we make it almost impossible for ourselves to reach them, one of the reasons those dreaded New Year’s resolutions never seem to work out.
Losing weight is a good example to describe the frustration many people feel about not being able to accomplish what they set out to do. Many times the first thing someone will say when they want to lose weight is the number of pounds they want to drop, which is fine, and can be good for goal setting. But the number they attach to their goal to lose weight can become so daunting to them over time, that their thoughts about losing weight start to weaken and their desire and best intentions can’t hold up or sustain itself under the weight of their negative thinking, and they find themselves unable to reach the number they proclaimed they would.
“I’m going to lose fifty pounds!” a client announced with tremendous enthusiasm to me one day. This happens a lot—getting caught up with excitement and announcing a new goal. Her excitement, however, was more about the number and end result than the day-to-day commitment it takes to actually lose the weight. Therefore, as the days continued, her excitement began to wear off, and the thoughts that are needed to support her “desire” to lose weight began to vanish, and the “belief” in herself to lose weight, especially the number of pounds she’d put in her mind, was no longer there, but was instead replaced by negative thoughts of doubt. The problem with that type of thinking is that you’re not only left with not realizing your goal, as my client was, but you may even resort to name calling, such as, “I’m a loser,” which only exacerbates the shame spiral and confirms a negative subconscious belief.
The key is, once the first troubling negative thought pops up, to question that thought. Ask yourself, “Says who? Who says I’m a loser?” Doing so allows you to examine it and hold it up to the light of day. Unless you question a negative belief you have about yourself or someone else, or something someone has said about you, it becomes a permanent part of your thinking. Remember, your subconscious takes you literally, so if you’re going to proclaim a goal like, “I’m going to lose fifty pounds,” make sure it’s reasonable and you can stick to it. If you have any doubt that you might not be able to, why not just start with telling yourself something like “I’m going to lose some weight.” That’s perfectly fine and acceptable, and if you do happen to reach your goal of fifty pounds or however many pounds you want to lose, you’ll feel that much better about yourself. The problem with being overzealous or over-demanding of yourself, and getting caught up with numbers or statistics in your mind more than the day-to-day commitment to losing weight is that, if you don’t reach your goal, you can end up feeling bad about yourself and revert to name calling, such as, “I’m a failure.”
Remember, no name calling! Children do that in the sandbox.
The Origins of Self-Critical Thinking
Many of our beliefs are formed when we are children and adolescents, and become our “core” beliefs, which are the main ideas we have about ourselves, and continue to have as adults. For us to function in a way that feels good or comfortable, we need to maintain positive core beliefs, meaning holding thoughts like, “I’m likable,” or “I’m worthwhile,” or “I’m a good person,” etc. However, given that we also hold negative core beliefs too, and they often don’t rear their ugly heads until we’re feeling vulnerable, upset, angry, hurt or stressed, that’s when they can automatically pop up as counter-productive negative thoughts in our minds and feel like they have control or power over our thinking.
As children we don’t understand how our thoughts become our core beliefs, and we’re very susceptible to being influenced by our peers and the adults around us. We also want to be liked and accepted so it’s easier to go along with someone else’s opinion, even if we don’t necessarily agree or like it. So the result is we often grow up with some negativity in our belief system, and it can become rigid or even fixed about certain ideas or opinions we have. It’s not until you ask yourself as an adult questions about a negative or fear-based thought you have, which has turned into a belief, that you can think back and remember who it was that told you that you “weren’t good enough,” or “weren’t going to amount to anything,” or something that was critical or demeaning that might have been said to you at one time. This helps you connect the dots to when your thinking stopped being authentically your own. By doing this you can then challenge this negative thought you’ve been carrying around for so long about yourself:
1. Is not your original thought.
2. You’ve heard it said by someone else.
3. You don’t like.
4. Does not make you feel better.
5. Does not work for you.
6. Controls your thinking.
7. You don’t want to keep.
A thought that does not serve your well-being or influences your life in a negative way is often a thought that is blown out of proportion—that is, distorted and therefore not real. When you challenge a negative thought that is real, you’ll find it can be backed up with evidence or fact, and known to be true based on proof. But let’s say you can back up a thought with proof like you’re a “horrible cook,” or you’re “bad at sports,” or “not good at math,” with proof (burned dinners or bad grades, for instance) and feel there’s nothing distorted or untrue about what you’re not good at. The problem really isn’t your shortcomings or inabilities. It’s the negative, undermining thoughts that continue to berate you that do the most harm. And that can be much more damaging than the truth itself. I mean, all of us are good at some things and not so good at others. That’s life. However, it’s the negative perception we have about it and the negative things we tell ourselves concerning it that diminishes us and doesn’t serve our well-being. It’s also how we interpret either a comment someone makes toward us or what we tell ourselves about the things we perceive as weaknesses that determines what we believe is real and what is not.
For example, thinking you’re a loser or unlovable can be a negative thought you hold about yourself that you’ve accepted because you’re not good or successful at something. Instead of accepting that as true or real, you need to challenge those negative labels or name calling of yourself by asking “Says who?” By starting with that first question you are challenging negative thinking that you have about yourself, which helps you realize that just because you may not be good or successful at a particular thing, it does not make you a loser or unlovable.
Question—and Challenge—Your Thoughts
Nobody is born a loser or unlovable. Those are opinions and beliefs we grow into believing about ourselves because of how we interpreted a challenging negative experience we had or something someone said about us.
“Says who?” is asking yourself, “Who says I’m a loser or unlovable?” “Did I tell myself that I’m a loser or unlovable?” or “Did someone else say that about me?” You need to find that out first before you ask yourself the subsequent six questions of the method. It’s important to take responsibility for your negative thoughts, and by doing so, you can understand that any negative thought you have is something only you can change if you want to. And even if your negative thought or opinion about yourself was something you accepted because of someone else’s opinion of you, it is still up to you to change it if you don’t like it. It is as simple as challenging negative thinking with “Says who?”, and then following up with a short series of questions designed to determine if your thoughts are serving your well-being by supporting and affirming your desires and goals.
We can tell ourselves all sorts of things we wish were different about ourselves: “I wish I was taller, thinner, smarter, more creative, more successful,” etc. All of us have things about ourselves we wish were different, but it’s important to be aware when those thoughts go into negative attack mode over what you wish was different about you. There’s a big difference between having a wish or an opinion about yourself that is honest and harmless vs. attaching a negative thought to it.
Wishing you were thinner, smarter, more successful, or whatever you might wish for are natural desires to have, and sometimes necessary and helpful for motivating you to achieve what you want. However, unless there are positive, affirming thoughts to surround your desire, that negative thinking will threaten to undermine your desires and goals.
I’m not saying that every single thought we have can be or even should be glowing and complimentary, but since every negative thought you have influences everything in your life, you may as well decide that you want your internal dialogue to be positive and productive, which can only make you feel good about yourself, and a little bit of self praise certainly can’t hurt. Honesty about ourselves is one thing, but tearing yourself down is completely useless, counter-productive, and serves no purpose whatsoever for your well-being.
Your Authentic Self
The Says Who? method will help you get to the bottom of your negative thinking so you can know what is real and what is not. Think of it as your truth barometer, or your compass pointing to your authentic self—the you that was whole and existed in a “true nature” state before your negative thoughts and beliefs influenced and distorted your perception of your real essence, self esteem, and healthy image of yourself. It’s time to return to your original, authentic self, and be present in your life as someone who deserves to love and accept yourself for who you really are, and meant to be. And if your goals are to change certain things about yourself you would like to improve, go easy with kindness, and not negative criticism. You will get much more positive results by encouraging yourself to be better at something, or the best that you can be by thinking positive thoughts that are productive and supportive. Your thoughts should be your cheering squad, not your hecklers.
Be clear about your desire, and the conscious positive thoughts you tell yourself, which then gets stored in your subconscious as beliefs.
However, just getting to know your thoughts and their origin is only the beginning of your journey of awareness, a journey that will allow you to eventually be able to recognize and understand and get rid of your negative thoughts better than you ever have before, and let you control them rather than having them control you.
Challenging negative thinking will help you form a productive relationship between you and your thoughts, meaning that it will yield a cohesive working system where your thoughts that are allowed to “occupy” your mind have been cleared by you first. This also holds you accountable for them, an important step if you want to be in charge of your thoughts. You need to be the regulator of what thoughts stay in and what thoughts go out.
However, in order for you to truly be able to put the Says Who? method to work and get the best results out of it, it’s important to be completely committed to understanding how your thoughts work, and want to change the negative thoughts into productive positive thoughts with consistency. This needs to become your new way of thinking, which requires a mental discipline. Just like you would exercise to take care of your body and keep it fit and in good shape, or eat well to take care of your health, you need to take care of your thinking, and make sure your mental health is optimum.
The First Step
Even before you use the Says Who? method, the first thing to do when an unpleasant or negative thought comes into your head and threatens to throw you off stride is to acknowledge it right away.
Recognize its existence, even if it’s upsetting. Don’t deny it or try to push it away. This allows you to recognize that you are having a negative thought and admit to yourself that it is happening. This keeps you in the present moment. Being in the present moment is important because it allows you to focus on what is occurring in the “now,” which is actual and real, instead of the emotion surrounding the thought.
Doing this will help put you in the observer mode, instead of reactive mode.
Observing your thought means you are listening to it like a witness. This allows you to separate yourself from your negative thinking and be independent of it. By doing this you are not reacting to it or having it influence your state of mind in any way, but merely aware of it.
Being reactive is the opposite of observing. Reactive Mode means you are responding to your negative thought quickly without acknowledging or observing it. When you are in this state of mind you cannot separate yourself from your negative thinking nor can you question it to find out if it is real or not. You are at the mercy of your negative thought and it is controlling you.
By acknowledging your negative thought, and then examining it closely as an observer and not a reactor, you can identify whether it is a productive thought that helps you function in a positive way in life and serves your well-being or if it’s a thought that makes you feel bad or fearful, and serves no purpose for your well-being at all.
You can then begin the Says Who? questioning process to find out what that negative thought is doing in your mind, and what it wants from you. Think of it as an intruder. The first thing you would want to ask someone who is trespassing or invading your space is, “What are you doing here?” or “What do you want?” They don’t belong on your private property, and have no right to be there.
The same can be said about a negative, intrusive thought that pops up in your mind unexpectedly and uninvited. By being the observer you’re applying the same kind of questioning to your negative or disruptive thoughts as you would an intruder. That’s why the first thing you need to ask yourself when a negative thought pops into your mind is “Says who?” which means, “Who is saying this thought in my mind and why?” This immediately helps establish what it’s doing in your mind and what it wants from you. This first question will also start the process needed to identify and challenge your negative thinking as real or not real.
The subsequent questions will challenge your negative thought even more so that you can get to the bottom of it and the intention behind it. By probing further you can then decide if you want to keep your negative thought or let it go—a decision that is completely up to you. You are in control of your thoughts, always.
By challenging a negative thought with “Says who?” you are demanding it to reveal who is responsible for this thought in your mind. In other words, how did it get there? Once you find out, then you are responsible for what you want to do about it. Is it your original thought, or was it someone else’s and you took it on as your own? You may even discover it is an old thought that has become part of your core beliefs, and now it’s time to challenge it and let it go.
The Says Who? Method
The Says Who? questioning method will begin the process needed for you to know and understand your thoughts better, so that you can be prepared to challenge negative thinking when it unexpectedly pops up and wants to undermine, sabotage, control, or keep you from being your authentic self, and reaching your goals to lead a happy and fulfilled life.
As I’ve said, you cannot lead a happy and fulfilled life if your inner dialogue is conflicted or causing you to suffer. When you commit to using the following questions, and allow them to be your guide for managing your thoughts, you will see how clear and sharp your perception will become, and how you are able to discern and identify quickly which of your thoughts are real and which are not. By using the Says Who? method with consistency, the bottom line will eventually be, “If this negative thought doesn’t support my well-being, then I have no use for it.”
Using the method regularly will also give you the tools to immediately identify, challenge and resist any negative thinking that tries to pull you down a non-productive path. It will enable you to refuse to give in to the type of negative thoughts that can cause you to take a “wrong turn” and derail you from reaching your goals. Says Who? will help you stay on course so you can create the positive mindset needed to reach fulfillment.
The Says Who? Questions
1. Says Who?
2. Have I heard someone say this thought before?
3. Do I like this thought?
4. Does this thought make me feel better?
5. Does this thought work for me?
6. Am I in control of this thought?
7. Do I want to keep this thought or let it go?
These seven questions will be the tools in your arsenal to combat what can often feel like a mental battle in our minds. Having them at your disposal whenever you need them will allow you to feel equipped to master your mind at all times. You will feel empowered knowing that you are in control of your negative thoughts—they are not in control of you!
Breaking Down the Questions
By asking yourself “Says Who?”—you are confronting and challenging a negative or fear-based thought to find out what it’s doing in your mind. By answering, “I am saying this thought,” you now assume responsibility for your negative thought, and can begin the process of questioning and examining it more closely to find out what purpose it’s serving for your well being. Subsequently, by asking yourself:
Have I heard someone say this thought before?
You’re finding out if this is your original thought, or if it came into your mind because you heard someone else—such as a parent, relative, teacher, spouse, boss, or anyone other than yourself—say this to you before. By identifying the originator of the thought, you are able to know if it isn’t your original negative thought, and does not belong to you as your own.
Do I like this thought?
You’re finding out if this thought is desirable or appealing to you. If not, why are you thinking it?
Does this thought make me feel better?
You’re finding out if this negative thinking builds you up or tears you down; improves how you feel or makes you feel worse. If it doesn’t make you feel better about yourself or enhance your self-esteem in any way, why are you thinking it?
Does this thought work for me?
You’re finding out if this thought is useful or productive for you, and if it supports your desires or goals. If not, why are you thinking it?
Am I in control of this thought?
You’re finding out if this negative thought has any kind of hold or power over you, or whether you are in control of it. If not, why would you think a thought that has the power to have control over you?
Do I want to keep this thought or let it go?
You’re finding out if you want to hold on to a negative thought that serves no useful purpose for your well-being, If not, are you willing to let it go?
So, unless you know the answers to these questions:
+ Is it your own original thought?
+ Is it someone else’s thought?
+ Do you like this thought?
+ Does this thought make you feel better?
+ Does this thought work for you?
+ Are you in control of your thought?
+ Do you want to keep this thought or let it go?
…you do not know your thoughts entirely.
This piece on getting rid of negative thinking is excerpted with permission from Says Who? How One Simple Question Can Change the Way You Think Forever by Ora Nadrich.
About The Author
Ora Nadrich is an author, certified life coach, and mindfulness meditation teacher. She is a frequent blogger for the Huffington Post on mindfulness and regularly speaks and leads workshops on living a mindful life. After retiring from acting, Ora devoted her time to studying the workings of the mind. On this psychological and spiritual journey she has studied various disciplines and techniques, including the Technology of Change with Robert Lorenz, extensive Jungian analysis, Kabbalah and Buddhism. Visit her website: oranadrich.com