All thoughts are not created equal—positive and negative thoughts vary in both their number and psychological effect. Statistics show that up to 80% of our thoughts are negative! This equates to an estimated 40,000 negative thoughts per day! Recent studies have shown that excessive negative thinking can damage the neural structures that regulate emotions, memories, and feelings. Our negative thoughts also form the strongest emotional patterns that can color and condition our response to future stimuli.
Minimizing and removing negative thoughts is not easy. We have been programmed by our evolution to have a negative bias towards our environment: our brains are more sensitive and reactive towards negative thoughts and experiences than positive or neutral ones. This has served us well to protect us from physical danger but has the unfortunate side effect of increasing suffering and mental well-being. Fortunately, we have an amazing set of yogic tools to combat negative thinking and promote calm, peace and joy.
Pause ask yourself A basic technique to manage negative thoughts is to simply label thoughts as positive or negative. Start by catching each thought as it arises and feel whether or not those thoughts are serving you. For thoughts that are difficult to see whether or not they are pulling you up, try asking “is this thought helpful or unhelpful?” or “is this thought true or untrue?” When a thought is deemed negative, unhelpful or untrue, use its negative status as a motivation to discard it as quickly as possible and shift your attention to something neutral such as your breath.
Change your lifestyle to change your mind
As your awareness of the number, type, and quality of your thoughts increases you can then examine the larger patterns of your thoughts. Worry, criticism, guilt, hostility, pessimism, judgment, rumination, and regret are the most common negative thought patterns. Take a moment or two each day to reflect the overall patterns of your recent thoughts. Notice which thought patterns are the most common and which patterns create the stickiest thoughts to let go of.
Remove false projections
Self-criticism and negative self-talk are common negative thinking processes. From a yogic perspective, this is due to the over-identification of ourselves with our ego. Our self-image is inherently flawed, distorted and full of false projections. This self-image can contain both external and internal negative views. Practicing unattachment, inward focus, self-study/contemplation, and devotion are all effective yogic practices to examine, refine and reduce our over-identification with our self-image.