Breaking the Loop of Negative Thoughts

If you pay attention, you may find that you are in a repeating loop on certain thoughts. As if your mind cannot find peace or resolve the problem so your mind keeps reminding you to think about it. I wish my brain had post-it notes so it could just write it down and leave me alone! Keeping me up at night and distracting me from having fun during the day. Ignoring these thoughts never helps. If this sounds familiar, then I have a journaling exercise for you to try.

I am currently reading a book called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. One of the chapters is entitled “Changing Your Mind”. The author suggests that we can get stuck in a feedback loop. Very common and very human of us! Sometimes these thoughts cause negative feelings aka impact our overall happiness. Taking a psychology look at it, he explains a method from cognitive behavioral therapy. We have to catch our repeating thoughts and challenge them. When I say challenge them, I literally mean as if they were in court on trial. Letting it know that you are not going to accept it repeating in your head anymore. Understand the thought as much as possible; look at it from different angles/perspectives. The goal is to gain a more clear perspective; one that is not clouded by our own personal doubts, fears, etc.

Is it easy to dissect your own thoughts in a subjective way? Nope! But it is an interesting tool to try. Much better than sweeping it under a rug and later tripping over the huge mound that has built over time.

First I want to back track a moment and explain “where” the repeating thoughts “live”. Why we seem to have almost no control over them. (This again is from the same book.) He breaks it out into an example of a rider and an elephant. The rider is the conscious mind, our controlled thoughts. If I told you right now to think of a red rose, you probably had some sort of image pop in your mind. That is the rider. The elephant (note is it larger in size since it has the most influence on our daily life) is our subconscious mind. It is our gut feelings, emotions and intuitions. All of which are automatic in nature. The elephants takes A LOT to change/modify. Meaning working on it just once a week will not make an impact. The automatic thoughts are deeply in us. We can “train or tame” the elephant if we focus on it daily. I have found that setting aside a quiet journaling meditation has been extremely helpful to at least acknowledge the thoughts that my elephant has been stomping around with for so long.

Here is the method…

  1. Catch one thought, write it down
  2. Name the distortions. This is listing all of the ways your judgement is clouded.
  3. Find alternative aka more accurate ways of thinking. Seeing it from a different perspective. Are there any positives or benefits? If someone else had this thought, what advice would you give them?
  4. Repeat…daily. Tame your elephant of the automatic thought loop. Learning slowly to let go.

It is important to note that this does take time. Our elephants are slow to change. Focus on one single repeating thought at a time. Set some quiet time aside daily, even just 5 minutes. Best to you in taming your elephant, I know I am still actively working on mine.

Pranidhana “Surrender” Mudra for learning to let go

  • Connect thumb to middle and ring fingers on each hand.
  • Bridge the hands together by uniting the index and little fingers.
  • Aids a gradual letting go process. 
  • Allowing us to see that in this release, we are not losing anything.  But rather gaining inner peace and ability to appreciate life more completely.