Thoughts are sometimes described as a river . . . they are continuous, on-going, and move from one thing to another without ever really stopping. In one sense, this is a consequence of consciousness itself. It is doubtful, for example, that insects have a river of consciousness, at least not that we know of. In some spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, attempts are made to observe thinking that can be distracting or unwanted.
Other western approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), attempt to challenge negative thinking head on. Generally speaking, these types of therapies identify negative thinking with feeling negative. In other words, it remains the negative thought that creates a negative feeling, and if an individual can learn how to challenge a negative thought – so the thinking goes – than he or she might start to experience less negative thinking.
So, how can someone challenge negative thinking?
Before we launch into specifics, it is fist helpful to think of yourself as a detective, attorney, or scientist. In these professions, questioning, probing, counter questioning, and seeking evidence are of utmost importance. So, when a negative though arises, the first step is to step back and begin looking for evidence and asking questions.
According to TherapistAid.com, “Depression, poor self-esteem, and anxiety are often the result of irrational negative thoughts. Challenging irrational thoughts,” the site suggests, “can help us change [those thoughts].” Below is a list of questions that are a good starting point for challenging negative thoughts.
- Is there substantial evidence for my thoughts?
- Is there evidence contrary to my thought?
- Am I attempting to interpret this situation without all of the evidence?
- Will this matter a year from now? How about five years from now?
These are not an exhaustive list of all of the question you can use to challenge negative thoughts, but these questions remain a good starting point.
The key point is: “Talking back” to negative thoughts by asking questions, just as a second- or third-party attorney, deceive, or scientist would. Asking a question such as, “Is there substantial evidence of my thoughts?” for example, forces us to examine the situation, and most of the time, there is not substantial evidence for the negative thought. Moreover, often times, a person may get caught in a vicious negative thinking cycle, which, in the end, makes the individual feel depressed, anxious, or down beaten.
To conclude, challenging negative thinking takes practice. It may take time to create healthy thinking habits, but, once you do, you will not be sorry. Most of the time, the things that we think are an immediate threat are not. Catastrophic thinking may make us feel like there is a serious threat in front of us, but as noted, most of the time it is our own thinking about an issue that is the problem.