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Most of us have negative thinking, and some of us have them a lot, while others have negative thoughts so frequently that they are embedded, styles and patterns of thinking. These are unhelpful, unwanted negative thinking patterns that can be so distorted that they make you feel anxious or depressed. Sometimes, these thoughts are so pervasive that they impact one’s quality of life, keeping you from enjoying family, friends, social gatherings, and even recreational and leisure activities.
A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) technique known as Thought-Stopping is helpful in stopping these negative thought patterns. Through extensive research, we know that thoughts directly effect feelings (negative thoughts lead to negative feelings). So, thought-stopping can help change how you think, and thus, improve how you feel. Keep in mind that negative thought patterns probably have had a long time getting established, years, maybe even decades. So, changing your thinking will take some time. Practicing this CBT technique daily is paramount. The more you practice, the better you will get at using this tool. After a while, you’ll be able to stop unwanted negative thoughts before they have a chance to get too big.
Thought Stopping: The Basics in Stopping Negative Thinking
Stopping negative thinking can be challenging. However, with a bit of practice, you will find that your moods will slowly begin to improve. The initial step is to focus on the thought. Step two is to then literally say to the thought “Stop”. At first, this will feel very strange and awkward. You’ll also find that when you start to say “stop” to these thoughts, they likely won’t pause at first. So, be prepared to literally yell out loud “Stop!”. Soon enough, you will begin to say this in your mind, and so you will be able to do this CBT technique anywhere, anytime. Here’s a Starter’s Guide to Thought-Stopping:
- Write down your most troubling thoughts. Writing down your negative thoughts may seem counter-intuitive, but the exercise of writing them down actually helps externalize them, making them much easier to deal with. Record your most stressful and worrisome thoughts in descending order. You want to focus on these because they are the thoughts that have developed into patterns, which keep reoccurring, keeping you stuck in the same negative mood over-and-over again. Now, start practicing the CBT technique of thought-stopping, beginning with the least distressing thought on your list.
- Virtual Reality practicing. Find a private place for yourself where you can say “Stop!” out loud and not feel self-conscious. Relax, close your eyes and imagine a circumstance where the negative thinking might occur. Then, really get focused on the thought.
- Stopping the negative thought. Below are two simple, yet very effective techniques that can help you startle yourself to interrupt the thought:
- Use a timer, watch, or other alarm for 3 minutes. Then focus on your unwanted thought. When the timer goes off, shout “Stop!” Some people snap their fingers or clap their hands. These actions and saying “Stop” are cues to stop thinking. Empty your mind, and try to keep it empty for about 30 seconds. If the upsetting thought comes back during that time, shout “Stop!” again.
- Rather than using a timer, you can record yourself shouting “Stop!” at intervals of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Do the thought-stopping exercise. Focus on the thought, and then stop thinking about the negative thought when you hear “Stop.”
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 until the thought goes away on command. Once this occurs, attempt the process again, but rather this time, short-circuit the negative thoughts by saying in a regular voice “Stop!”.
- Once you’ve mastered stopping the negative thinking with a regular toned voice, now try whispering “Stop.” With time, practice and persistence, you will be able to imagine hearing or visualize the term “Stop” inside your mind. At this point, you can stop the thought whenever and wherever it occurs.
- Pick another thought that bothers you more than the last one, and continue thought-stopping.
Other ways to stop Negative Thinking Patterns
This CBT thought-stopping technique is completely adaptable to being personalized, for example:
- Using a rubber band around your wrist, snap it and say “Stop” when dealing with a negative thought. Eventually, simply snapping the band will interrupt the thought patterns.
- Make it obvious to yourself that negative thinking is happening. For example, say “There it is again, those negative unwanted thoughts”. By making it obvious that these negative thoughts are happening again, it reminds you that these are only thoughts, and that nasty negative thing that you are thinking is actually not happening.
- Once you’ve stopped a negative thought, add a pleasant thought or image that makes you feel more calm. This thought or image is not related to the unwanted thought. For example, you can think of playing with your children or going out on the town with friends. Or you might see yourself lying on a beach.
This new image or idea is not the same thing as replacing a negative thought with a helpful thought that is related to it.
Thought Stopping in Action
Here’s a simple example of this process. You are giving a work presentation and are beginning to worry. Although you’ve prepared and are ready, you can’t stop worrying about it. You imagine making some tragic mistake.
When you start to think of yourself stumbling over words, you say “Stop” quietly in your mind. You get up, move around, or you snap your rubber band as you say “Stop.” Then you think of something pleasant to take your mind off the thought–such as a trip you are planning to take or a movie you saw recently that made you laugh.
The key to this technique is being consistent in using it. With focus, persistent and repetitive practice, you will start to curb the impact of those negative unwanted thoughts and patterns, and you will find that your mood will improve exponentially. Keep at it, it works!
Speaking with a counsellor can help you along with the process. Waypoint has experienced counsellors in Victoria, Langford, Colwood, Sooke, and Nanaimo. Check out our team to find the counsellor of your choice. Not sure who to select? Contact us and ask to be matched with the most appropriate counsellor based on your needs and style. You can talk with our Clinical Director to learn more.