6 Tips to Tame Negative Thoughts (So You Can Live a Less Limited Life)


“You are your choices.” ~Seneca

Lately I‘ve been feeling a bit down in the dumps. A few things have happened at work to make me feel like nothing’s going my way.

I’m guessing that pretty much everyone experiences weeks like this from time to time. You know, where it feels like the whole world is against you. No matter what you do, nothing goes right.

This has been my life for the past few weeks.

And my initial reaction was to feel sorry for myself. To retreat to the safety of self-pity where nothing’s my fault—it’s simply the world ganging up on me.

And then like a lightening strike out of the blue, amidst my dark cloud of pity I had an epiphany:

I have a choice. 

Instead of reacting in a way that renders me helpless, I have the choice to pick myself up, dust myself off, and turn those negative thoughts into positive ones.

When it comes to filtering our thoughts, even though at times it may not feel like it, we do have a choice.

Just because some of our thoughts are negative doesn’t mean we have to listen to them.

Did you know that our brains produce 70,000 thoughts every single day? Just imagine trying to take action on every single thought—all 70,000 of them. It would be pretty much impossible, right?

In fact we actively “filter” our thoughts pretty much all the time. Our brains are constantly deciding which thoughts are useful and which ones to ignore. So when a negative thought pops into our heads, we do actually have a choice.

Either we listen to the thought and allow it to trigger a whole host of other negative thoughts, or we decide that we have better things to do in life and we ignore it.

The truth is, you are not your thoughts.

Think about it. The thoughts you have inside your head do not reflect who you are as a friend, partner, parent, or worker.

This is an important point.

So many people get caught up feeling sorry for themselves or worrying without even realizing it! And then they beat themselves up about it when they realize the negativity of their thoughts.

But here’s an interesting fact: 

Most of the thoughts that roam around our heads are completely inane and useless! Your thoughts do not make you a bad person, because guess what? Your thoughts aren’t real. They are just fleeting ideas that you can control if you take the time to learn how.

It’s pretty obvious, but the way you handle your thoughts will massively impact your life.

Those of us who get caught up with spiraling negative thoughts when things don’t go our way will find it hard to progress in life and get stuff done, as we’ll be dealing with things like fear and anxiety.

Whereas those of us who work at “controlling” those thoughts and reactions to difficult situations in life will find it much easier to achieve and be happy.

Imagine if you escaped the arms of self-pity and negativity and converted most of the thoughts inside your head to positive ones. Imagine what you could achieve!

So what can you do to tame your negative thoughts?

1. Be aware.

Notice next time you experience a negative thought. Often we are so “in our heads” that we don’t even realize that we may have spent the last 20 minutes in the throes of self-pity or worries.

2. Keep calm.

Try not to have an emotional reaction to any negative thoughts that pop up. Remember that you are not your thoughts, and try to distance yourself from them.

3. Catch the first thought.

If you can catch your negative thinking early on, then it will be much easier for you to stop it before it escalates into a big problem. Often something that starts out as a minor problem ends up being completely blown out of proportion.

4. Assess if the thought is true.

Most negative thoughts are not based on reality. So ask yourself, “Is that thought 100% true?” Usually this will help to break down the meaning of the thought.

5. Look for a positive take on it.

Instead of finding ways to escalate the thought, do the opposite and look for ways to prove that the thought is not true. For example, if you’re doubting your capabilities you could look for an example of someone else who has achieved in this area. If someone else has done it, then what’s stopping you?

6. Don’t beat yourself up.

You are not your thoughts. Resist the urge to beat yourself up when you catch yourself thinking negatively. Everyone has negative thoughts from time to time. Just be aware and choose not to listen to all of them so you can get on with living your life.

Today, take power back from your negative thoughts, and see how much more you can achieve!

Photo by fauxto_digit

About Zoe B.

Zoë B is a strategist, coach and author of the SimpleLifeStrategies blog. Through her coaching programs and blog, Zoë helps others to learn the strategies that exceptional people use to perform at their own personal best.

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  • Maria

    This is a very useful post! It’s wonderful because you can apply it to your daily life. But my question is, does this at some point become a tool to avoid feeling things you don’t want to feel? Or are there really some things we don’t need give so much attention to? This always confuses me.

  • Theabazo

    I think that thinking and feeling should be clearly distinguished. When observing our thoughts, we are still able to feel emotions, but they no longer take a hold of our actions nor alter decisiOn making process. Intact without mental noise we can handle our feelings pragmatically

  • Valerie

    Thank you, thank you thank you for this reminder. It’s so helpful for me to remember that who I am is completely seperate from my thoughts. That’s just the brain doing what it does. But being aware and seperating, putting space between ourselves and these thoughts that are just constantly bombarding us.. so important for our happiness.

  • Thank you!

  • Brittany Hefner

    We’ve all had those days of just feeling down in the dumps. I normally sit and meditate until I can notice that the ‘down’ feeling has subsided or lessened a bit. I also remind myself of the same thing you said, ‘our thoughts do not make us who we are; we are not our thoughts’. So now, when a negative or paranoid thought comes rolling by, I thank my conscious mind for bringing up whatever worry or concern it may be, and assure it that everything will be okay. It’s nice to look at those thoughts as clouds just floating by 🙂

  • Nic

    Good point Maria. I too would appreciate some clarification.

  • Matt

    If you were asking me, I’d say it’s all about honesty first and foremost.  What this article says about negative thoughts is just as true regarding positive thoughts.  If you’re letting in a bunch of unrealistic, fictional positive thoughts, then you’re bound to run into a wall.  When dealing with anything, it’s a mistake to try and apply objective rules to unique situations, or in this case, unique thoughts.  Just stick to the truth, and move from there

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  • Wiggleworm13

    I’m at odds with the idea that positive thoughts, like affirmations, can create change in our lives, but negative thoughts don’t.  Although I did learn along the way that the subconscious doesn’t “hear” negative thoughts.  For example if you say “don’t forget the ice cream.”  Your subconscious hears “forget the ice cream.”  Better to say remember the ice cream.  Mmm, ice cream!

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

     Hi Maria,
    I agree – I don’t think it’s healthy to completely ‘avoid’ all negative thoughts – because sometimes they are useful. It’s the negative ‘over-analysis’ that we need to avoid – this is when we start to repeat the same negative thoughts in our heads over and over again without taking any action.
    Great point 🙂
    Zoe B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

     Hey Matt,
    I like your viewpoint. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between what it ‘truthful’ and what is just ‘fear’ or ‘overanalysis’ though. I often ask myself ‘Is this thought true?’ to determine if I’m blowing things out of proportion or if it really deserves my attention 🙂


  • SimpleLifeStrategies

     Hi Wiggleworm,

    You’re completely right – the subconcious mind doesn’t hear negative words such as ‘don’t’ or ‘not’ – so it can be helpful to frame goals in a positive format (ie like you said – ‘Remember’ the ice cream – instead of ‘don’t forget’!)

    I think what’s important is that we don’t get ‘stuck’ in a downward negative spiral – which is a really easy situation to get into. It’s like those mornings where one thing goes wrong and then this ‘triggers’ a whole host of other things and we end up having a ‘bad’ day. Positive thinking or even simple ‘awareness’ can be great to ‘pull us’ out of these patterns.

    I agree though – positive affirmations are useless without any kind of action! (you can dream about that red ferrari all you want but unless you take action its unlikely to arrive on your driveway!)

    Thanks for the comment 🙂

    Zoe B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Hey Brittany,
    So true. We can get caught u believing our thoughts are ‘who we are’ and devote to much attention to them. I like your strategy of dissociating by picturing them as clouds that have no impact on your life 🙂
    Zoe B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    It’s a pleasure Valerie. So happy you got something out of the post 🙂 Have a great Thursday!
    Zoe B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Good point Theabazo.
    There’s a difference between ‘observing’ our thoughts as ‘external things’ and ‘being caught up in them’. It’s all about balance – we need to be open to gut instinct as this is important – but also retain a fair amount of logic at times too!
    Zoe B

  • Cmass

    This came at the perfect time. I really needed this. I know it’s not true but I felt it was written for me because of the timing of it! Thank you to god and the universe and thank you Zoe!

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    I love it when that happens! So great to hear 🙂

    Have a FABULOUS day

    Zoe B

  • Narwhaltat

    A great post – and very timely! I had a choice about how to feel this week – after discovering that the person I have feelings for, is interested in someone else .. I caught myself thinking familiar thoughts along the lines of ‘this always happens to me’ .. ‘I’m not the kind of woman that men fall for .. ‘ .. and managed to catch them, challenge them, and consciously think the opposite .. that I have no idea who is around the corner .. and the past does not dictate the future .. and my ‘ouch’ of disappointment lifted. I feel really positive about the whole experience now, and far more optimistic than from my usual victim perspective! :o)

  • beatts

    My therapist taught me we are like butterflies. We are in a cocoon, but we all have the choice to grow, spread those wings, and fly like a butterfly. I just ended a 5 ur relationship. But I do mind, and I do matter. Never forget it. Xx

  • Thank you for sharing the fact that we DO have a choice!  Very good advice you have here.  Thank you for posting it. =)

  • Great post. I like the number 4 and 5. Actually there is a better method similar to what you have here, which is created by Byron Katie. She talks about asking 4 questions plus one turnaround to deal with negative thoughts. I find it to be very effective.

  • ChiropracticCoaches

    This is a post that I recommend reading every morning. It gets your hopes up. Should we also stay away from negative people or negative influence?

  • Zoe B

     Hi there,
    Great to hear you enjoyed it 🙂
    Yes I would definitely recommend avoiding ‘negative’ people as they can drain your energy and bring you down with them. It’s important to surround yourself with people who will support you and energise you!
    Zoe B

  •  Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll check out Byron Katie – thanks for the recommendation 🙂

    Zoe B

  •  Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll check out Byron Katie – thanks for the recommendation 🙂

    Zoe B

  •  Hi Beatts,

    I love that analogy.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Zoë B

  • Hi Narwhaltat,Wow – sounds like you have really kicked some goals with your mental attitude :)Great stuff – keep up the good work!Zoë B

  • Zoe

    Thanks for reading Jhenelle 🙂
    Zoë B

  • THANK YOU for reading!

    Glad to be of service 🙂

    Zoë B

  •  Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the feedback. I will definitely check out Byron Katie’s work 🙂

    Zoë B

  • Nicola

    Great way to tackle negativity. Thank you!

  • 1gliblynot2

    I appreciate these gentle reminders that life isn’t happening TO us, it’s happening THROUGH us, and we possess the power to view it through a negative lens or a positive one. The choice is ours to make.

  • Zoe

    My negative thoughts have turned into a negative voice, like its not even me thinking it its a thing in my head… its strange, also id like to point out im a Zoe B to.

  • Andi Poland

    Well written and 100% true. Thanks for the great article!

  • Ahsan

    Thanks for my class speech in School!

  • Happy

    Thank you for this post.

  • Anonymous

    Can anyone help me with this, I feel this is a religious question. I heard a very clear voice while at my mother’s graveyard say “this is the last day of your life”, I knew it meant emotionally, a few hours later I started having severe panic attacks and anxiety that became completely debilitating and I’m wondering if this was God telling me this or I’m just feeding into negativity?

  • Morgan

    Saying that a thought should be dampered/cut-short before finishing it or that concerns of ability should be based on another’s abilities and successes seems quite dangerous as a risky behavior akin to gambling without knowing how the game works.
    Rather than cut them short so that thoughts that may have been very helpful, guiding, necessary for a success, or lifechanging are not silenced, perhaps it is more prudent to instead guide or channel thoughts along “proven” paths (along paths including only true and proven information) or away from “bad” paths (bad thoughts you know aren’t true, and perhapse bad thoughts youve been unable to confirm or deny), and to do your best with that info, and to research your questions and situation to fill in the gaps.
    If info is out of reach, it is ok the realize that people cant do everything, and work woth what is available.
    If that seems inadequate try considering muliple possibilities of options or risks, and either chose one or an order for the pursuit of the choices (based on limitations such as time, number of choices that can be acted on [such as, you can shake the president’s hand *first*, or the mayor’s – whatever you chose, can only one person’s hand can be shaken *first*], among other potential limitations) or prepare for as many risks as you feel necessary so as to not feel as if blindly turning an eye away from yourself, your safety, and your life.

    Other than that, great article! 2 thumbs up! (Seriously. 🙂 ) .

  • Morgan

    *Meant to say that these may well quiet unsettled thoughts/ go a long way to calming disquieted thoughts. .. while still noting that unfounded thoughts and woes are very worth being aware of and looking-out for, like the author said.

    No disrespect meant to the author, mearly concerns about parts of the article for discussing and reading. Thank you. 🙂

  • TacoBoy

    Man, I have bad thoughts thinking about my cousins that hurt my family to the dust, Everyday I think about them and i suddenly can’t ignore them. They Hurted me and my family a lot ever since they moved to Canada and they already cost so much trouble and I just want them to just stay away from me, my family, and Canada forever and never I want to see them again. i just hope this guide works for me.

  • Great post! I am going to bookmark this so I can reference it every time I have a negative thought. I realized my negative thoughts make me act irrationally and it really isn’t fair.