How I Escaped the Negative Thought Loop That Kept Me Down and Stuck

“You will never be free until you free yourself from the prison of your own false thoughts.” ~Philip Arnold

Do you ever doubt yourself? As if no matter how hard you try, it’s never enough.

Do you always tell yourself that you could do more? Or that somebody else is doing more, so why aren’t you on their level?

I’m not good enough.

Do you keep your thoughts to yourself because you feel as though your opinion doesn’t matter?

I’m not smart enough.

Or how about when you’re casually scrolling through social media? You see beautiful people taking such awesome photos and they look so happy.

I’m not attractive enough.

These rapid-fire negative thoughts incessantly remind us of our faults and flaws. These negative thought loops are like water to fish. We’re swimming through them. Every day. All the time.

This year I was practically drowning in negative thought loops. My grandmother died. Shortly after, I navigated my parents through a draining divorce process. Post-divorce, my fiancé and I moved back in with my mom to support her. Money was scarce.

I downward-spiraled into negative thought loops, constantly blaming myself for being a disappointing grandson, son, and partner, and an overall disappointment.

I didn’t like myself, and you needed more than a powerful microscope to find an inkling of self-esteem within me.

Negative thoughts that loop on replay are dangerous because when you say something over and over again, you believe it.

And, if you’re like me, these beliefs can be paralyzing.

The Comparison Trap

In today’s age of technology and social media, scrolling is second nature to us.

Is it really surprising?

After all, you get to see all the awesome things that other people are doing. Incredible photos and videos taken by beautiful people doing amazing things.

I wish that were me.

That awe instantly transforms into envy, and suddenly you feel like your life is lacking.

But we keep doing it. Every day, we scroll, seeking out our next hit of dopamine and envy—which social media offers in abundance.

I did this every single day, multiple times a day, and mostly as an escape.

I immersed myself in somebody else’s carefully curated life to distract myself from mourning my grandmother or quenching the fires of my parents’ divorce.

From waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, I would scroll endlessly, comparing my life to the lives of others.

I had fallen into the comparison trap. Like a moth to a flame, I was hopelessly addicted and in awe of the lives that other people lead.

Why can’t I be happy like that person?

It’s a terrible thought loop to replay in your mind. To believe that your life is lacking simply because your life is different from somebody else’s life—it’s an awful way to live.

Struggling to See the Positive

What’s difficult about negative thought loops is that sometimes you don’t feel like you’re deserving of your victories.

This year I graduated college, but I didn’t attend my walking ceremony because I didn’t feel proud of myself.

I don’t deserve this.

Also, I started working for a law firm, the first of many steps in building my career, but I never celebrated when I got the job because I didn’t feel worthy of it.

I’m not good enough.

It’s just so sad that I was unable to celebrate my blessings simply because my mind was flooded with sorrow and disillusionment from tending to my family.

Instead, I sunk into a miserable slump.

I think the best way to describe this feeling is like walking through life in haze. Everywhere you look is foggy and distorted. I was unable to realize my victories or be grateful for my blessings because a veil of negativity was draped over my eyes.

It wasn’t until a conversation with an old friend that the haze cleared and I could see life with clarity.

Learned Helplessness

We met for lunch and she shared with me something she’d learned in class.

Psychologist Carol Dweck performed an experiment in which a fifth-grade classroom was split into two groups to solve a given problem.

The twist was that one group of students were given a set of unsolvable problems. No matter how hard these students tried, they were unable to succeed at the task.

In the next round, when they were given a set of easy problems, many students either took longer than the average or gave up entirely.

What happened?

The earlier round with unsolvable problems caused the students to equate trying with failing. Helplessness became a learned behavior.

I think a lot of times we do this to ourselves with our thoughts.

I would tell myself repeatedly I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. And when it was my turn to bat, I’d run away and quit because I knew that I’d strike out anyway.

I was entrapped in a fixed mindset.

I convinced myself that no matter what I did, I would always be destined for failure. That my life would never amount to anything meaningful and I would never be happy.

It wasn’t long before my frustrations with myself transformed into anger over the unfairness of it all.

My job performance declined. My relationships suffered. I was at a loss. My moods swung back and forth between flatlined indifference and anxiety-wracked mania.

I needed to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset—to understand that the past doesn’t have to repeat itself, and that I have a say in what happens if I choose to learn and grow. But I didn’t know that then.

At this point I realized it was time to seek therapy. This was one of the best choices I made this year because it opened a gateway to the wonders of mindfulness and gratitude.

Finding Gratitude

Who knew something as small as practicing gratitude could transform my thought process entirely?

Too often we allow our negative thought loops to overwhelm and consume us. And it’s because we convince us we are our thoughts.

However, we are not our thoughts. They’re just ideas floating through our heads that’s we don’t have to believe.

Practicing gratitude helps you escape the negative thought loop because it encourages you to seek out what is good and right and beautiful in your life.

With each day I counted my blessings, I was slowly releasing myself from the negativity that had shackled me for several months.

Life will always be riddled with hardships. It’s inevitable. But to still summon the resilience to tell yourself that everything is okay, things will get better, you have people who love you, you know that you are strong; and most importantly, to truly believe that you have the courage and ability to create a positive shift in your life because you can still practice gratitude despite your struggles… it’s beyond empowering.

Surround Yourself with People Who Uplift You

“You cannot change the people around you, but you can change the people you choose to be around.” ~Unknown

I recently discovered this quote while listening to a podcast, and it resonated with me.

You really can’t change the people around you. If you try, you’ll end up disappointed. How other people behave, how they feel, what they think—these things are all beyond your control.

But you can control who you surround yourself with.

It’s been said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

If you’re mostly around people who complain a lot then, chances are, that you will complain a lot.

I was exactly this type of person. And these were the type of people I surrounded myself with.

I would always be moody. I was a true pessimist. I would combat every silver lining with criticism and some statement about how unfair life is.

And to tell you the truth, being negative sucks. It’s exhausting.

After hearing this quote, I tried something outside my comfort zone: I met new people.

Being highly introverted and shy, this was difficult for me. But I did it. I joined clubs at school. I met positive and ambitious people with dreams and goals.

I am convinced that positivity is contagious. The warm aura gained by practicing gratitude and welcoming abundance in your life touches the people around you. And this gratitude and abundance mindset slowly replaces those negative thought loops.

I didn’t want to be in a slump anymore. I wanted to be driven, motivated, and well… happy. I learned that the key to achieving this is to seek out other people who want the same things you do.

A Better Headspace

It’s reaching the end of the year, and I’m faring far better than I did at the beginning. If I had to name one thing I think you and everybody should do more of, it’s this:

Be kind to yourself.

There’s a lot of truth to whoever said that we are our own worst critics. That is why I advocate that we also be our own best fans.

Every time you criticize yourself, praise yourself for something else.

Also, practice gratitude and remember your countless blessings instead of comparing your life to others’ lives.

And realize the past doesn’t have to repeat itself. You can learn, you can grow, and you can do more than you think.

Reflecting on this year, I now see that I am beyond blessed. I have a college degree. I’m soon to be married to the love of my life. I’m steadily working on my career.

There are so many things in my life that are going so beautifully right, and so much that is possible.

The same is likely true for you. You just need to shift your focus.

About Dan Recio

Dan Recio loves sharing actionable tips on achieving your goals at Motivationalist so that you can build the life you want.  Set yourself up for a productive week with his free guide: 7 Sunday Habits to Conquer the Week.

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