Overcoming Negative Thinking

We all engage in negative thoughts.

It’s sometimes easier to think negatively than positively. But negative thinking is draining and requires a lot of energy. It also prevents you from living in the moment.

The more you focus on negative thoughts, the bigger and stronger they become. They spiral out of control with one small negative thought growing into many and it becomes difficult to stop and even harder to start challenging them.

In my work with clients, I try to teach them to challenge their thinking and use cognitive behavior therapy to instill positivity into their lives. I also suggest the following positive activities for clients to implement that may be helpful for anyone struggling with negative thinking.

1. Negative and positive thoughts are contagious.

We all want to be around people who are happy, smiling and laughing. Surround yourself with people who are positive! This atmosphere will generate a more pleasant mood and the positivity will spread, just as negativity and unhappiness `rubs off’ in a room of unhappy, negative people. Avoid the latter.

2. Use a “thought stopping” technique when negative thoughts enter your mind.

When a negative thought invades, tell yourself to replace it with a constructive, positive one instead. If the negative thought returns, repeat the technique and replace it. Be persistent. The more you think positively, the more your mind will form a habit and start to think in a positive way.

3. Use positive words and affirmations in your inner dialogue or when you talk with others.

Wake up saying positive things to yourself, smile and laugh a little more and engage in activities that make you feel happy and are positive.

4. You are responsible for the way you think.

If you perceive something as negative, you are choosing to think that way. Similarly, if you perceive something as positive, you are choosing to think that way too. You are responsible for how you think and how you perceive the outlook in your life.  So why not choose the better alternative?

5. Be aware of your automatic thoughts.

If, for example, you have a test, your automatic thought might be “I will fail” or “I always fail so why study?” This is an automatic thought because it is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear you have a test.

Challenge that thought by writing it down and think about what your reaction would be if a friend said that same thing to you. Also, ask yourself if it really is true that you always fail. If that was true, perhaps you would not be in school. If you look at your passing grades, you can confirm the exaggeration of the negative thought.

6. Minimize your exposure to negative things and spend more time on positive activities.

For example, if listening to hard rock music, watching violent movies , or playing aggressive video games makes you feel negative, spend more time listening to calming music or watching comedy movies.

7. Balance your time with positive alternatives.

If work stresses you out, try taking a lunch break by walking to the park, reading a book, meditating, doing yoga or even going to the gym. If you are studying for finals, try balancing out the stress of studying with calling a friend, riding your bike or even taking a 15 minute break.

8. Avoid choosing to hear the negative side to situations.

Most situations have a good and bad element to them. You need to recognize both and focus on the good. For example, if you received a 65 on a math test and received feedback from your teacher that you improved from the last test, your reaction might be only focused on the grade and not on the positive feedback your teacher gave you. If you look at the positive feedback, it can motivate you to do better on the next test.

9. Look at what you are grateful for and list the items in writing.

Go back to the list daily or when you are feeling negative. This practice will take away the negative things you are thinking about and will help you focus on the things for which you are grateful.

10. Place post-it notes around the house with positive and inspirational quotes.

When you are feeling negative, just take a look at the notes. Some inspirational quotes are:

“When I hear someone sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” -Sydney Harris

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you” -Jim Rohn

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” -Babe Ruth

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
–Stephen Covey

“We become what we think about.” -Earl Nightingale

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” -Buddha


Thinking positively is hard work but it can be done. Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively, change that into something positive and more productive.

Road signs photo available from Shutterstock

Overcoming Negative Thinking

Helen Nieves

Helen Nieves is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist who works in her private practice and outpatient mental health clinic in New York. She teaches ADHD on line and is on the Advisory Board at The American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She also received advanced training in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and in Grief Counseling.


APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2015). Overcoming Negative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Jun 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Jun 2015
Published on All rights reserved.