Use Thought Stopping to get rid of negative thoughts

By David Joel Miller

Are your own thoughts causing you problems?

Thought Stopping

Thought Stopping
Photo courtesy of Flickr (jurvetson)

Negative emotions, depression, anxiety, and anger are often preceded by negative thoughts. If your own thoughts are making your life worse it is time to get those thoughts turned off.

Thought stopping is a tool you can use to quiet the mind and get those runaway thoughts to stop controlling you. When you find your mind occupied with an unhelpful thought, train yourself to mentally yell STOP or any other command you find effective in getting that thought to stop talking.

Arguing with the unhelpful thought or “disputing” this thought creates room for more helpful thoughts. If you have the thought “I never do anything right” tell yourself “Stop that, I do to do things right some of the time.”

Using this STOP command, especially with an added “correction” helps you reduce unhealthy thoughts and increase positive thoughts in 3 ways.

1. You train yourself to have fewer negative thoughts

Practice telling those unhelpful thoughts to stop and over time you will get fewer of them. The mentally yelling stop becomes a form of punishing the negative thoughts. Punishing the negative thoughts rather than beating yourself up for having them rewards you by having fewer negative thoughts.

The more you practice thought stopping the more positive you become and the healthier you mind becomes. Breaking entrenched habits takes many repetitions and thought stopping is something you can easily do many times a day.

2. Thought stopping distracts you from an unhelpful thought.

Stay focused on the unhelpful thought and it gets reinforced. The more you think that negative thought the more it becomes an automatic thought and eventually it may reach the level of a core belief.

Tell someone they are stupid often enough and they believe you. Tell yourself that you are stupid and eventually your mind will make mistakes to try to make this self-talk true.

Use as many methods as you can find to take the focus off those negative thoughts and you will interrupt their control over your mind.

3. Disputing that thought can turn a negative thought into a positive affirmation.

If yelling at them or distracting yourself from them does not get those negative thoughts out of your head try adding a tag on the end. Include an argument with this negative thought in every conversation and the unhelpful thought will start talking less.

Have a recurring thought that “I can’t take this?” Next time you hear that tape play, add on the disclaimer at the end. “Yes I can take this, I have handled tough situations before.”

The alcoholic or drug addict gets frequent thoughts from their brain – “I need a drink, I need to get high.” Recovering people have learned to tell themselves every time those thoughts come scratching around – “No I don’t need a drink or a fix.” “I am in recovery and can handle this clean and sober.”

The results for thought stopping?

Thought stopping has been shown to be effective about 70% of the time for phobias. The more unreasonable the fear or phobia the better thought stopping works. It is reported to be very helpful in coping with cravings in addiction or managing other urges.

Thought stopping has been less effective when the problem is obsessive compulsive behaviors. For compulsive rituals, the successes rate for thought stopping is closer to 20%. Thought stopping is primarily meant for getting rid of negative or unhelpful thinking. For OCD behaviors something more complete like exposure and response prevent is recommended.

Exposure and response prevention is not recommended for addictions. Having an alcoholic sit in a bar and test themselves increases the risk of failing one more test and convincing themselves they will never get clean.

If you are unsure what will work best for your condition, try working with a professional or experienced peer person.

Do you have any default thoughts that are not helpful? Might thought stopping help you get those thoughts under control?

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books