Everyone gets bad thoughts from time to time, it’s a normal part of being human.
But what if those bad thoughts start to take over? What if they get out of control?
The more you think about something bad, the more you’ll worry and obsess over those thoughts and you’ll get into an ongoing cycle of anxiety and stress.
Whether you keep thinking about how you’ll never amount to anything professionally or how you’ll end up a sad-old cat lady because nobody loves you, you need to know that those thoughts are not reality and they can be quite harmful.
I know what you’re going through which is why I’m going to share 10 effective tips for you to get those bad thoughts out of your head.
Let’s get started:
1) Everyone has bad thoughts
The first tip for getting bad thoughts out of your head is to understand that those thoughts are normal. Everyone has bad thoughts and I mean EVERYONE.
Whether it’s a bad thought about someone else or about yourself, you need to know that it’s normal.
Here’s the thing:
Just because you have a bad thought or even several bad thoughts, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that something is wrong with you. Actually, the fact that you’re worrying about having bad thoughts means that you are anything but bad!
There is no limit to our imagination. This means that with the possibility for every good thought comes the possibility for a bad thought.
The important thing is not to give those thoughts power by thinking that they’re not normal. Because if you start to freak out and judge yourself for having bad thoughts, you’ll only end up obsessing and having the same bad thoughts over and over again.
Understanding that everyone from the Pope to the Dalai Lama has bad thoughts is an essential step to getting those thoughts out of your head.
Don’t beat yourself up for no reason, bad thoughts aren’t your fault.
2) Thoughts are not reality
Now that you know that bad thoughts are normal, you need to understand that they’re not reality.
Here’s what happened to me:
A few years ago I was in a really bad place in my life: I hated my job, I was in love with someone who didn’t love me back, and I felt like life was passing me by. In short, I was very unhappy.
That’s when I started to get obsessive bad thoughts.
I would think about something that scared me, such as my apartment burning down or that everyone thought I was a freak and I would keep coming back to those thoughts over and over again. I couldn’t focus on anything else.
I was consumed with fear and shame and thought there was something seriously wrong with me.
I ended up going to a therapist who helped me out greatly. The most important thing she made me realize was that thoughts were not reality – they were just thoughts.
I could think about my apartment burning down but that didn’t mean it was going to happen. I could also think that I was an unlovable freak but that was just a thought – not reality.
In short, the sooner you realize that thoughts are just a normal part of mental processing, the sooner you’ll be able to get them out of your head. Let’s see what’s next…
3) Analyze the thought
If you keep coming back to a specific bad thought, it’s a good idea to understand where that thought is coming from in order to deal with it and get it out of your head for good.
Ask yourself why you keep coming back to that thought:
- Is it something that you’re afraid of? Are you scared that you’re failing in some area of your life?
- Do you feel guilty about something? Did you do something or fail to do something and end up harming someone in some way?
- Could jealousy be behind the thought?
- Are you angry about something? Do you feel some injustice has been done?
- Have you been hurt?
- Could the bad thought be a projection of some anxiety you don’t want to deal with?
- Are you taking things out of proportion? Which brings me to my next point…
4) Stop catastrophizing
I don’t know about you but I have a tendency to catastrophize.
What do I mean by that?
Well, let’s say that my boss gives me some constructive criticism. What I’ll do is go home and think about what she said and the hidden meaning behind it until I convince myself that I’m about to get sacked!
In other words, I’ll jump to the worst possible conclusion, often without any cause.
If you’re anything like me, you need to learn to take a step back and put your thoughts into perspective.
Here’s a little example of a conversation I’ll have with myself:
“Stop! Breathe. What did she actually say?”
“She told me that she likes my work and made a suggestion on what I could do next time to make it better.”
“Can you do that?”
“Then why are you freaking out?”
“I don’t want to get sacked.”
“Did she say you would?”
“Then stop stressing about such things before they’re even an issue.”
“You’re right, I’m gonna take her suggestions into account and everything will be ok.”
And what’s the worst thing that could happen if she did fire me? I would have to borrow some money from my parents to pay my rent until I found a new job. Not exactly the end of the world, is it?
So if you want to get rid of those bad thoughts, take a step back and look at the big picture. You have your health, you have people who love you, and you can deal with whatever “catastrophe” comes your way. You’ll find the next point helpful with this.
5) Take a breath
Until you start to obsess about bad thoughts, you have no idea how consuming they can be.
You could be out with your friends and instead of having fun like everyone else, you’ll be stuck in your head, telling yourself you’re a failure because everyone else has the perfect job or because they’re all married with kids and you’re struggling and single.
The next time such a thought pops into your head, resist the urge to fixate on the thought. Instead, do a quick breathing exercise:
- If you’re in a place where you can close your eyes, do so, otherwise, you can do the exercise with your eyes open.
- Breathe in to a count of five.
- Feel the cool air going into your nose.
- Notice how your lungs fill up with air and how your belly rises.
- Breathe out to a count of five.
- See how the air feels warmer as it goes out.
- Notice how your lungs feel as the air leaves them and how your belly falls.
Do this for a few minutes. The goal of the exercise is to stop your thoughts from spiraling out of control by focusing on your breath. There is no past, no future. There are no bad thoughts, there is only your breath.
6) Find a distraction
While you don’t want to run away from your bad thoughts or repress them (because the effect will almost certainly be the opposite of what you want), it’s a good idea to redirect them.
Just like the breathing exercises mentioned above can help you not to fixate on your bad thoughts, so too can doing something you like.
So, when you feel like you’re starting to get overwhelmed with bad thoughts, you could:
- Put on your favorite album: Sing along, dance, and be silly! Music can be a powerful remedy for anything from the blues to negative thoughts. And the best part? Everyone has access to it, it’s so simple.
- Watch your favorite feel-good movie: We all have one. Whether it’s “Dirty Dancing”, “Love Actually” or The Devil Wears Prada”, don’t underestimate the power of a movie to shift your thoughts from something negative to something uplifting and positive.
- Go for a walk in nature: Listen to the sounds around you – the birds, the leaves in the wind, and the stream as it burbles over the rocks and makes its way down to the river. I find nature walks to be a good way to ground me and distract me from my negative thoughts.
- Bake a cake: When a nature walk or feel-good movie just doesn’t cut it, then you’re gonna want to bake your favorite cake or make some delicious cookies. Good food makes you feel good, period. Just make sure that it doesn’t become a habit – you don’t want to eat cake every time you have a bad thought!
The points above are just a few examples of things you can do to change your bad thoughts for good ones. More on that in the next point…
7) Practice positive affirmations
Do you know what one of the best weapons for bad thoughts is? Good thoughts!
I know that that’s easier said than done, which is why I recommend that you make a list of positive affirmations to repeat to yourself several times a day.
For example, if you’re unlucky in love and you feel like you’ll never find someone to spend your life with, your affirmations could go something like this: “I am a wonderful person and I will find love” or “I deserve to be happy”.
Similarly, if you’re struggling with your job and don’t seem to be getting anywhere professionally, your affirmations could be: “I am a clever, outgoing, and competent professional with a lot to offer” or “I can do anything I set my mind to”.
By repeating your positive affirmations on a daily basis – especially when a bad thought enters your head – you’ll end up replacing such negative thoughts with positive ones.
So what are you waiting for? Make a list of some positive affirmations and say goodbye to your bad thoughts now!
8) Talk to someone
While finding distractions and practicing positive affirmations can do wonders for getting rid of bad thoughts, so too can sharing them.
When we’re struggling with something, we often tend to keep it to ourselves. But why?
Dealing with a problem, even if it’s “just bad thoughts” by ourselves can make things a lot harder. Talking to a friend or trusted family member about what’s troubling us can be a good way to unburden and – yes – let go of bad thoughts.
However horrible your thoughts may be, talking to someone about them will help you gain perspective and realize that things aren’t quite so bad.
In my experience, sharing your fears, anxieties, and bad thoughts with someone will definitely help you deal with them and who knows? Maybe they’ll have some good advice or a similar experience to share with you and help you get rid of those harmful thoughts for good. Maybe they’ll help you …
9) Take action
If you’re feeling inadequate or unfulfilled in your life and as a result, you keep getting trapped in a vicious circle of negative thoughts, then you need to take some action.
Instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for yourself, you need to take some action and make some changes.
Do you hate your job? Then why not start looking for a new one?
Are you lonely? Why not ask your friends to set you up with someone or try a dating app?
Do you think you lack skills or know-how? Why not sign up for an online course and learn something new?
Personally, I’ve been obsessing about how I haven’t done any traveling since Covid began and how life was just passing me by. That’s why I decided to buy some tickets and visit some new places this year. First stop, Porto, Portugal!
But it’s not always easy to take action and make a change, especially if you’re not sure what your core values are and what you should be pursuing.
What helped me determine that the “freedom” to travel was one of my core values was doing the Defining Your Values Exercise by the creator of Life Journal, Jeanette Brown. This free exercise will help you define your top core values in life. Once you do that, you can start working towards creating a meaningful life with purpose and getting rid of those bad thoughts that tell you you’re no good and will never amount to anything.
10) Acknowledge your thoughts and learn to let go
This final tip is not going to be easy to apply and it might take a while to get there, but that’s ok!
At some point, you’re going to have to learn to face your bad thoughts and let go. You’re going to take a deep breath and say, “Ok bad thought, I acknowledge you. Now it’s time to move on.”
It may help you to understand that while you can’t control everything in the world, you can take the necessary steps not to repeat mistakes you made in the past.
For example, if you messed up in your last relationship which resulted in you getting your heart broken, or if you made a big mistake at work and lost your job, instead of fearing that that will happen again, learn from your mistakes.
Tell yourself, “I cannot change the past. I can only do better next time and hope for the best.”
Knowing that you’ve done everything in your power to get the best possible outcome in a situation will help you let go of your bad thoughts.