Breaking Negative Thoughts and Negative Thinking Patterns

If you're always frustrated, it may be time to examine how your unintentional negative thoughts are impacting you.

Jorg Greuel/ Getty Images

By Angela Fresne

If you are sick and tired of being stressed and frustrated, it may be time to take a look at how negative thinking patterns are impacting you. Many things in our lives are out of our span of control, but your thoughts are within your control. We sap our energy and enthusiasm daily with these negative thinking patterns. Let’s look at a few of the most common negative thinking patterns and how to quickly break them.

All or nothing

When we are having a bad day or not feeling good, we can revert to an all or nothing mode. We say things to ourselves like “I mess everything up” or “I’ll never figure this out”. A common theme across the tricks to break out of these modes when you catch them is simply checking in on opposites. Ask yourself a simple question like “What is an example of something I didn’t mess up?” or “What do I need to figure this out?”. Just question the extreme nature of your thoughts and realize there are alternatives to this way of thinking.

Focusing on the negative

Similarly, we sometimes dwell exclusively on the negative, only “counting” the bad stuff. Another way of putting that is was have decided we need to “beat ourselves up”. When you catch yourself doing that, ask yourself to think about one positive thing, and then another…

Fortune telling

We do a lot of speculating. Sometimes we forget that whatever we are fixated on is not the only option. We go into “mind reading” mode, imagining we know what others are thinking. We look at our crystal balls and decide we know the future (and yeah, it’s usually pretty bleak). Again, options and alternative views are usually simple enough to find if we focus on it.


Sometimes, we take our opinions and beliefs to the extreme and project them on others. We put a label on things, going into “name calling” mode. We reduce ourselves or others into a negative role – “ugly”, “stupid” or otherwise unworthy of our respect. A gentle self-reminder that everyone deserves our respect can help here.

Should and must

We set the bar high and we project our expectations on others. We get on our high horses and use unequivocal words like “should” and “must”. Simple enough to avoid using these words in favor of “I think” and “I would prefer”, and remember there are possibly alternative opinions and ways forward.

Self blame vs. refusing personal responsibility

Finally, there’s the times when we are assessing blame and the possible extremes. Sometimes we think we carry the world on our shoulders and take on an inordinate amount of self-blame, and then there are the ties we refuse to take any responsibility or finger-pointing at others. Once again, we can break the mode by contemplating the alternatives. If we are seeing in extremes, we are usually wearing blinders.

[Related: Dealing with Your Inner Critic — Handling the Tough Self-Conversations]

Some people find the notion of positive thinking hokey. Yin and yang tell us that things need their opposites for balance. It’s not about thinking pretty thoughts and banishing the bad ones. It’s about taking a balanced view and not letting the negatives overcome you. Start intercepting your negative thoughts today and start feeling better about yourself and others! Learn more about managing your emotions on

I am dedicated to helping people find more satisfaction in their lives. That may be via their career, or that may be more from focus on work life balance, stress management or simply improving themselves. I am a career coach and a life coach. The last 30 years I have had a successful career from secretary to marketing director at IBM. In parallel, I was learning CBT techniques and how to maintain work life balance… Continue Reading

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