I like to define negative thoughts, simply, as those that take away from the state of happiness. For example, thoughts that produce sadness, anger, hatred, etc are all negative thoughts. Such thoughts simply do not allow a happy state of mind to exist.
Negative thoughts can arise anytime. A heated exchange with a friend, a confrontation at work, a revival of an old argument with family members, etc. It’s not that the negative thought arises, lasts for a while and fizzles out. Most of the time, these negative thoughts find their way from the conscious to the sub-conscious. In fact, the negative thought becomes stronger and goes deeper, due to our own doing.
The act of giving it a lot of attention makes the negative thought strong and helps it burrow deep into our brain. Think of it as an earthworm that gets bigger, stronger and burrows deeper into the earth. And once the thought goes deep into the sub-conscious, it remains there, producing a cloud of melancholy, that spreads like a fog throughout the brain, impeding clarity of thought, and not allowing happiness to surface or expand.
We may not be able to control the creation of a negative thought (such control is actually possible with deep and regular meditation, but that is the subject of another discussion). However, we can consciously control how much “power” we want to give this negative thought. And I have found one technique particularly useful; the power of Blocking.
This technique is especially useful when there is no other way to get rid of the negative thought. You find yourself helpless when your mental strength is low, or if other situations are contributing to the growth of the negative thought. Several times, we are not yet mentally ready to deal with the problem. And we waste a lot of time and energy trying to “solve the problem”. To find a solution, the mind needs to be ready. And to prepare the mind, we need to weaken the negative thoughts to the point of elimination.
There are 2 simple ways of employing the “Blocking” technique. It may sound easy, but needs constant practice. Think of it as blocking access to the very sunshine of attention that helps the negative thought grow. Basically, you don’t give it any attention at all.
1) Develop other distractions: Whenever you realise the negative thought is lurking in your mind, immediately turn your attention to other thoughts or activities: Get out of the room where you’re brooding all alone, pick the phone and call a friend, start watching shows that you enjoy, start reading a book, etc. Quickly restrict the nutritional flow of attention to the negative thought. Deprive it, starve it. The weaker it gets, the easier it is to get it out of the system (which is the ultimate goal).
2) When you don’t have access to other distractions: Say No to the thought that is bothering you. The negative thought needs to be denied, actively and vociferously. Consciously and actively, say “I don’t want you to ruin my peace. Stay away. I am not going to think about you”. And then, start thinking of happier events, or better yet, meditate. The more and more you say No, the thought becomes weaker and does not show up as often in your mind.
The above techniques help when there are no immediate answers to your problem. Trying to rationalise, working out a solution, getting over the problem, etc are sometimes not possible. And at these times, its best not to push for answers. Those answers will come in time. Once your head is clearer and the negative thoughts are weaker, the answers will start surfacing.
So, if you can’t yet understand or solve the problem, don’t force yourself to do so. Block the negative thought. Weaken it. It helps you get moments of peace that would otherwise be spent in pointless brooding. And it helps to create the space in your head to develop the permanent solution in due course of time.
It’s only after the autumn, when the old leaves wither and die, does spring come, all new and fresh!