How to change negative thinking? The most direct answer is, watch it. And not just negative thoughts, watch all thoughts. Don't care whether the thoughts are negative or positive, just watch them. Watch anything that seems like a thought, even the thought “I am watching my thoughts.”
Easier said than done, right? Clearly this takes time and practice. Think of it (or don’t, haha) like you are learning a new skill: the skill of training your attention.
You may slowly start to realize that you are not really in control of these thoughts, and that your thoughts are having children and you are now living with a multi-generational household in your mind. A single act of courageous watchfulness is not enough to get the family out of the house!
But, with a little humility, we can embark on this grand journey one step at a time. Consider that you are slowly increasing the capacity to fearlessly watch negative thoughts with acceptance--you could say with a kind of unconditional love.
The First Thought Disrupting Invention
Over the millennia, people have discovered a huge number of techniques to let go of thoughts. Here’s one major trick: watch thoughts indirectly. Start paying attention to something else first—something that feels natural and pretty easy. Maybe feeling the breath, seeing a sight, hearing a sound, etc.--and notice how thoughts interrupt.
Let’s take the breath as an example. Try it right now. Feel the physical sensations of breathing. Thoughts will very likely start to interrupt. Let them come and go.
When you let one thought go, a tiny space opens up and you feel the breath just a little more. If you continue, slowly but surely, the mental clutter gets released and instead, your mind is filled by the sensations of breathing.
But Wait, Are Thoughts the Enemy?
No. Thoughts have obviously contributed immensely to our wellbeing—consider kindness or consider a computer. Thoughts of a kindness precede an act of kindness. Thoughts of a computer preceded the computer I am typing on.
However, I hear so many stories of people being tormented by negative thinking—self judgement, for example. Or incessant thinking—not being able to find the OFF switch, or even the dimmer switch.
So here's another trick: let’s befriend those internal visitors. See what happens if you develop a friendly attitude towards thoughts, even negative ones. View them as a part of you to be accepted, rather than something to cut out. Paradoxically, by not fighting thoughts, they lose their power and hold over you just a little.
Questions for you:
What happened for you if you directly watched thoughts?
What happened when you focused on something else?
What tricks have you used to deal with negative thinking?