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How Can I Shake Off Negative Life Experiences and Choose Growth?

Bill Kuzbit

Have you ever found yourself focused on past events so much so that it interfered with what you were  trying to do? Many of us have had thoughts get us stuck in the past so much so that these thoughts  seem to control the present. It doesn’t have to be that way! We can learn to put these thoughts away  and not have them interfere with our current activities. 

Negative thoughts can potentially impact us in many ways. Most of the time, negative thoughts result in  negative behaviors and/or negative moods. Trying to rid ourselves of these thoughts can be challenging.  When we struggle with this, the time we use takes us away from other required activities, like work, or  perhaps it prevents us from more enjoyable activities. This effort also depletes our valuable energy  which we could utilize in other ways.  

Generally, people agree that they would like to stop the negative thinking. Lebow (2021) described four  steps that could help us to start letting go of those negative thoughts.  

The first step is to “Take a Step Back.” It is very important to recognize and acknowledge that we are  NOT our thoughts. The thoughts we have are thoughts we are holding onto right now. We have the  ability to change and let things go. We can separate from our thoughts at any time. We are in control of  our thoughts; they do not control us. 

A second step is to “Acknowledge” the thoughts. Sometimes, we do not like the thoughts running  through our heads, so we try to “ignore” them. You can try, however, the thoughts often continue until  you give them some attention. The thoughts want you to tune into them. Embrace them. Take a deep  breath, relax, and pay attention to the thoughts. Ask yourself, “Why are they in my head?” You may be  surprised that you are able to identify the connection and why you have the thoughts. If not, repeat it  again right away or even at a later time. 

The next step after understanding the reason the thoughts are present is to “Feel Into Them.” See this  as an opportunity to explore pent up emotions, like grief, fear, or anger. Tune into these emotions and  explore the thoughts behind them. You may experience a physical sensation along with the thoughts.  Grief might be a tightening of your chest, anxiety may feel like some butterflies in the stomach, or  maybe some shaking in your arms or legs when your thoughts create anger. Use deep breathing to calm  the physical sensations. Continue to explore the thoughts.  

Step four is to “Thank Them and Make Room.” An accepting way to view these negative thoughts is that  they are there to alert and protect us when something isn’t quite right. If we embrace this and make  room to accept and address the thoughts, we likely will find relief. So rather than try and push them  away, we should accept them as an integral part of us. Let them share our mental space and use them  to gain a better understanding of ourselves. Do not let them overwhelm you, however. Lebow calls the  negative thoughts a “gift in strange packaging” and encourages us to “carve out time in” our “everyday  schedule to sit with them” to help better address them.  

Stepping back, acknowledging, feeling, giving thanks, and making room will help us remain free from the  negativity of our pasts, and build and grow productively in the present. 

Reference: Lebow, H.I. How to let go of negative thoughts: 4 Steps, Psych Central, June 6, 2021

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