How to change your thoughts: Steps for redirecting your negative and anxious thoughts 

Have you ever found yourself so consumed with negative, or anxious thoughts that you can’t focus or do anything else but get caught on a wave of doubt and worry? This happens to many of us. It’s easy to get stuck in our negative, anxious thoughts, not knowing how to manage our obsessive thinking. When we get caught up in this type of anxious thinking, we lose the ability to be present in the moment, and identify what we need. In turn we feed into the negative thinking. We tend to give our thoughts too much power. Thoughts are exactly that, thoughts. They don’t always have to develop into anything more than that. It is up to us in what we do with our thoughts. We can act on them, we can find an alternative, more effective response, or we can simply recognize the thought for what it is and let go. There are many options. In this exercise, the following steps will teach you how to redirect your negative and anxious thoughts to focus on the here and now, giving you the power and the choice of what to do with your thoughts. 

Recognizing behavior 

This is a skill that takes time and practice. The ability to catch yourself in the moment, and say “Hey, there I go again, I’m worrying about things I can’t control.” As soon as you identify that you’re headed down that long and windy path of anxiety and losing focus of the here and now, identify exactly what it is. For example, “I’m worried about where I’m going to be in five years.” “I’m worried about if my friend took yesterday’s comment the wrong way.” 

Assess your situation 

“Is there anything I can do about this right now?” Maybe the answer is yes. For example, make a phone call, look for jobs online, etc. On the other hand, maybe you are in your car driving to work and there’s nothing you can do about the future, or looking for a new job in this moment. Whatever situation you find yourself in, in the moment, you may identify that there’s nothing you can do about the worry that you’re having because right now you are busy playing with your child, or taking a test, trying to write a paper, etc. 

File it away 

Imagine that inside your mind there is a filing cabinet with multiple bins, different folders, all with different categories. There’s the urgent folder, the completed folder, and then there’s the “I can come back to this later” folder. Visualize the worries that you are having in this moment, and mentally store them in the “Come back to this later” folder. Remind yourself that not everything can get done in this moment. You have recognized the thoughts and worries that are triggering you, that is enough for now. You will come back to this later because you can. 

Redirect 

Again, you will come back to this thought later because you can. But for now, you will return to the moment at hand. Whether it’s running, continuing your conversation with your coworker, etc. To help you continue to stay in the moment and away from falling back into your anxious thoughts, take inventory of the details of your current moment. For example, let’s say you’re driving. Where are you, and how many cars are around you right now? How close are you to the car in front of you? What’s your current speed? Is your window up or down? If it’s down, how strong is the wind against the side of your face? Are you listening to music? What song is currently playing? What’s the mood of the song? Is the tone of the song impacting your mood?.. These are all questions to details of your current environment. This is to help you stay in the moment. 

As mentioned before, this skill of changing your anxious thoughts takes time. It’s like a new muscle you are trying to build. The development of this skill/muscle will take time, practice, and patience. This exercise is a great way to teach you that not every thought needs to be tended to right away, if at all. This style of redirecting not only give you your current moment back, but it also gives you the time and power to assess when and what to do with the thought you are having. We can’t control our thoughts, but we can control how we respond to our thoughts. Practice this exercise daily for the next week to learn how to respond differently to your thoughts. 

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