Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, A Brief Primer Part 3: Ignoring Negative Thoughts

As we discussed in part 2 of this series, according to cognitive behavioral therapy, our thoughts control our behaviors and thus control our feelings, but sometimes it is very difficult to control our thoughts for a number of reasons.

On average, we have about 50,000 thoughts a day! Some of them, despite our best efforts, are bound to be negative thoughts that make us angry, fearful, anxious, sad, pessimistic, etc.

Ideally we would analyze, confront and dispute each of those negative thoughts to see if they are even rational, and then use cognitive restructuring (changing the way you perceive a situation), to turn those thoughts into less harmful and even productive ones.

With 50,000 thoughts a day going through our minds, it’s not plausible to expect to be able to sit down and use the ABC’s of thoughts, feelings and behaviors on each and every one of those thoughts, we can save that for some of the bigger, more damaging ones that keep us from experiencing life fully.

So what do we do with the other dozen, hundred or even  thousands of negative thoughts?

We can chose to ignore them! Yes, it’s that simple! We can chose to ignore them, pay less attention to them, dismiss them and not allow them to take over our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

We can learn to realize that thoughts are just thoughts, nothing more.

A thought by itself is harmless until we give it power (either good or bad). The same is true with feelings. We can have a feeling enter us, acknowledge that feeling, but don’t dwell on it, and in a very short amount of time that feeling is likely to leave us.

It’s only when we ponder, over analyze and start assigning that feeling/thought meaning that we start to give it ammunition to do harm or motivation to do good.

Let’s take for an example that one day at a coffee shop writing in your blog you start thinking, “I should have been a writer. I just wasted my entire life slaving away instead of following my passion.”

If you dwell on that thought and let it torment you, you will feel like a loser and are likely to start feeling sad. Or, you can recognize that it’s just a thought and dismiss it.

This doesn’t mean that writing isn’t something you should be doing and maybe pursuing more, it just means that in this moment you are choosing not to pay attention to that thought, especially since you recognize that it’s likely to make you feel bad.

It’s not a cop out. It doesn’t mean that later on you can’t go back and apply the ABC’s of thoughts, feelings and behaviors to it, it just means that in that present moment you are choosing to dismiss it and use that mental energy more constructively.

If we paid attention to all the negative thoughts we had, we would be worn out, worthless and depressed.

It’s very important not to dwell on thoughts that have happened in the past or will may happen in the future.

It’s important to be present and dismiss those negative thoughts that come flying in about the past (even if it was ten minutes ago) or about the future.

The beautiful thing is, you’ll learn that once you start dismissing and ignoring those negative thoughts, more peaceful thoughts are likely to fill their space and you’re more likely to feel at peace with yourself and your world.