A woman of Colour sits looking out of a window; her face is showing signs of sadness. Photo by Liza Summer via Canva.
Health + Wellness

Why Challenging Your Negative Thoughts Is Important

Having occasional negative thoughts about ourselves is completely normal; being stressed, tired, frustrated or experiencing challenges and changes, etc. can contribute to developing a nitpicking and overly critical inner voice. Often a collective reflection of our feelings, negative thinking can reveal what aspects of emotional self-care we need to work on.

Important Note: While some negative thinking is part of everyday life; if it’s interfering with the ability to function or becomes a toxic mindset cycle leading to thoughts of helplessness, self-harm and/or suicide, professional support should always be obtained. Some resources that may be useful have been included at the end of this article.

After a recent move into an apartment that has considerably improved our lifestyle; my husband and I are quietly processing the impact that previously living in poor-quality housing took on our mental and physical health. The first of three landlords we rented our previous home from acknowledged that the over 130-year-old property had numerous issues and repairs when we moved in; they did their absolute best, as did we, to maintain an already rundown home. Things became noticeably different, however, with the next two subsequent owners (both purchasing the duplex sight unseen) who were *maybe* unaware of the ongoing and mounting repairs that were urgently required. The place we used to live in was a money pit; with the standard of living rapidly declining.

All of this made one thing absolutely clear; we had to leave.

Foreground Text: Why Challenging Your Negative Thoughts Is Important; a blog post on Transatlantic Notes. Background Image: A woman of Colour sits looking out of a window; her face is showing signs of sadness; photo by Liza Summer via Canva.

We’ve been settling into our new apartment for three weeks; while it’s not particularly fancy, it’s worlds apart from where we were — it’s a dream come true.

I thought this change would be the catalyst needed to let go of the recurring negative thinking that’s been swirling around my head. There has definitely been a general improvement, but a change in circumstances can only do so much. Negative thoughts, unfortunately, travel with us no matter where we go. If we don’t consistently deal with them, they’ll continually and surreptitiously work in the background.

This led me to understand that actively challenging the negativity we naturally carry is a necessary step towards reclaiming all the spaces around us that we closed off; out of fear, anxiety or a belief that we don’t deserve better. Interrupting negative thinking, for many of us, allows us a chance to breathe; providing a moment to ground ourselves in a way that nourishes rather than tears ourselves down.

As it turns out, we are evolutionary wired to give greater weight to negative experiences instead of positive ones. We automatically respond faster and stronger to the bad, easily dismissing the good. Neuropsychologists call this the Brain’s Negativity Bias […] | Marbella University International Centre

The words ‘Be Kind’ on magnetic strips rest on a white, speckled wall. Photo by Eva Elijas via Canva.
photo by Eva Elijas via Canva

Challenging our negative thinking is important because if we consistently dwell on the pessimistic aspects of our thoughts, feelings and experiences; we can impact neural structures in our brains that support the regulation of emotions, memory and feelings. We can end up rewiring our brains to more easily fall into unhealthy, defeatist thought patterns.

So, how do we disrupt what comes so naturally to us? How can we interrupt and challenge our brain’s negativity bias?

Awareness

Every so often it can take a moment to recognize when we’re thinking in a negative way; as soon as we become aware of these thought patterns we must not ignore or dismiss them. With practice, we’ll become adept at spotting when/why this occurs; supporting our ability to go on to challenging how we think.

Examination

Once we’ve become used to identifying obstructive thinking, it’s time to explore what may be contributing to it. Is it based in fact/reality or is it an emotional response to how we feel about something? Good points to examine are:

  • What was happening when these thoughts began?
  • What could be contributing to them (lack of sleep/nourishment, stress, worry, unexpected change, etc.)?
  • Is there something that could improve the situation/feelings around these thoughts?
  • Are these thoughts constructive or destructive?
A young, White woman sits at a cafe table with her eyes closed in deep thought. Photo by Ben White via Unsplash.
photo by Ben White Photography via Unsplash

Challenge

Now that we’ve scrutinized when and why our negativity bias is working so hard to nestle into our thought patterns; it’s time to practice consciously disputing what our gloomy inner voice tries to manifest. Here’s a recent example I’ve encountered:

[Negativity Bias] Something is likely to go wrong with my new home.

[Examination] I’m perceiving things this way because I’ve experienced a fundamental change in circumstances and it’s important to me to live in a safe, comfortable way.

[Challenge/Disruption] I’m secure and content and have always deserved to exist this way. My lifestyle has improved and will continue to do so; it’s okay to want to protect that.

Repeat

There’s no quick fix to retraining how we approach the negative thoughts that so often come with stress, upset or difficulties; it takes effort and consistency (which can be hard to muster when we’re struggling). It’s crucial we’re kind to ourselves no matter how successful we are at turning our reasoning around.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the point of doing all this is not about being happy all the time; positivity isn’t inevitably the answer to our problems. We’re complex and nuanced individuals; it stands to reason that nurturing our mental and emotional thinking requires a refined approach.

Negativity maintains a purpose; it can keep us safe from considering impulsive decisions or putting ourselves in danger. Weighing up possibilities and exercising caution when appropriate is useful and welcomed; but if we grant it a more dominant role in all of our thinking, it can become the thief of joy.

We should always honour our thoughts and feelings; however, the moment they start to disconnect us from being able to rationalize and enjoy life, it’s time to help them move along. We all deserve better than the negativity we so often level at ourselves.

What are your experiences with negative thinking? How do you deal with an overly critical or pessimistic inner voice?


Further Info:

The Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing and Changing Negative Thoughts – Inc.

NAMI Helpline – a free, nationwide U.S. resource that offers experienced peer-support guidance and advice

CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support

45 thoughts on “Why Challenging Your Negative Thoughts Is Important”

  1. I wish I were better about doing this. I get stressed about work a lot which causes me to not get good sleep which then causes me to be in bad moods/negative more often than I’d like. It’s certainly something I practice with but it’s hard to do all the time.

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  2. Dealing with negative thoughts is very challenging to say the least, sometimes depending on my mood or whatever I’m going through I try to see those people and moments of happiness in front of me, listen to music, pray, read positive affirmations even doing other (new) things on a day of your daily routine —do something you enjoy🫶🏾

    It makes is easier to deal with certain thoughts and situations.

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    1. It’s so hard to deal with as negative thinking can become almost routine (I know I fall into that sometimes). If we can do things to help ourselves; including tackling the thoughts directly when we have them, then we can definitely make things a lot easier on ourselves. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  3. It’s surprising how easily we fall into a sort of dysfunctional comfort with negativity. The more we invite and allow it, the more it becomes an automatic response to different situations in our lives. This is something I try to be aware of and counteract as much as possible. It’s a challenge but one that can really make a difference in our lives.

    Great post!
    Cassie

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  4. It’s so good to read something like this and see it all in black and white. I think I’ve mentioned before about going through a similar change in this last year from a less than ideal living situation to one that gives me a better quality of life. A number of circumstances have me feeling a sense of stability I’ve never actually felt in my life before and I’m seeing the negative thoughts and my ability to predict all of the impending bad things flare up with it. I absolutely love this statement of yours “My lifestyle has improved and will continue to do so; it’s okay to want to protect that.” because it’s such a caring way to approach those thoughts.

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    1. I understand what you’ve shared here 100% — I found that even though things are better I am having new negative thoughts all based around the fear that I will lose what I have and be back in a situation that triggered so many struggles. I think being kind to ourselves when we think negatively is so important; we’re feeling/thinking this way for a reason. Showing ourselves some compassion during these moments is a great way to lessen the anxiety and stress we may experience. Thank you so much for sharing — it’s so great to keep this conversation going!

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  5. This is definitely an important thing to learn. It’s something my husband and I have been working on a lot lately. I grew up in a home where focusing on the negative side of things was much more normal, and I “learned” to complain a lot, kinda seeking someone else’s “ohh I’m so sorry you’re going through that” response – even if it’s not purposeful. Recently, in my marriage, we’ve been trying to reframe our thinking. Trying to really focus on things that are good rather than the negative all the time can make a massive difference in everyday life! I love this post!

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    1. That is a brilliant things to be working on together; my husband and I are doing much the same as we learn to let go of the negativity we’ve held onto (because of our previous housing situation). It takes work and time but is so worth it. I wish you all the best as you progress with being able to reframe your thinking!

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  6. What a lovely post, I love it! I sometimes find it very hard to examine a negative thought but I’m trying my best to do it! I usually stop and try to ask myself ”Is this true?” before believing any thought. Thank you so much for sharing. x Penny /

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    1. It’s definitely a hard thing to do so be kind to yourself when it doesn’t come so easyily. I am always working on it and going through cycles of success with it. Asking yourself, “Is this true?” is an excellent idea!

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  7. Yes! I love this so much. It is so important to do challenge negativity you may be thinking or feeling. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  8. It’s human nature, it seems, to gravitate toward negative thinking. This is why negativity sells more on social media. You are right, one has to become aware of negative thought patterns before we can examine how we can effectively and consciously deal with them.

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  9. A really interesting read, Molly. I used to work for a confidence coach and she was all about challenging the negative inner voice and training yourself to speak to yourself as if to a friend. Or to imagine the advice a wise older friend would give you instead. Hope you’ll both be very happy in your new home.

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  10. Really good article here Molly, it’s important for us understand why we dwell on negative thoughts and how to change our mindsets, even if they are sort of programmed into us genetically.

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  11. This is a really interesting post, and certainly useful. It’s important to recognise these behaviours and try to change them!
    Emily x

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  12. I really struggle with this, so thank you for this post. My negative memories are so vivid — and they often cloud my positive ones, so they feel somewhat bittersweet. I need to practise this, and challenge my mindset. Thank you xx

    Laura |

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    1. I am working hard at this right now so don’t worry if being able to keep on top of this works the doesn’t work for a bit. It goes in cycles but eventually it gets easier to deal with a negative thinking mindset. Hang on in there!

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  13. This is such a powerful post and it touches on a lot of things I had to overcome with negativity. The self-doubt often kept me from doing things. I tend to do a lot of negative visualization, but sometimes it blocks me from taking action.

    Your steps are great to remember next time these feelings come up.

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    1. I am so happy this was useful; it’s definitely hard to get through the negativity we seem so used to (it sure does keep us from doing things) but continuing to work on is is always worthwhile. I hope you continue to make progress with it!

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  14. What a great post Molly! It’s interesting to learn that we are hardwired for negative thoughts more than positive ones. I can see the importance of recognizing negative thoughts but the challenge to determine the why. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It’s hard to figure it all out sometimes; if I’m stuck on recognizing why I may be thinking negatively, I switch to just focusing on challenging those thoughts by reminding myself that what I’m thinking is most likely not accurate/going to happen. It takes time to get this process working but improves things in the end. Thanks so much for reading!

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  15. I’m so happy to hear that you and your husband are loving your new place. Challenging negative thoughts is so important. It allows us to connect deeper with ourselves and start practicing better habits. Sweeping it under the rug never helps! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I hadn’t realized at first just how negative (and recurring) my thoughts were; definitely time for a change! I agree 100% with not sweeping it under the rug; that doesn’t help any of us grow or care for ourselves as we do. Thanks so much for reading!

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  16. Well analyzed.
    I think passing thru tough times and situations makes us mentally strong to fix difficult things easily without getting puzzled. Experiences give us the eyes to recognize the people & similar situations just by subtle hints, thus making better decisions in the future.
    Like in your case, now u will not fall into the traps of bad houses, u know what to check, where to check & what to ask firsthand!

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  17. Really well written! I never thought about how my environment might impact my thoughts. Maybe it’s nagging more in the back of our minds than realized. What helps me is spending time with a positive person. They spill so much positivity that my negative thoughts have no chance.

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    1. Having moved into a much better living situation (and therefore the environment around me too) has the an incredible positive impact on my mental health. It’s incredible how negativity from what’s around us seeps in even when we think it’s “normal” or tolerable. Being around those who lift us up is always a great thing — a great idea!

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  18. A brilliant read, Molly. It’s obvious that you have been around the ol’ block a time or two with negative thinking spirals. Unfortunately, I can relate. As Joyce Meyer calls it, “stinking thinking.” We can really go nowhere fast on that train, right?

    I love this line, “Interrupting negative thinking, for many of us, allows us a chance to breathe; providing a moment to ground ourselves in a way that nourishes rather than tears ourselves down.” —– So very true! As you’ve pointed out in this post, it’s critical we examine those thoughts for what they are and actually *challenge* what they’re telling us. Nothing good comes from tearing ourselves down.

    Another awesome point of yours: “It’s also worth bearing in mind that the point of doing all this is not about being happy all the time; positivity isn’t inevitably the answer to our problems.” —— YES! Toxic positivity needs to stop, in my humble opinion. Not everything is wonderful. As a believer in Jesus, I believe in peace in the midst of the storm through His presence, BUT, that doesn’t mean it’s always sunshine and happiness in our lives. We’ve got to be okay with feeling the not so good emotions and working through them too. We can learn a lot by listening.

    Congratulations on the move. I hope you and your hubby will be exceptionally happy there with tons of new memories to come! ❤️

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