How to challenge negative thoughts

If your head is full of negative thoughts, it’s normal to feel down. While it won’t be easy to block out the negative noise, there are steps you can take to turn things around.

This can help if:

  • you’re experiencing depression or anxiety

  • you can’t seem to shift out of a negative way of thinking

  • you want to feel more positive and confident.

Boy smiling at camera

Challenging your inner voice

Self-talk is your inner voice – and the hard part about self-talk is that it always feels true, even when it’s biased or incorrect. If you’re experiencing negative thoughts, chances are your self-talk is stuck on a downward slope.

Learning to challenge this vibe might take time and practice, but it’s worth the effort. Once you start clocking how often you hear the negativity, you'll be surprised at how much of your thinking is geared towards a negative view of things.

Practise: Whenever you become aware that you’re being hard on yourself, talking down your skills and lacking in confidence use this as your signal to stop and check yourself. Are things really as negative as what your inner voice is saying?

If you wake up feeling worthless, stop and re-examine the question: What is my worth and who values it? Look to friends and family, teammates and teachers, as examples of people who value you and your contributions.

Writing it down

It can help to write down your thoughts when you're feeling negative. The key is to find a way that works for you. Whether that’s jotting them down in a notebook, recording notes on your phone or putting ten minutes aside before bed to check-in with yourself. It's almost like you're transferring your thoughts out of your head and into a journal. When making notes, try to put down your thoughts under three headings:

  • What’s the situation?

  • What am I thinking or telling myself?

  • How down/anxious am I on a scale of 1–10?

If you’ve never tried writing down your thoughts before, these are some common obstacles people find:

‘I don’t have any thoughts, I’m just anxious/down.’ Even if you don’t know exactly why you’re anxious at the time, it can help to write down: ‘I don’t know exactly what I’m thinking right now. I wonder if it has something to do with XYZ?’ Sometimes, the process of writing things down can help you to clarify what you’re thinking.

‘My thoughts seem weird when I write them down.’ Even if you know that no one else is going to see what you’ve written, you might feel a bit weird or foolish about it. This reaction isn’t bad at all – it means you’re getting some perspective just by putting your thoughts in writing. Only when you’re fully conscious of your thoughts and aware of what you can control are you able to challenge negative thinking.

‘I don’t have time.’ It can feel like a chore at the beginning, but you don’t have to write down every single thing you’re thinking. Pick a time to get started when you’re feeling moderately anxious or have started feeling some physical symptoms. You could even schedule ten minutes every day to write down your worries.

Playing hardball

After you write your thoughts done, a good way to test how legit they might be is to ask yourself some challenging questions. There are four main types of challenging questions:

1. Questions that act as a reality check:

  • What is the evidence for and against my thinking?

  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?

  • How can I find out if what I’m thinking is actually true?

2. Questions that seek alternative explanations:

  • Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?

  • What else could this mean?

  • If I were being positive, how would I view the situation?

3. Questions that put things in perspective:

  • What’s the best thing that could happen?

  • Is there anything good about this situation?

  • Will this matter in five years’ time?

4. Questions that are goal-directed:

  • Is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?

  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?

  • Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?

Talk it out

Ultimately, we all suffer negative thoughts from time to time, but if you’re starting to feel that you can’t flip out of the funk, it’s important to remember that there are ways to conquer the self-doubt. No negative path is permanent, and mastering the art of challenging your own chat will pay off big time.

What can I do now?

  • Try to balance every negative thought with a positive one.

  • Book in for a PeerChat session to get personalised support for negative thinking.

  • Get into the habit of tuning into your emotions as a way of checking-in with your thoughts.