‘I’m a Psychotherapist, and This Is How To Use Thought-Flipping To Break Out of Negative Thinking’

Thought-flipping isn't about submerging yourself in toxic positivity. I love magical thinking, but if you try to turn "this pandemic will never end" into "this pandemic is cancelled and tomorrow I can do whatever I want," you're going to be seriously disappointed. Rather, the thought-flipping technique is about grounding yourself with a baseline of reality and evidence. Flipping negative thoughts to positive ones instead provides a direct counterattack.

"A negative mindset can really limit us from reaching our potential," says psychotherapist Michele Burstein LCSW. "When most people see that they don't have potential to be something, then they have the attitude of 'why would I even try.' So, when we can see our potential through a positive lens, it can be much more motivating."

Experts In This Article

Research shows replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts can help reduce stress and anxiety while encouraging a more positive mindset. It has a psychological fake-it-till-you-make-it effect. And remember, negativity spirals inhibit our ability to possibly make a better situation for ourselves.

If you're interested in flipping the script on your negativity spirals, here's what mental health professionals recommend.

How to use a thought-flipping practice correctly

1. Begin by labeling the negative thought

"Bring awareness to negative thoughts by labeling them—'I am having a negative thought'— or identifying after the negative statement—'and that was a negative thought,'" says therapist Eliza Davis, LMSW. "Challenge yourself to replace it with a more positive or realistic thought."

2. Identify the limitations of your thought

Therapist Breena Beck, LMSW, says that once you've clearly identified the negative thought, look to how it's specifically holding you back. She suggests asking yourself a few questions to identify the pain points: Is this thought helping me or getting in my way? Is this thought leaving out any information? Is the thought focusing on the worst case scenario or the most likely case scenario?

"Once you have your answers, try to come up with an alternate thought based more on objective facts," says Beck. "For example, switching your negative thought from, 'This meeting with my boss is going to go horribly,' to the alternative thought, 'This meeting is important and I am hopeful that it will go as well as possible. I do my best at work and I can tolerate and learn from constructive criticism if that is the case.'"

3. Create an inventory of clear opposite and positive alternatives for your negative spirals

If you have a hellish little roster of devil's advocate thoughts, it might help to get them down on paper. In my journal, I have list of my "Best Self-Deprecating Beliefs," and I would encourage you to do the same.

Write down your deepest recurring negative thoughts, keeping them on the left side of the paper. Now, cross them out. Expel those demons. Think of whatever the best case scenario or complete opposite of your situation is. Write those down as the new, better, sexier, dominant thought.

You're allowed to dream big here, but if positive thinking is already a challenge, remember to ground it in reality based on facts that support it, says Burstein. "This technique really allows us to drop our subjective lens and think more realistically," she adds.

4. Counterbalance each negative thought if you can't find a direct opposite

Burstein also recommends this: If you can't find a directly opposite optimistic alternative to a negative thought, just try to replace it with an equal but uplifting mantra. Like if you're really upset about a personal physical feature or an overwhelming horrible thing, find a different plus for the minus. For example, yesterday I thought to myself, "I really wish I wasn't living in a country where every Wednesday was a national tragedy." Failing to find an upside there, I switched my mantra of, "Well, at least I have vodka."

No, gallows humor aside, this can definitely help, especially with issues around self-esteem.

"We spend so much time pointing out the negatives, especially using self-critical statements, that I believe we need to designate as much time to the positive statements," says Burstein. "For every negative thought, I challenge you to point out a positive one."

5. Consider a daily silver-linings practice

If you want to work towards a bolder positive mindset longterm, then another way to approach is with a day-to-day (or week-to-week, I don't know your schedule) silver-linings practice. Hell, it could even be reserved for those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days.

"Another helpful [tactic] could be gratitude journaling, and giving yourself the opportunity to find small wins throughout the day or within a scenario," says Davis. "When we make a choice to find positive moments throughout or reflecting on the day, we give ourselves the opportunity to find positivity and happier moments throughout the day that often we don't think twice about."

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