You may have learned pessimistic thinking from childhood, or from past trauma. Your brain may have created an easy pathway for your neurons to travel down, causing negative thoughts to become a force of habit. The positive side to this, though, is that our brains can be shaped and moulded even in our adult years. Negative thoughts won’t go away on their own. It takes hard work and dedication, but it’s entirely possible. Don’t worry so much about removing them completely but rather replace them with healthier ones. Don’t be afraid to confront and reflect on why you may be thinking this way. Try the following three steps:

1. Create Time for Your Thoughts
It might seem counterproductive but one way to combat negative thinking is to address these thoughts head-on but in an organised way. Set aside time each day for negative thinking. Let your thoughts run wild, write them down if that helps. Then, when the time is up, move forward with your day. If you experience negative thoughts during the day, jot them down and promise to readdress them during your next set time. Gradually you will be able to gain better control over thoughts that run rampant.

2. Don’t Remove, Replace
Instead of focusing so much on removing negative thoughts, choose to replace them. Sometimes we resort subconsciously to negative thinking patterns because that’s what we’ve always done. Every time we choose to think negatively, the neural connections in our brains grow stronger. So it’s simply out of habit to criticise yourself when you talk harshly inwards after being rejected. When seeking to replace negative thoughts you must acknowledge them first. Recognize when a negative thought arises. Decide in the moment that you want to change this habitual thought. Speak out what you’d like to think instead. Act on this – choose a different, positive thought.

3. Confront Yourself
Sometimes the hardest part of changing is being upfront and real with your inner self. Ask yourself these tough questions.

“What do I get by talking to myself this way?”
“Do I really believe this about myself?”
“What is the reward for me when I jump to the worst-case scenario?”
“Is this pattern of thinking hurting or helping me?”
“What happened to me in my past that has made me think this way?”

It may even be beneficial to sit and write these questions down and create time to truly reflect on your answers. You may have a quick response to some but try and think deeper than whatever your mind jumps to at first.