Distraction Technique to Reduce Negative Thoughts

I used to let a negative event play over and over in my mind. Whenever, I had a bad experience such as a co-worker shooting down my idea in front of the boss or an argument with my partner, I would play those situations again and again in my mind…like a bad movie. The stress and anxiety of reliving those unpleasant moments again and again quickly surpassed the actual event itself. I quickly realized, for my sake, that I had to let go of those bad events.

I had read a number of books by leading authors that tell you to just let those negative thoughts pass through. And to not give any attention to those negative thoughts and mental movies. However, I always found this to be difficult. How do I ignore something that is playing over and over in my mind? So, although the advice about letting a negative thought just “flow through you” seemed like good advice, it didn’t work for me.

So, I started thinking about how to overcome the negative thoughts. I tried several techniques such as reasoning with myself why the negative event wasn’t negative, but those techniques didn’t seem to work. Finally, I came up with an idea that seemed to work.

I found that superseding the negative thought and mental movie with a neutral movie worked the best. Whenever, I found myself going into the negative thoughts, I thought of a pre-determined neutral movie in my mind. For example, after a difficult breakup with a girlfriend, I found myself playing fictional movies of what she might be doing at any given time (particularly since I knew she started seeing someone else). Every time I started having these thoughts, I would think of a swarm of bees flying around a clock-tower. I would play that little neutral movie in my mind and because humans typically can’t play-out scenes simultaneously, my negative/jealous thoughts did not have room to play in my mind.

Why did I pick a swarm of bees flying around a clock tower? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter. The point is to pre-make small movies that are detailed enough to occupy your mind. I used another neutral movie of horses running around a track. I would picture the colors and the sounds of the race.

If you find yourself replaying negative events again and again, or in anticipation of a stressful event play out potential outcomes, you might benefit from playing a pre-made neutral mental movie instead. It worked and still works for me.

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