You Are Not Your Thoughts: 10 Ways to Get Rid of Unhealthy Thoughts

When we were young, older people told us how the world works, and as young dewy-eyed youths, we believed them. As children, we were very curious. We wanted to learn so much that we instantly accept anything we learn as a fact.

As we grow up, we eventually learn to identify and distinguish facts from opinions. If someone says that Jelly beans taste bad, we know that it’s just an opinion and not a fact because it is based on personal preference.

But when it comes to ourselves, we can’t seem to separate the two. Why is that?

Where do these intrusive, unhealthy thoughts come from?

In this article, you will learn why you are not your thoughts, and what you can do to get rid of unhealthy thoughts.

Human Biology and Fear

We are social animals, and this means two things:

  1. We have a biological drive to seek validation from others, so we try to please others for survival.
  2. We are biologically programmed to look for danger, so we focus on the negatives to help our survival.

These two things are the sources of our unhealthy thoughts, which are further exacerbated by the unrealistic standards set by society.

We need to be liked to feel safe. To not be liked is to face rejection and therefore, imminent death without the protection of our tribe.

In the modern-day, what this biological fear translates to is not being perfect in the eyes of the pack. For others to like us, we have to conform to an ideal because when we don’t, we feel vulnerable.

In order to deal with this fear of vulnerability, we build ourselves up mentally and protect ourselves by bullying ourselves so we don’t feel weak.

Why Does This Get Out of Control?

Sometimes our thoughts are so backed up by our insecurities, that they create lies we believe. We all know that they are just thoughts and aren’t facts. They are normally routed in the form of “I am not good enough”, and they are rooted in fear.

Fear is the root of self-hate.

We are always afraid of being rejected, and it drives most of our unhealthy thoughts.

You are not your thoughts, and you are not your fears. They are like newspaper articles or the opinions of someone else: they are not who you really are. They are just a construction of the world you live in.

10 Ways to Get Rid of Your Unhealthy Thoughts:

1. Dissociation

I want you to picture your negative thoughts not as truth but as opinions.

Here is the difference:

  • Truth: that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
  • Opinion: a view or judgment formed about something that is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

Your negative thoughts about yourself are not facts; they are just your opinion of yourself that is based on other people’s opinions.

For example, let’s take the case of failure.

Internal thought: I am a failure because I didn’t get this job interview.

This is not a fact The fact is that you did not get an interview, but your opinion is that you are a failure. You just applied your opinion to a fact.

Once you take away your opinion, you are just left with a fact that you did not get a job interview. You can then do something about this, such as applying for other jobs, following up on other applications or using the feedback to improve yourself.

We love to take anything and use it to punish ourselves by subjecting them to our opinions. Take away your opinions, just look at the facts and then, work with what you have from there.

Society made us think this way by setting unrealistic standards. It is not entirely your fault that you think like this. But it is your responsibility to move forward. It is up to you to deal with these thoughts and let go of your unhealthy beliefs.

2. Meditation

Meditation is a great way to sit with your thoughts and feelings. We were always taught to hide our feelings and be strong, but this only leads to mental health issues. Instead, we should learn meditation.

It is not just sitting down and closing your eyes and thinking of nothing. But it is more about giving your mind a break so it can relax and breathe for a moment.

Meditation is one of the best things you can do due to its numerous benefits. Read this article to know more about the benefits of meditation: How Meditation Can Help to Improve Your Productivity.

3. Emotional Clearing

Emotional clearing is about being with your feelings, and feeling them fully and letting them go. Your thoughts are rooted in your emotions. Sit with them; negotiate with them.

What is an opinion? What is a fact? What is helpful? What is not? Why are you feeling this way?

A simple way to process this is to go through all of your negative emotions and clear them systematically.

Start with fear: identify all your fears, feel them and reassure yourself that you are safe. Then move on and deal with guilt, shame, loss, denial, and loneliness.

If you are attempting to clear your feelings, remember that anger is just a front, a bodyguard for another feeling. So, when you are looking into your anger, try to focus on why you are sad, and you will find the peace that you are looking for.

4. Mental Correction

When you are faced with an unhealthy thought, correct yourself. Let go of the unhealthy parts of your thoughts because they do not serve you well.

Instead, replace it with a more positive statement:

I am not *insert unhealthy thought*, I am *insert positive thought*.

For example:

I am not good enough because I did not get this job interview.

I did not get this job interview, and this is okay. I am still safe, and it just means that it was not meant for me. It is not a critique of my self-worth, and I am still worthy.

5. Journaling

Journaling is a great way to process through all of your negative thoughts. Write down what your thoughts then deconstruct them.

Why do you feel that way? Is it truth or just an opinion from your preexisting belief system? How can you turn it into something positive?

Unhealthy thoughts go away when you face them and change them. Your best bet is to take their power away and reclaim it. It may be difficult to start the habit of journaling if you are not yet used to doing it. But the benefits of journaling makes it very worthwhile. To know more about how journaling can help you, you can check out this article: 10 Ways Journaling Can Improve Your Life.

6. Practicing Gratitude

If you are struggling with unhealthy thoughts, practicing gratitude is one way to cure this problem. You can easily practice gratitude. You just have to sit down and think of all the things you are grateful for. You can express them, write them down or post them on social media.

Practicing gratitude is the secret to happiness because by practicing gratitude, you switch your mindset from negative to positive. This will change your feeling from lacking and not being good enough to abundance and fulfillment. If you are having negative thoughts about another person, practice gratitude and view towards that person will change.

7. Understanding That You Are Enough

You need to understand that nobody is perfect, so you do not have to be perfect. You are good enough as you are, and there is nothing wrong with that.

There is always space to grow, learn, and change, but comparing yourself to someone else will only bring you unhappiness. Succumbing to your expectations of yourself and berating yourself for failing, will bring you nothing but dissatisfaction.

You are good enough, and not everyone will see that but that does not matter. All that matters is that you know that you are good enough. Once you encourage this mindset, your life will change.

Every adversity you will face will change because your self-worth would not on the line anymore. You are enough as you are, and it is only someone else’s opinion that you are not but never a fact.

8. Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmation can be very powerful, though sometimes not right away. But when you need them, they can change your perspective.

Pick an affirmation. This can be a saying, an expression or a quote that you relate to. Choose one that makes you feel strong, powerful, and positive. Write it down, and say it out loud while focusing on that feeling.

9. Identifying Triggers

External influences can trigger negative thoughts. To prevent them from happening again, identify the triggers. Start recording what you were doing when the unhealthy thoughts occur.

Identify triggers so you can either avoid them or create a healthy way to deal with them. Once you know what’s throwing your thoughts off, you will be able to do something about it.

This also goes the other way. You can prevent negative thoughts by thinking of positive ones. Also knowing your “joy triggers” will help you avoid negativity. Read this article to learn more about finding your joy triggers: Wanna Be Happier? Know Your Joy Triggers.

10. Self-Care Routine

A good way to keep your mental health in a good place is to have a good self-care routine. First thing is to make sure that you exercise regularly so your brain chemistry works with you. When you exercise, your body releases Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin.

  • Endorphins mask physical pain and promote feelings of happiness.
  • Dopamine boosts our mood and makes us feel great. It contributes to the feeling of accomplishment and elation from completing a task, achieving a goal, or winning a game.
  • Serotonin boosts our confidence and makes us feel awesome. It also elicits a sense of pride, status, and gratitude.
  • Oxytocin invokes feelings of love and loyalty. This chemical drives us to be around people we like and trust.

Making sure you eat healthier. Eat less sugar, caffeine, and alcohol is a great way to get rid of negative thoughts.

Take care of your mental health by taking a break to feel your feelings and drawing your limits and boundaries. Creating a good healthy routine in your life with rest and recovery is the best way to help relieve the internal negative self-talk.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing is that you do no beat yourself up for having bad thoughts. They are normal, not only because of our biology but because of the society we live in. If you find yourself berating yourself for having unhealthy thoughts, practice all the steps in this article.

Lastly, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself:

This is normal. I am not perfect, and that is okay.

More Tips About Thinking Positive

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.

Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

Inspirational, isn’t it?

Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.

When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.

The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

Final Thoughts

Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:

“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

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