A wandering mind is exactly like a horse that wanders off from one path onto another path that you grab by its reins and lead back, against its will, to the correct path.
– Rabbi Nachman (Likutei Moharan Part 2, 50)
Thoughts are like horses. You can only ride one at a time, and if you let the horse decide where you’re going, you’re going to get lost.
But the good news is that we’re the masters of our own minds. We’re the riders, not the horses, and we have the ability to take charge of our travels.
So, like horses, some thoughts are wild.
But you don’t have to try and tame every horse that comes along. Because, unless you’re a cowboy at a rodeo, wild and dangerous horses are not meant to be ridden. So if your current horse is wild and dangerous, it’s time to get rid of it and get yourself a new one.
The same is true with thoughts.
If one thought is harmful to you – that thought is not a good fit for you and it needs to be sent away. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have a life of it’s own and you don’t need to take care of it. It won’t be hurt or insulted, because it never really existed – it was just a figment of the imagination. It doesn’t exist.
The one big difference between thoughts and horses
Although the comparison between thoughts and horses is a great one, there is one big difference between the two. You can trade one thought in for a better thought without paying a penny.
12 Tips to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts
Here are a few gem tips for getting rid of negative thoughts.
1. Find Another Thought and Think It Instead
One cannot think two thoughts at once. Consequently, when negative thoughts arise, you do not need to fight them. Make an effort to think positive thoughts, and the negative thoughts will disappear.
– Rabbi Nachman (Likutei Aitzot: Machshavot, 11)
The human mind can only devote full attention to one thought at a time. Making a conscious effort to switch gears and replace one thought can, in many cases, beat it. Especially if the substitute thought is more engaging and enjoyable then the negative one.
2. Label Your Thoughts
Just like horses, thoughts can be labeled and kept track of. And just like horses, some thoughts are good for certain occasions and some thoughts are good for accomplishing certain goals.
Here are some labels for thoughts:
- Happy memory
Once you’ve labeled the thought, the next step is to consider what it is good for. Perhaps it’s a good thought to think at another time, but not now. So leave it be. Or, perhaps it’s a negative, debilitating thought which you are welcome to deal with more harshly.
Don’t worry, being tough on negative thoughts doesn’t make you a mean person, actually, it can make you much stronger, happier, more positive.
Below are some more tips on how to go about being tough on negative thoughts.
3. Scold Negative Thoughts
A negative thought doesn’t have the inalienable right to enter your mind. In fact, a negative thought has no rights at all. It’s not a person. It’s not oppressed. It’s imaginary but it can do damage if you let it, so it needs to be sent away.
One should scold negative thoughts and banish them from his psyche and from his mind so that they don’t come close.
– Rabbi Nachman (Likutei Moharan 5)
A negative thought is wrong to come anywhere near you. And if it tries to tell you otherwise, if it tells you it has a good point, if it tells you that your neighbor agrees with it and that you really need to be more open-minded, that means you’ve already begun listening to it and it’s high time for it to get going.
So we’re not just saying to be closed-minded to negative thoughts, we’re saying that you have every right to berate and scold them for having the audacity to get anywhere near you. You, your mind, and your psyche, are important and you have every right to protect yourself. Remember that.
4. Choose Not to Ride With That Thought
If a wild and destructive horse came crashing into your window, your first consideration wouldn’t be, “is this happening because there is something wrong with me?” Nor would it be to jump on it’s back and let it take you wherever it’s going. No way. Instead, you’d quickly realize that this is a problem.
You might turn into a scaredy cat and tense up at first. Or you might be stronger than that and take action. But either way, you’re not going to get on that horse’s back to go for a ride.
You see where this is going. Don’t let your thoughts take you for a ride. You are the rider and you can choose the direction you want to go.
5. Slash Its Tires
Perhaps you think there could be some sort of benefit in taking that wild and destructive thought for a spin. Perhaps you’re still convinced it could be useful. You don’t want to be rude, after all.
Well, here’s an example of what that logic can be compared to (I hope you’re enjoying these comparisons)…
Say a car pulls up and the driver offers your inner child some candy. You’d slash the tires before letting the child get seduced for some stupid candy. There probably isn’t even any candy.
Holding on to the belief that every thought is a gem and should be embraced to enrich your life isn’t doing any good. If a negative thought promises candy, then it’s a kidnapper. It’s not good. Call the police, slash the tires, but don’t go inside that ride.
6. Write It Down And Burn It
My Dad taught me this one. It’s really simple. If you have something on your mind that’s bothering you and you can’t seem to shake it, write it on a piece of paper and burn the piece of paper. No fuss, no muss.
I tried it a few times and it worked nicely. The act of transferring a thought to a piece of paper makes the thought more defined and limited. After all, it’s all there on the paper. Then burning it, well, that’s just fun. And symbolically it gets rid of the nagging thought.
Of course, always be careful with fire.
7. Stop Beating Yourself up About Beating Yourself Up
Here’s one that’s pretty funny, actually.
Somebody, let’s call him George, gets carried away by a negative thought. He knows better but, in a moment of weakness, he engaged with a negative thought and it’s really brought him down. Now he’s feeling awful.
So, now that he’s wounded, another negative thought comes along saying, “you know, you really muffed up back there by getting all worked up with that negative thinking – you are a negative thinker.”
But George is smart enough to see that that’s just another negative thought so he doesn’t listen to it.
And that brings us to the next rule…
8. Redefine Yourself
You are not a negative thinker.
If a negative thought tried to cozy up to you and convince you that you’re somehow attached to its type of thinking, just appreciate the humor in it and go on.
Oh, the irony of it all. Negative thoughts try to get you to think them and then, if you do, they try to get you to identify with them by telling you that you are negative, just like they are, because you thought them.
Being attacked by negative thoughts doesn’t make you a negative thinker, it just makes you human.
There’s nothing like speaking to Someone who truly understands you. And you can’t, no matter what you do, trick, or be fake with, Him – there’s no reason to. It’s an intensely freeing and invigorating experience.
And if you are plagued by negative thinking, prayer is a great way to rewire and refocus one’s mind. It’s about being focused and in the moment, a form of mindfullness. The ultimate form of mindfullness.
10. Go Back in Time
What does one do with negative thoughts that are confounding to the point where they really get out of control. They can be overwhelming. They can be exhausting. And they can double back and cause, seemingly, endless confusion.
There are times when one’s thoughts can get them very very confused. And as much as they try to push the thoughts away, the thoughts keep getting them more and more confused. In that case, the essential advice is not even to begin thinking those thoughts at all, and to completely remove your psyche from them. Then you can go about focusing on whatever business you want to think about.
– Rabbi Nachman (Likutei Moharan, Part 2, 51)
Confusing thoughts are confusing because your mind gets engaged with them. Perhaps you’ve tried to disprove them or understand them on a deeper level. But just by giving them the time of day, the negative thought gets traction. So what do you do to get out of it?
Time travel. Start over from the beginning and don’t get involved with the thought in the first place. And if you’re wondering, yes, your mind can time travel – it lives in different times all the time – and that’s one of the problems. It agonizes about what happened in the past and then worries about what will happen in the future, all-the-while avoiding the present.
By going back in time, to before the thought ever happened, you can just decide that the thought never gained access to your mind in the first place, thereby using the mind’s time-travel mechanism for good.
If that seems a little crazy, it’s not as crazy as letting oneself be abused by a thought.
11. Speak to a Friend or Loved One
If there is concern in a man’s heart, he should speak about it.
– King Soloman (Ecclesiastes 12, 25)
Sometimes just having another person to speak with can be really helpful. In some cases you might even end up laughing at how silly it was to obsess over the negative thought/s in the first place.
Of course, it’s important to speak to someone who has your best interest in mind.
12. Speak to a Professional
Some negative thoughts can be much more burdensome than others. Whether they be related to a traumatic experience or a genetic predisposition or whatever it may be, they can be overwhelming.
So while this article has some great advice, it is not meant to be a replacement for proper psychological care when necessary.
And just as it’s every person’s personal responsibility to get help for physical ailments, it is also important to get help for psychological ailments from a competent professional whenever necessary.
One Final Thought About Bad Thoughts
Negative thoughts are literally dangerous. They are bad for your health because they can raise your stress and anxiety levels and, by extension, may cause more serious health issues such as heart disease. So negative thoughts are obviously bad for health.
But they also prevent you from living.
You are where your thoughts are. And by welcoming a negative thought into your mindspace, it puts you in a bad space until you get rid of the thought. Remember, your mind is yours and just like no one has the right to violate your physical space, a negative thought has no right to violate your mindspace.
If you’ve read this far (or even if you skipped around some) I have confidence that you’re in a good position to keep your mind safer from negative thoughts. And like we discussed above, if a negative thought does sneak into your mind, don’t beat yourself up about it. But if you still want to beat someone up about it, take your frustration out on the negative thought itself and launch it to outer space.