4 steps to stop negative, repetitive thoughts

It’s very tedious when you can’t stop thinking about something, isn’t it? It can prevent you from concentrating at work, from listening in conversations and from sleeping properly.

The thoughts we have on repeat tend to be the negative ones. We don’t usually go over and over the fact that someone made us a nice cup of tea or paid us a complement — we focus on perceived problems that need resolving.

This would be all very well if we just thought about them, resolved them and moved on. But for some reason certain thoughts we can have tens if not hundreds of times. Why is that? And how do you not do that so that you can focus, listen and sleep better?!

Well, if it’s going round and round your head, it might well be because there is no solution you can find through thinking.

Underneath those repetitive thoughts is a feeling that you don’t like. It might be anger, sadness or fear. This feeling is signalling to your mind that there is a problem that needs resolving, hence why it’s looking for solutions.

But you can’t let go of this feeling through thinking, you have to do it through feeling the feeling with an attitude of acceptance rather than resistance.

I’ve developed a four step process I call Radical Acceptance, that I use to let go of anxiety, frustration and sadness in myself, and my clients. It works pretty much every time — unless the answer to the fourth step is “No.”!

I call it Radical Acceptance because it’s based on the idea that the way to feel content and at peace is be willing to allow any feeling you can imagine into you awareness. It’s when you don’t allow yourself to feel something, that it causes you suffering.

Radical Acceptance in 4 Steps:

1. Notice the negative thought
2. Identify the feeling that’s underneath it
3. Notice what that feeling feels like in the body
4. Ask yourself the question: Can I be with this? i.e. can I allow this feeling to be felt?

I recently led a group of 40 bankers and hedge fund managers through this process in the form of a meditation at one of our recent workshops on building emotional resilience.

One person told me afterwards that he was noticing thoughts about something he was worried about at work. He noticed tightening in his chest and shoulders.

In the meditation, when I’d asked “Can you be with this? Can you breath with this?” Initially he said his answer was “No!” I enquired what that felt like. He said it was uncomfortable and if anything the tension increased.

But as the meditation continued he tried to allow it in, bit by bit, and as he did so, he said he felt his body relax.

So next you notice you’re experiencing negative repetitive thoughts, try the Radical Acceptance process and see if it works for you.

Here’s a poem I came across recently that sums up the concept:

By Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

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My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.

My work is all about love. Loving yourself, loving other people and loving the earth. I do that through writing, podcasting, coaching, running workshops.