How to overcome an addiction to negative thinking

Peter asks…

“Almost all my life I’ve been addicted to negative thinking and I’ve been diagnosed with the possibility of OCD. I have a few problems that I’m working on — the most annoying is this one:

My mind somehow got in the habit of bringing back experiences that I hate from the past, and attaching them to the things or activities that I do like — it sounds weird but I’ll give an example:

If I’m cutting some paper — some decoration, and I hear a name of someone that I hate on the radio, my mind digs the old bad experiences up — and tries to attach it to the cutting. So next time when I do a similar cutting, my mind will probably pick that emotion and I will go through it again.

I’m trying to manage this by focusing on something else. But the problem is that when I try to hide that memory which was just brought to me, I can’t simply think of something positive, because I’m afraid the bad memory will get associated with it.

I was reading an article about this:

‘Letting go’ of something that is bothering you means refusing to dwell on it, obsess over it, focus on it, worry about it, fume over it, and so on. Instead, you simply set it aside and turn your attention to other tasks that don’t upset you….

This is exactly what’s almost impossible for me, because the positive things get associated with the negative ones… sometimes I’m even scared to talk with some people on some days (the days I wanna do something that I like), as those people might mention the names of people that I hated.

I’m afraid the few things that I enjoy will get corrupted by association with bad memories. By the way, I have no other problems with moods etc.

I think that first: my mind is addicted to a negative thinking. At least one negative thought at the time must be worked on in my head (since I was a little – old bad habit). And also I think that my mind should just get a little bit stupider, in order to not be that attentive/watchful to every little thing. I sometimes cant believe how quickly it can bring up some memory once it’s triggered by something… and that thing just runs though my head in a few seconds and starts to bother me.

Why does my mind just try to destroy everything I like?

That’s what I don’t understand… normal regular people — when something bad happens or when something they hate is recalled in their heads — they simply focus on things they like and bad things are gone… not in my case. I’m even afraid to do anything like that because bad thoughts could be brought next time along with it.

This habit of associating is kind of a new thing — last 2-3 years. Any ideas what I can do / practice etc? Thank you in advance.”

shallow focus photography of man wearing red polo shirt
Photo by Nathan Cowley on

OK, let’s start with the big stuff… the very big info you need for a new mindset and understanding about how your brain works. When you have a better understanding of how it works, you’ll be able to get your mind to work for you.

The big stuff is this: Attention is the volume control for thoughts.

Factors feeding attention in your case are meaning and habit…

An idea you give meaning to has a certain QUALITY, and that quality determines how it affects you subconsciously. For example, you have fear attached to some of these ideas and so you mind will play patterns designed to protect you from real life dangers such as lions. The way your mind responds is the same and can include a fight or flight response (anxiety) plus lots of attention plus very easily made ASSOCIATIONS…

Then, as the dysfunction plays out, you repeat over and over the fearful thoughts, and then they become rapid firing thought habits. You basically get better, smoother and faster at creating the dysfunction.

Attention is the volume control. New associations, new triggers, new thoughts like the original one, more thoughts, building all the time fueled by a dysfunctional biochemistry too… the stress response.

So you can see how easily these problems can happen when we give meaning to ideas that rightly, should have been ignored from square one. It’s easy to get into the kind of mental pickle you’re in.

The idea that negative thoughts need to be battled one at a time is one such idea that can easily create mental hell. If you’d had guidance that attention is the volume control for thoughts, at an early age, you would have nipped this bad idea in the bud. Instead, you spent most of your life ramping it up and creating a bigger and bigger maze of madness. Not your fault.

A negative thought that serves no purpose is to be dropped, not battled. Since attention is the volume control, battling makes it bigger… bigger and brighter in your mind.

As you say, somewhere in your maze of negativity battles, the negative got associated with the positive. This is to be expected as you get faster and better and really master the art of recalling all the bad things that ever happened to you from your past. And as fear thoughts are easily associated, in order to protect you from danger… it’s clear to see how they can easily attach to everything happening now, even stuff you love to do.

And you fear THAT happening. MORE fear to create more hell. Because what you fear you will create, you will notice it everywhere and associate it with everything and you will do this habitually, automatically, with less and less conscious effort. And eventually even less consciousness will be needed, the hell maze will operate entirely without your conscious effort required.

So hell can easily be the outcome of not understanding that attention is the volume control for thoughts. Another piece of big info is that “You have the power of choice, and you choose with your attention.”

You can get out of hell :-) And you do it by choosing attention.

Remove attention and meaning from the unwanted thoughts and they will die away. Removing meaning means removing fear and importance, seeing the thought in a NEW LIGHT, a new way of viewing, because if you keep fearing, you can’t escape. What you fear, you will be reminded of, that’s the way your brain is wired.

So if you fear association, ignore that, laugh at it. By your light-heartedness, you tell your mind “This means nothing to me anymore, you can forget it.”

Whatever enters your mental field that doesn’t feel good… is negative… not wanted… IGNORE. That means remove meaning, remove attention.

Now simply PERSIST to ignore all unwanted things and they will die away. You can’t change years of habits overnight because of all the associations and triggers you’ve unwittingly created. But by simply persisting with the new attitude, every single trigger will be reprogrammed to the new re-direct — to not care, and bring your mind back to what you’re doing.

If you are CLEAR in understanding, and rock solid in application, then these things can be turned around in days, even hours.

You are to DO NOTHING, unless it pops into your mind. NOTHING. Because any problem-making, pondering, battling, fearing, holding down, resisting, regretting, looking to see if it’s still there, anger or frustration that it’s still there, is ATTENTION.

So do nothing. If an unwanted, negative thought pops, have a don’t care attitude and bring attention back to what you’re doing. That’s all you need to do, CONSISTENTLY.

So, if you’re happily cutting, and then a past memory pops, you smile and ignore, then you get a fear flash that it might pollute your loved thing… you smile and ignore. Whatever comes, whenever it comes, you smile and ignore.

This is the simple way to FORGET. And you simply cannot forget what you pay attention to.

Happy Guide has a holistic approach to every problem. So please, also bear in mind that everything affects everything else. For example, a regular meditation habit and learning to “live in the moment” will improve your ability to put your attention where you choose.

And you can’t separate your ability to control your attention from what you eat, whether you sleep well and how many background worries you have. It all matters. To be the best you can be, and do the best you can do, get your whole lifestyle working for you.

All the best Peter.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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26 thoughts on “How to overcome an addiction to negative thinking

  1. Thanks for this. It has helped me a lot. Pretty much every book and article I’ve read about negative thoughts has said that you should pay attention to them and not ignore them or else they will keep coming back… but I find the opposite. The more I pay attention to them, the more they turn up! There are some useful strategies here, such as bringing myself back to the present moment and not giving them attention. Thanks for that.


  2. Yes Sarah Lee, it’s a multi-pronged strategy — the 6 lifestyle elements. With thinking, the first thing to throw yourself into is NOT thinking, get really good at having a quiet mind. Only then can thinking become choiceful.


  3. Hello, I was just wondering about this brain chemistry thing. If someone has developed negative mindset which causes constant stress the brain chemistry changes, but in order to get ur brain chemistry back to normal you must start thinking better, excercising and eating the right this right…? I just want to get a better idea on how to get the brain chemistry back to balance naturally… :-)


  4. I really enjoy clear and concise writing on how to clear your mind. Thank you for your sharing of these thoughts. The simplest solutions are always the best. As you and others have said, you can only live in the present.

    An old friend once told me: “If you keep one foot on yesterday and one on tomorrow, you will end up pissing all over today.” All we have is today doesn’t have to be a hedonistic, self-destructive process. It can be a enjoy the moment but be positive and pay attention to the details that matter.

    Keep it coming. Thanks.


  5. Hi Mike

    Thank you very much, that’s exactly what I needed to hear :) I will let you know about my progress;)
    thank you again!’!!!!!




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