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.

Best wishes,
Michael Kinnaird

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

  1. Hi Mike

    been a while I didn’t contact you, as I was working on the things you told me… I can say something has changed… I do not do connections as much as I used and also, I do not feel that stupid pain inside my head once I see something that “might” threaten me…

    but there is a new thing that my mind learned to do -> I didn’t have it before -> it seems that its starting to mind the words itself – even single letters – > or roots of words (either names of those who remind of something or words they ever said) -> and the same pattern runs in my head again… the thing is though – now-, I am able to not care and not dwell on it and do the activity I have been doing -> BUT! here is the problem – even though I let it go – I simply remember it – I remember that particular pattern which has been created in my head – I remember that there is something like that , which can remind me of something (even though I do not dwell on it and do what I want… But it seems that I will have everything connected to something soon (not only when I see the particular name or hear the song as it used to work)….. even though I can continue in the activity now,. it gets very annoying – my mind simply makes “these offers” every now and then and tries to convince me with the most stupidest things … its digging in my head so quickly now – things from my memory – its incredible -> why is that???! things , words, even movements somebody said, did or whatever… as I said I don’t care, I m not afraid, but I simply don’t feel comfortable with my mind doing this …. -> yet I remember those offers even though Its getting better…

    thank you Mike



    1. Hi Peter,

      I know you’re curious to discover WHY, and the answer is, that what happens in your mind is the result of A LOT of interacting factors… even the sum total of every reaction you had to every experience and every thought you ever had. And it’s clear you had some traumatic experiences as a child.

      But it’s not necessary to know more about why than I said already. What matters is how you perceive and react NOW, to what is happening now, and to what thoughts are arising now. And for thoughts, it’s always simple… have a don’t care attitude and refocus away, for every single occurrence of an unwanted thought.

      It could well be that old suppressed emotions are surfacing now that you are becoming more aware, more spacious. This is all good.

      Keep it very simple Peter, yes or no to thoughts, ignore the unwanted ones. If you notice your mind doing strange things, connections, associations, simply notice, smile and don’t be concerned. Noticing is the main activity with thoughts and perceptions… just noticing or what I usually call listening because thoughts are more often speech — self-talk.

      The trick is not to engage thoughts and be swept away by thought habits, lost in all of that, identified with all of that, calling the thought “I” or “me” and giving meaning to random rubbish. Noticing, listening, curious but aloof, always. Then what needs to work itself out will do so in good time.

      Now… feeding into your issues is this tendency to be hyper-alert, perhaps a constant low-level stress situation. That’s why I want you to take Happy Guide to heart because it’s the complete system which will not only resolve your problem, but give you the best chance of the best health and create the thing you really want, happiness, to feel good.

      You’ll have noticed that what we’ve mainly focused on here is only a small part of Happy Guide, but the POWER in that information! And the rest of it has many ideas of equal importance, mindset ideas and practical stuff that mean the causes of health and happiness are consistently there.

      As you know, your physical brain can so easily be adversely affected by lack of even a single nutrient, or intolerance to food, and these factors run very deep indeed and they all interact.

      One of the biggest problems I have in helping people with their issues is this tendency that people have to focus on the fall-out, the effect, of what is happening. This is big, a big problem for me to get people to SEE clearly that the root causes of all chronic problems are a myriad of factors all to do with not living well — poor lifestyle and lack of simple information about how to run our brains.

      In your case for example, if there is a constant low level anxiety that is causing your mind to run too fast, and to operate in ways that are designed for danger situations, then we need to get to the root of it. If you only concern yourself with the dysfunction, the effect of that, then we never get to the roots and the problem will never go completely, it will tend to morph into something else.

      Controlling attention is incredibly powerful as you’ve discovered, but other factors such as sleep dept, worry overload, feeling overwhelmed/out-of control, food intolerance etc could be playing into your situation.

      Really, although human health problems show up in a thousand different ways, there is just ONE root cause, not living right, not thinking right. The cure for your problem is the same as the cure for depression, for diabetes, for heart disease. Everything affects everything else. Where we break may differ but the cause is always lack or excess of the six elements over a long time frame.

      So if you have low-level stress and you are a highly intelligent, sensitive person, who also has a chronic sleep debt etc, then the solution is to correct the root causes by perhaps first, reassessing your priorities (tidy your soul), getting worry-free, starting relaxation and meditation habits, getting to bed as a priority, exercise etc. ALL these things play into your situation and so to ignore any aspect, is a potential pitfall and will keep you trapped.

      “It takes a lot of aspirin to feel good if you’re sitting on a tack.” So the solution to all chronic illness is “remove ALL tacks.”

      One huge tack is giving meaning and attention to unwanted thoughts — who knew, right!?? :-) But the more positive lifestyle factors you have working for you, the better you will be, the happier you will be and you can experience true joy, instead of constantly fire-fighting the effects.

      Happy Guide has the approach of removing ALL tacks, that could possibly be there and adversely affects us humans. So really, where the problem shows up is not as important as understanding what conditions need to be there consistently in order to CREATE health and happiness.

      So please Peter, continue with the great efforts you have made in dealing with unwanted thoughts in the moment. But look to the roots and the underlying tendencies by being conscious of, and correcting, all factors that play into your problem, and really, all problems… the six lifestyle elements.



  2. Thank you Mike for words of encouragement :)

    I wouldn’t ever believe how hard it can be… to just simply do not think, do not pick up from past etc… or do not take it with any attention..

    yet I have a question – when something arises – something really stupid and way from reality (it’s obvious that something inside is trying to distort how it really was and try to make me believe it no matter what) – can I simply look at that and say: “no it wasn’t that way – you would have to ……. ” or “you are lying, whatever” or “that absolute rubbish you know it wasn’t that way” – or even this is a way of attention??? (/cuz sometimes I notice- when I do not pay attention at all – I let it go and after a while it tries to show up again and on and on… ???

    thank you Mike

    Kind regards



    1. Hi Peter,

      You don’t need to battle thoughts with words so much as attitude. When you stand back from a thought, you’re much more able to see it for what it is and choose. Standing back is the only place of freedom.

      So you simply see the thought as untrue, then what need for words? Words may automatically form in your mind though, like “bul**hit” or “garbage.” It’s simply the seeing, seeing the truth.

      Standing back is your place of absolute sanity Peter so get good at it by constantly listening for the next thought to pop. This way, thoughts can never catch you UNAWARE. And constantly pay full attention to your DOING, your FLOW, right NOW. Then everything is meditation and you will become happy, very happy.




  3. Peter, you’re certainly in the right place! I’ve found Mike’s blog and Happy Guide to be one of the most valuable places to find compassionate, wise, and spot-on advice. I recently purchased Happy Guide after following Mike’s blog posts for about 6 months.

    I just wanted to add, if I may, that you seem to be focused a bit on hatred. Hate is probably the most powerful, corrosive, negative emotion I have ever experienced because it expands inward and outward just like Mike points out so clearly that what we give attention to expands. For me, hatred could easily expand to someone talking too much on the phone during the train ride home, or someone driving too slowly on the road in front of me.

    My issues with hatred have mostly reduced to lower intensity annoyances, but it’s gotten much better after applying a proven therapy for hatred. That therapy is forgiveness. When I forgive and keep working on improving my health and vitality with the help of Happy Guide, the episodes really do stretch out and reduce in duration and intensity.

    I don’t forgive because another is sorry for what they’ve done, it’s usually quite the opposite. They are usually doing what is natural for them and I’m mostly insignificant in their total scheme of things. That’s not always the case, but I hope you can sense where I’m coming from.

    I forgive in order to acknowledge that something happened that injured me or caused me a bit of an annoyance or inconvenience. I forgive myself for my reaction, to accept myself and move on with my life to dissipate that negative energy before it snowballs and makes me more susceptible to another fight or flight response.

    If you find yourself stuck and can’t get past the hatred, you can also try meridian tapping such as explained at

    Best regards!


    1. Hi Jeff,

      I have found hatred to be the result of being overwhelmed, stressed and unhealthy. From there we naturally tend to lash out at anyone or anything that disturbs our peace because we NEED it so badly. If we walk around heavily loaded with mental and emotional baggage, it’s an intensely and extremely stressful place to be. That’s when hatred can happen in my experience.

      If we lighten our load by seeing the truth of what matters (tidy your soul), focusing on heath and happiness as a priority and living more simply, then we are in a much better place and these kind of lash-outs don’t happen.

      Forgiveness is good of course, which to me is simply saying “I let go.” But unless we get to the roots of hatred, then it will be difficult or even impossible to let go every time. And why try to keep healing every wound, kind of fire-fighting our constant negativity? Better to stop being hurt in the first place :-)

      All the best Jeff, oh, thanks for the big thumbs up! Much appreciated.



  4. Hello Mike,

    its me Peter, we were talking a while ago, I took your advice and have been pracitisng it since that – and I have noticed a little difference:) Ill put it simple – it seems that it gets less “real” for me each day – but it seems that my mind is taking out any single experience that occurs to it – not just the major ones (like before) – but every little thing from past (once it gets reminded by any smallest things (before it were usualy names etc but now – its getting more into it) – but I do not care – is it sign that its getting weak and behaves like a “wounded” animal – that is trying to fight back by any means when it sees that it is loosing its control???

    Thank you Mike once again,




    1. Hi Peter,

      That’s fantastic! All you need do, is continue and you’ll forget about stuff you don’t want to be there. Forgetting is what we’re after and you simply cannot forget what you give attention and meaning to.

      Well done Peter. Progress means you’re heading in the right direction. Carry on!



  5. Hello Mike

    oh thank you, I’m doing what you said and it seems its the way to go!!!! really thank you. , you are the first one who actually know what is the problem and how to heal it…

    anyway, may I ask you for one favor? well, it might sound weird, but I take any advice/opinion you give me very positively and I can feel that my mind also kinda accept that as I really respect you. Though, the favor, well, I have a little confusion (you probably will know what could it be or why…),… can you tell me if you like blue color…? its very controversial as many of people I know actually do not like it and I kinda feel not sure about one thing, so I would like to hear your opinion (you probably know that I need to hear positive thing and also if you could say “I like it the most, best color etc..” it would really help me… (I know,. it sounds strange.. but I m sure you know what it is about…:)

    Thank you in advance



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