Mon, Apr 26, 21

Automatic Negative Thoughts: What is it and How to Stop It

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” This may be great advice, but your mind won’t take it. Many people are barraged daily by automatic negative thoughts. These thoughts are in response to everyday events and can be debilitating. 

What are automatic thoughts?

a man having an automatic negative thought


Negative automatic thoughts are conscious and subconscious. They’re words, images, and mental activities that arise in response to some trigger. The thoughts are based on negative beliefs they hold about themselves. Some thoughts are less impactful or harmful than others, but automatic negative thoughts can be self-defeating, irrational, and uncontrollable. They can negatively affect careers, relationships, and progression through life. The thoughts may only be controlled by challenging the beliefs upon which they are based. 

Related:  How to Stop Overthinking: A Simple Guide to Help You Relax 

Thinking machines

One study has estimated that we think more than 6,200 thoughts per day. Some thoughts are helpful in that they are the means that we interpret events in our lives and process the input from our senses. If we paid attention to each thought that enters our minds, we would never get anything done. Fortunately, our brains only make us aware of the thoughts evaluated as significant. 


For any event or daily experience, there is an overwhelming amount of data in the environment. So our brains sift out the stuff we don’t need and only make us aware of the aspects we need for interpretation. The more salient details give us what we need to determine whether our experience has been good or bad and what we want to remember. Of course, this is an oversimplification. We take a massive amount of information from our experiences, and our range of interpretation is broad and multi-faceted. Based on our interpretation of our experience, we give an emotional response - we feel something about what has happened. 

What can go wrong

Most times, this system works well. But there are times we ignore the important information and focus on the less essential parts. This is problematic because we assign meaning to what we focus on. Further than that, what we give meaning to can become a core belief we hold about our situation and ourselves. For instance, consider a person making a presentation at work. While they receive approving nods from almost everyone present and positive compliments afterward, this person focuses on the one person who did not seem to enjoy their presentation. They come away from the experience with feelings of failure, disappointment, and even embarrassment. 

This is called negative filtering, and you can see how harmful it can be. This person has effectively filtered out all but the negative bits of the experience - completely ignoring the majority positive. If they are asked about the presentation later, they will only recall the negative parts. The assigned negative meaning can lead to low self-esteem, fear of speaking before an audience, or loss of confidence. 

Triggering emotions

automatic negative thoughts trigger emotions


The automatic negative thoughts become triggers to intense emotions. It is common to feel extreme adverse emotions like sadness or anger without being aware of the thoughts that led to them. An effective strategy to begin the work of understanding our feelings is to become mindful of those automatic negative thoughts. It’s necessary to be aware of the thoughts and realize that they are determining how entire experiences are interpreted and not the actual events. 

For instance, imagine two employees who give presentations. They each receive identical feedback - their concept and ideas were great, but they needed to include more long-term projections in their presentations. One employee becomes discouraged, angry, and eventually resentful. They withdraw and don’t interact with anyone for the rest of the day. The other employee feels elated and sees reason to celebrate with co-workers after work. 

The first employee’s automatic thoughts told him that his efforts were unappreciated and that the supervisor was just trying to find fault with his presentation. This makes him angry and resentful, which leads to negative behavior toward co-workers. 

The second employee, however, heard the feedback in a more balanced way. He felt good about the areas he did well but equally felt glad that he just has to remember to add in the long-term projections next time. He leaves the meeting feeling affirmed and helped by the feedback. His emotions are higher, which makes him feel like celebrating with friends. 

The progression goes from the situation to automatic thoughts to feelings and, finally, to behavior. 

Are you ready to level up your life and work? We’re the world’s first productivity drink. Be transformed - visit Magic Mind today. 

Related: Hyperfocus: What It Is And How to Control It

How to identify automatic thoughts

To identify automatic thoughts, we have to engage in metacognition. Metacognition is the practice of thinking about your thoughts. When faced with a situation and the subsequent emotion that arises, we can identify our automatic thoughts by writing down what we’re thinking at that moment. Often, we find that we have made huge assumptions and broad statements that are unlikely to be true. For instance, although your business isn’t doing well right now, it’s unlikely that every person who has ever met you thinks you’re a failure. This is irrational. 

Eliminating negative thoughts

Eliminating negative thoughts begins with an awareness that you have them. Consider doing the following:

  • Keep a journal to record your negative thoughts
  • Remain aware of your thinking. 
  • Try positive affirmations to replace negative thoughts. It takes time, but eventually, you can change your beliefs about yourself. 

Restructuring core beliefs

Just as people have automatic negative thoughts, others have automatic positive thoughts. This means that when they experience something, their underlying belief is that things will work out for them or that they are capable in this situation. This leads to positive emotions and behaviors. So the way to eliminating negative thoughts is to replace them. 

In addition to the method above, consider Cognitive Restructuring (CR) :

  • Identify your automatic negative thoughts. Consider keeping a journal to record them. 
  • Identify the cognitive distortions within those thoughts. Cognitive distortions are overgeneralizations, black and white thinking, catastrophizing, or personalizing. 
  • Rationally dispute the negative thoughts using Socratic dialogue. This entails breaking down the logic and basis of the thoughts.
  • Rationally challenge these thoughts. Build a case for yourself (with evidence) to show that these thoughts are unfounded.

Another component of CR is generating alternative ways to look at situations. Like in our example of the two employees, instead of feeling attacked by feedback, the second employee determined to add the projections next time. Instead of relying on the same old negative assumptions in situations, consider creating an alternative thought - one based on reason, logic, and a little kindness to yourself.  

Related: Proactive vs. Reactive: Which One Are You? 

Final thought

a happy woman stretching her arms on the beach


If automatic negative thoughts are inundating you, first know that there is help. Recognize the thoughts, see that they are based on beliefs you are holding about yourself, and do research to find a solution that works for you. 

Do you need to get more done with less stress? Our drink has 12 high-quality, active ingredients that stimulate focus, motivation, energy, and creativity. Visit Magic Mind today. 

More Recent Articles

Person behind a stack of books

Nootropics for Studying: What You Need to Know

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. Biohacking to gain a competitive edge academically isn't new. The use of nootropics is safe and effective for getting the best out of your study sessions. They can help you to be focused, clear thinking, motivated, creative, and maintain mental energy throughout. Let's look at the best nootropics for studying.      Why Nootropics Studying is difficult and can be exhausting. In a world of smart drugs, it's all too easy to go the way of stimulants. Nootropics can have a similar effect without the risks of a crash. Nootropics are naturally deriv...

Keep Reading
A green container full of various pills and nootropic supplements. 

What Are Nootropics?

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. If you’ve been looking into ways to help boost your brain health and overall cognitive performance, then you’ve probably at least heard about nootropics and the various benefits that they can provide. But it’s entirely possible that you don’t know much about them or how they work within your body, especially since so many types perform a wide range of different functions. Please continue reading to discover more about nootropic benefits and which ones may be best for you. What is a Nootropic? A nootropic is, to put it simply, a substance that...

Keep Reading
Clear blue pills

Nootropics vs. Smart Drugs: What Are the Differences? 

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. You've probably heard people talking about nootropics and smart drugs like they're necessarily the same thing. They're close in application but not precisely the same in composition. We'll discuss the differences between the two and consider the pros and cons of each.  Why the Drive for a Better Brain?   As kids, most of us wanted the ability to fly. No more buses to school or long drives on vacation - we could just fly wherever we wanted to go. Now, as adults, we'd much rather have a super-brain. What is this drives we have for a better bra...

Keep Reading
The Rhodiola Rosea plant with bright yellow flowers. 

Rhodiola Rosea: What Is It And What Are The Benefits?

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. What is Rhodiola Rosea? Rhodiola Rosea- otherwise known as golden root or arctic root- is a yellow-flowering herb native to colder, mountainous regions in Asia and Europe. People have used it for centuries to help treat fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Its roots possess adaptogenic nootropic properties and contain more than 140 active ingredients to help your body adapt to physical and emotional stress and to keep you calm. According to several scientific studies and systematic reviews, Rhodiola Rosea shows promising effects in helping to re...

Keep Reading
A person’s hand holding several small, white taurine supplements. 

Taurine: What Is It And What Are The Benefits?

* Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. What is Taurine? Taurine is one type of essential amino acid present in various foods and is often added to energy drinks. Research has indicated that taurine can provide several health benefits, including lowering the risk of different diseases and improving the performance of athletes. Along with the fact that it has no known side effects when taken in appropriate doses, this has led several researchers to refer to it as a sort of “wonder molecule.” It’s also an effective nootropic in affecting various brain functions, including cell volume...

Keep Reading
A black and white image of nerve cells in the brain.

Acetylcholine: What Is It And What Are The Benefits?

What is Acetylcholine, and Why is it Important? * Verified by a US-based board-certified doctor. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter- the first one ever discovered- and neuromodulator. It plays a role in brain and muscle functions, and its job within the brain has made it a great topic of interest as a nootropic. It can be found in all motor neurons and is responsible for stimulating the contraction of muscles. It’s involved in various body movements, including the beating of the heart, the movement of the stomach, and the blinking of eyelids.  Imbalances in and low levels of acetylcholine ...

Keep Reading