How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts

1. Make the choice.

By Camille Styles
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Earlier this week, I was driving home while mentally replaying a tense conversation I’d had with a friend that had been bugging me all day. You know, the kind that you keep turning over and over in your mind and can’t quite seem to move past. Suddenly, Taylor Swift came on the radio reminding me to “shake it off,” and I realized that the hurtful words I’d had on repeat in my mind we’re getting in the way of me showing up for everyone else in my life the rest of the day. The truth is, we’ve all been hurt by others and situations—it’s part of life—and while the pain is often out of our control, I think it’s helpful to remember that we can control our response to it.

Do we dwell and ruminate on the past… or do we learn what we can and then get back to the more important task of living our lives?

I’m obviously a big fan of the latter, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Since conflict and hurt are inevitable, I’ve been reading up on the topic of resiliency: why do some of us seem to have an easier time bouncing back and moving on? Turns out that the experts have a lot to say on the topic of how to let go of negative thoughts. So, keep scrolling for 12 ways to learn to let things go and forgive yourself and others. And remember, Taylor’s got your back.

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1 – Make the choice.

The first step is to remember that we do have a choice in letting go. We can consciously decide to stop replaying incidents in our heads, and when we think of an embarrassing situation or person who wronged us, simply remind ourselves to “let it go.”

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2 – Write it down.

When I find myself dwelling on negative thoughts, I have trouble letting them go until I pull out my journal and write about it. The simple act of putting pen to paper (more effective than typing) forces me to slow down my thoughts and articulate what’s really bothering me.

3 – Stop blaming.

It can be easy to fall into the role of the victim, but remember that most stories have two sides. If you can take any responsibility for the situation, acknowledge that to yourself—and to the other person, when appropriate. Focusing on how you could have handled the situation differently (and how you plan to next time) brings a sense of empowerment.

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4 – Live in the present.

When you’re completely wrapped up in the here and now, there’s little time or energy to ponder past wrongs. Doesn’t it sound like more fun to embrace the present with a spirit of joy and abundance? For me, taking time each morning to meditate and pray helps me bring a more focused presence to my days.
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5 – Stop replaying the tape.

You know those times when we keep replaying past mistakes or shameful moments over and over in our heads? It’s a dangerous cycle that can rob our happiness and cause stress levels that can become serious health problems. Next time you find yourself replaying incidents over and over, choose to treat yourself with the same kindness you’d show a loved one. Breathe deeply and imagine the thoughts just melting away.

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6 – Cry it out.

Before you can let go of a negative situation, you have to feel it fully, and crying can be a soothing way to purge sad feelings and actually make yourself feel better. Did you know that studies have shown that tears actually rid the body of chemicals that raise cortisol, the stress hormone?
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7 – Channel the energy into doing something good.

Transform a painful memory or situation by using it as a catalyst to help others. Volunteer in the community, shower love on a family member that needs it, adopt a pet who needs a home. There’s always a way to use your negative experience as a launching pad to help someone else.

8 – Release the endorphins.

For me, there’s no better way to get out of a funk than to work up a sweat. I’ll go for a run or take a spin class, and the endorphin release almost always brings a sense of hope and clarity to my thoughts. Plus, I walk away feeling mentally strong so I can focus on the right things.

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9 – Make a list of the things you can control about the situation.

Maybe you can’t change another person’s thoughts, but you can control your attitude, you can control the effort you put into resolving a conflict, and you can control whether you view the situation as an opportunity to learn something important.

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10 – Be empathetic.

Put yourself in the shoes of another person, and try to see the situation from their perspective. Remember that we all make mistakes, and nothing conquers anger or pain quite like a spirit of compassion.

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11 – Forecast into the future.

Sometimes I imagine my life five years from now, then ask myself if I’ll care about or even remember what I’m stewing over. 99% of the time, the answer’s no. In the grand scheme of things, most of what we worry about will seem so unimportant later, so why waste time on it now?

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12 – Surround yourself with positive people.

Sometimes it helps to vent about our situation to friends or family members, but watch out that this doesn’t turn into yet another rehashing of negative thoughts. I often find that simply being in the presence of people I care about makes me happier. Laughing over something completely unrelated to my stress and being reminded of the people in my life who love me tends to put it all in perspective.