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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

A Simple Trick to Stopping Automatic Negative Thoughts

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: May 23rd 2013

stopIt may or may not be news to you that the brain is wired to try and solve, plan and figure things out. That is why every time you have an uncomfortable feeling it goes into research mode. It asks, “Why do I feel this way?” The mind then creates all kinds stories that explain why this feeling might possibly be there. Because we’re telling stories through a stressed lens, often times the stories only serve to stress us out. It’s a cycle that’s healthy to break and here’s a simple way to do it. 

Whenever you catch your mind asking “why am I feeling this way,” try and switch the question to “how am I feeling?” The fact is you’ll almost never get a satisfactory response in looking for why. The answers you’ll get will lead from confusion to catastrophe. Your mind tells you you’re feeling anxious because your boyfriend may break up with you or that you’re feeling down because nothing is ever going to change. The thoughts that come up are there to reinforce the feeling. 

In order to break this cycle, simply switch to “how.” When you ask how the answers are usually one word. “I’m feeling sad” or “I’m feeling scared.” Ah, that is much simpler and more accurate. 

The beauty of this is there’s also a simple follow up. “If I’m feeling sad/anxious/scared, what do I need right now?” What matters is bringing yourself back to balance, because when you’re balanced you have more perspective and then if it makes sense, you are welcome to ask “why?” 

What you want to do is take this and just play with it. 

Ultimately, you want to see what your experience is because your experience is what your brain references when making the decision to ask “why” or “how.” 

I say play with it because play implies that there are no goals or expectations. Go into it with a learning mindset and see what you notice. 

What happens is your experience becomes your teacher and you grow a sense of self-trust and self-reliance.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
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How am I feeling? - BC - Jul 21st 2013

I think that its a good idea to ask the above question rather than "Why am I feeling this way?"  because I am a serious over thinker and I tend to analyze  and ruminate about everything. Asking how I am feeling would cut a lot of my over thinking out.

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