How to break the cycle of negative thoughts

The negative thoughts our minds create about our circumstances can often bring us more pain than the events themselves. Esther Ekhart shares some ways we can break the cycle and lessen their impact.

20 mindful minutes program Esther Ekhart

Much of your unhappiness comes not from the circumstances of your life, but from the story the mind tells you about those circumstances. That is an enormous revelation.

In Buddhism this is called the second arrow.

The first arrow has to do with the actual negative event and experience. The pain we experience here is due to external circumstances that we are unable to control (or avoid). We all grow older, we get sick at some point, we will lose loved ones, get into conflicts, lose our job, experience grief etc…

The second arrow has to do with our reaction to the event; our thoughts. When we react negatively, blaming, shaming, aversion, getting angry and upset, we set off the suffering of the second arrow. It’s this second arrow that makes us re-live (and keep re-living) an experience that only ever happened once.

It’s important to understand that the pain of the second arrow can be a choice. I want to clarify that I am not talking about traumatic experiences here. In that situation, the feeling of having a choice might not be there, and you may need professional help to change that.

So even though we can’t control the circumstances, we can control how we respond to them. We can choose not to get stuck in a frenzy of unnecessary negative thoughts that have a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health, and direct that energy instead into growing our awareness. When we grow the power of awareness within ourselves, the mind begins to lose its ability to make us unhappy.

How to break the momentum of negative thoughts?

  1. Realise that certain thoughts are bad for you – they have no useful function and make you miserable.
  2. Become still and start observing your thoughts.
  3. Direct your attention elsewhere – you withdraw energy/ life blood (which is consciousness) from the thoughts and direct it towards something else, like your body (noticing how the body feels from the inside), your breath, or nature.
  4. When you withdraw consciousness away from worry and unnecessary thinking and place it on your breath or the inner body, you connect with the aliveness within. Immediately thoughts will begin to subside. Thoughts cannot survive if you take attention and consciousness (their lifeblood) away from them.
  5. Learn to keep dysfunctional thoughts at bay – not by suppressing them but by being very alert and directing your attention elsewhere.
  6. Breathe and feel your aliveness. Remember that you are not the narrative in your mind. You are consciousness itself, the intelligence that pervades your body and holds it together.
  7. When you practice this more often, the power of awareness grows in you. The mind begins to lose its ability to make you unhappy and starts to support you to become more resilient.



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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.