7 Destructive Thought Habits That Can Hold You Back From Living a Happier Life

by Henrik Edberg


Image by Mitya Kuznetsov (license).

.”The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Albert Einstein

Your thoughts and mind are truly powerful. A change or a positive habit when it comes to your thinking can make a world of difference.

But on the other hand, getting stuck in the same old thought habit can be that one thing that cripples you, paralyses you, causes much suffering and gets you stuck instead of getting you to move forward towards a happier and more positive life.

In this article I’ll explore 7 common destructive thought habits that I have had to struggle quite bit with in the past and what I have done to overcome or at least minimize them. I hope you’ll find something helpful in this article.

1. You see things in black and white.

Instead of seeing life as it is, somewhat messy with a lot of exceptions to different rules, you see things in black and white. You are right and someone else is wrong. This way is good and that way is bad. Things are either this way or that way and there no exceptions or gray areas.

This makes it harder to make sense out of things, to take action in the right way and can be a way of thinking that makes you more and more inflexible as time passes. You get stuck and you can become terribly critical and unfair towards yourself and other people. You put barriers in your mind and life and this creates a lot more unhappiness and suffering than necessary.

What to do about it:

  • Try to understand the other side. It’s easy to stick to your point of view. But you can gain powerful insights about the other person and yourself too by trying to understand their point of view. This also tends to decrease harshness and negativity and can make it easier to reach an understanding where both parties feel more satisfied with the solution.
  • Be aware. Like with any habit in this article, just being aware and paying attention during your normal day can help you to discover and reduce these thought patterns by stopping that thread of thought and then changing what you focus on.
  • Find the exception. If thoughts pop up telling you that you suck in school or that your partner never helps out at home then say stop before those thoughts become a big black cloud of anger. Pause for a second or two. Then ask yourself: what is the exception to this thought? Find one exception or more to that black and white thought you are feeding.
    You may for example realize that your partner cooks a lot of the food at home or do many of the repairs. Or that you are pretty good at writing and geography but have some improvements to make when it comes to math.

2. You look for problems even when there are none.

This is a weird one. In the past I have found myself looking for problems even when there are none really. I think in part comes from snapping back into your old mindset. I used to be much more negative and see problems everywhere for many years. So the mind is conditioned to operate that way and so used to it. So on some days you sit around and suddenly realize while thinking that you are looking for a problem in a situation or area of your life where there are none.

What to do about it: One thing that really helped me was to have this written down on my white board on my wall to remind me each day: “There is no problem”.

Nowadays, if I am faced with what I start thinking is a problem I ask myself: who cares? I most often then realize that this isn’t really a problem in the long run at all.

I also think this can come from thinking a bit too much about personal development and working on that. You become so accustomed to looking for solutions that your mind wants to find problems that it can solve. This personal development stuff is awesome. But read about and think about it in moderation and not all the time.

3. You are addicted to your comfort zone.

If you are always thinking about how to feel and be really, really safe then making a positive change will be impossible. The unknown and change is uncomfortable and scary to the mind because it tends to want your existence to be stable and continue to be as it has been so far.

What to do about it:

  • Do it in small steps. What holds us back in our zone of comfort is often a fear or that facing that fear head on might be overwhelming. Doing things in small steps allows you to stretch your comfort zone and slowly making it less uncomfortable and frightening.
  • Focus on the positive past. Realize it can be fun to get out of your comfort zone despite what your mind and feelings might be telling you before you get started. Think back to the previous times when you have broken out of your comfort zone. Focus on the positive memories, when you got out there, when you took a chance. And you will probably remember that it wasn’t so bad, it was actually fun and exciting and something new to you.

4. You think that what you feel now is just how it is.

One habit I used to have was that I used to think what you feel right now is kinda permanent. That it is how you really feel about things and will feel in the near future too. However, it is really hard to predict how you will feel just an hour or 15 minutes from now. The mind fools you as you identify with the emotions you are feeling right now. This can really hold you back.

What to do about it:

  • Use and strengthen your discipline muscle. You may for example not feel like going to the gym today. Your mind might say “It’s ok, you don’t need that anyway, you were there three days ago”. And so you lie back on the couch. But you can also say to yourself “No, today is workout day and I will go even though I don’t feel like it/don’t think I need to right now”. And so you go. And after you have been there for maybe 15 minutes you start to enjoy it and you’re glad you went.
  • Just be aware that your mind doesn’t always want what you know is the right thing to do. The mind often tries to get us to choose the easiest option in our daily lives. It makes it seem like what you feel now is reality. Even though emotional states are fleeting and you can change them around in just a few minutes or hours by going to that gym.

5. You think you already know how things work.

If you think that you already know something then your mind will not be open to actually learning it. Whatever someone is telling you, your mind will sort through based on what you think you know. You’ll only hear and learn what you what you want to hear and learn.

What to do about it: Whenever you want to learn anything it may be a good tip to disregard as much as possible of what you think you know. Keep your mind as open as you can. In my experience this makes it easier to pick things up and not disregard important stuff.

Of course, the ego often wants to jump in to meddle and strengthen itself by making you think that you already know whatever you’re about to learn. Be a bit careful with trusting that somewhat arrogant inner voice.

6. You get stuck in envy and it poisons your life.

Envy can be like a tiny devil on your shoulder that whisper words into your ear, gnashes on your soul and makes life into something that is often filled with suffering and much negativity. Or the envy can just be something that irritates and distracts you from time to time.

What to do about it:

  • Focus on yourself when it comes to comparing. Comparing what you have to what others have is a good way to make yourself miserable. It feeds your ego when you buy a nicer car or get a better job than someone else. You feel great for a while.
    But this mindset and the focus on comparing always winds up in you noticing someone that has more than you. That someone has an even better job or car than you. And so you don’t feel so good anymore. The thing is that there is always someone with better or more than you. So you can never “win”. You just feel good for a while and then you don’t.
    A more useful way to compare is to just compare yourself to yourself. Look at how you have grown and what you have achieved. Appreciate what you have done and what you have. See how far you have come and what you are planning to do.
    This will make you make you more positive and emotionally stable since you are no longer comparing and feeling envious of what the other guy have that you haven’t.
  • Be grateful for what you got. Besides comparing yourself to yourself it can be helpful to add a regular gratitude exercise to your life to minimize the envy. So take just two minutes out of your day to focus on being grateful for all the things you got. Make a list of them in your head or write them down in journal at the beginning or end of the day.
  • Get a life. If you find yourself sitting around too much and not having enough to do then it’s very easy to feel stuck and to get stuck in thought loops and go into a downward spiral. Simply by filling your life with more fun activities and people and the things you want out of life you won’t have time or a reason to be envious.
    Other benefits of getting a life are that you become a lot more relaxed and less prone to overreacting about the little things. So spend less time analyzing life and more time living and exploring it in whatever way you’d like.

7. You overthink.

I used to be a chronic overthinker. This makes taking action very hard, you analyze small things until they become big and scary in your head and in general overthinking things most often leads to a negative view of those things.

I have however successfully reduced or almost eliminated overthinking in my life. It did take time, but on the other hand you are in the company of your mind each day so you might as well start working on a better relationship between the both of you.

What to do about it: How did I do it? The most important thing was probably that I focused a big part of a year in my personal development on reading/listening to books by Eckhart Tolle like Stillness Speaks, A New Earth and The Sun Will Also Die and establishing a habit of being in the present moment.

I listened to those books over and over on my mp3 player while out walking, while riding the bus and so on. This had two big benefits: I was very focused on his advice and it popped up in my head during the day which made it easier to stay aware of though patterns and Tolle became a sort positive influence in my weekly life. Just like a friend can influence you with his/her positive, negative or ambitious attitude and vibe.

Practice being present and it becomes a lot easier to minimize overthinking and to use thinking as a tool rather than letting thoughts control you.

One effective way to realign yourself with the present moment and to let go of overthought thoughts that just run around in circles in your mind is to breathe. To just sit down for 2 minutes, close your eyes if you want and take relatively deep belly breaths. Focus 100% of your attention on the air going in and out of you during these 2 minutes. This calms the mind and body and gets you back into living in the moments that are unfolding right here, right now.

Set short deadlines for decisions. Another very helpful thing is to start using short deadlines. Instead of thinking about something for days, tell yourself that you have – for example – 30 minutes to think. Then you will make a decision.

I also use even shorter deadlines for smaller, daily decisions. I don’t sit around thinking about decisions like if I should exercise, make a phone call, try some new food or anything where I may feel a bit of resistance from within. Instead as soon as I think about it I make a decision to do it within maybe 10-30 seconds and I start moving.

I have found this to be a good way to become more decisive instead of falling into the paralyzing trap of overthinking.



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{ 47 comments }

Susan Langridge June 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Fab advice as always Henrik – thank you

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thank you, happy you found it helpful! :)

Sally Marks June 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm

I love this article and the way it is set up in a problem/solution style. Good work!
Sally Marks
http://www.erasenegativity.blogspot.com

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Thank you! :)

the Self Help Hipster June 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I’m going to print this out for myself to read every time I lose my flow. Thank you.

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Awesome, sounds like a helpful plan. :)

Miriam Kubicek June 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Seven good ones! I would add an eighth and that is making mistaken assumptions about what others intended. Very few people have negative intentions yet we so often assume the worst when others are just busy, overwhelmed, cranky, etc.

You can make yourself absolutely miserable fuming over non-existent affronts that at worst are just poor social skills on the part of others.

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

That’s a very good addition for a happier life, thank you for sharing it with us!

Charles A. Francis July 19, 2012 at 8:01 pm

That is a great point!

I think that as we get older, we become more set in our ways, including generalizations about other people. I teach people how to become more mindful and not to jump to quick conclusions about other people. Those conclusions are usually wrong.

Charles Francis

William Veasley June 19, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Henrik: This post was nice to read while I let time pass by because it made it go by faster.
It is hard, but everyday I am accepting that I am not always right. The first step was realizing it and the second has been acceptance. This has helped me learn and grow as a person.
I liked what you said about leaving my comfort zone. I just have to take it one step at a time!

In what ways have you left your comfort zone?

Best wishes,
William Veasley

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I have stepped out of my comfort zone to become better socially, to create courses and books and not just articles here, to become more productive, to lose weight and get into better shape and so on.

Two things that always makes that process easier is to take small steps and to not be hard on yourself if you stumble along the way.

William Veasley June 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Henrik: I am trying to step out of my comfort zone and write an ebook, but it seems as though, once I get pretty far I do not like it anymore. I started to write one that what steps to help a person blah, blah, blah already done a million times. The second ebook I started crafting was a about my life, but who would want to read about someone they do not know, right? I mean, it is not like I know that mean people or people know me.
I will not give up so my next project I have been thinking about was a book of ten short stories with made oup characters, but I would use the same ones in every story. Each short story would be a chapter of the book. My focus would be to try to convey a different message in every short story.

Does that sound crazy?

Best wishes,
William Veasley

Steve June 20, 2012 at 2:28 am

Good post. I think that some of these habits come from deep seated modeling. Sometimes they go back to how one’s family thought or encouraged you to think. So it can take some real work to undo them. Sometimes your mind might even be afraid to let go of these ways of thinking because it knows that some people would be upset by it. So it takes courage to make a real change.

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I agree, many of these habits can be quite deep seated and reinforced by people around us. And it may not be easy to let go of those thoughts because of fear of rejection. Thank you for adding your good insights!

Marien Perez June 20, 2012 at 11:01 am

Good work Henrik!

I really like your comment about “looking for the exception”.

This is also very helpful to challenge our distorted thinking and beliefs. It breaks up the pattern of negativity, and helps us realise that if there is one exception to this belief, maybe there are more…. and as we find more exceptions we are gathering the evidence that eventually will support a different belief.

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Thanks! Yes, looking for the exception is a very helpful way to break out of one’s own mental prison and negative thought habits and adopt more positive and accurate ways of looking at the world and yourself.

Dominica Applegate June 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Than you for this article. It has taken me years of retraining my brain in dealing with mindsets. Negativity had been so engrained in my mind, but with putting forth into action the actions you have mentioned certainly has helped. Wonderful article!

Henrik Edberg June 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Thank you for those kind words and for sharing your experience. I’m glad you have found actions that have helped you out.

Baris June 21, 2012 at 1:57 am

I have all of those problems after some events and bad experiences.
I need to solve ASAP. I will do it again by myself as I always do. Breathing is very very important. Some aggressive-maniacs teach you how not to breath right, they torture your soul etc. but you can overcome this. Breathing+ exercise> back to normals.

Tolzoh June 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm

loved the article…and I need your permission to re-post it on my blog…if that’s ok…otherwise, i can understand :)

Gruodis June 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Thank you. This is eye opener for me. I suffer many years from the generalized anxiety disorder. I worry about my health and other things when actually there’s no serious reason for that. It starts on the subconscious level in the forst place. After reading your post I am starting to realize that my mindset ant thinking habits may form this anxiety oriented life. Thanks a lot, now I see some solutions and feel more positive.

James June 21, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Over Thinker is me all over!!! More so at night when i should be going to sleep! Starting some meditation has helped but will be taking your advise on that one. will let you know how I go! Thanks

ade June 22, 2012 at 11:10 am

Thankyou for sharing your wealth of knowledge.I particularly found d part of over thinking very useful because I fall into that category .I think its because I’m a perfectionist and like everything being so perfect and organised so iv fallen deep into being an overthinker because I actually have a fear of making mistakes.This has been something iv been doing over a period of years and now I’m married with 3kids and I can see that I really have to make some changes asap!I want my kids to know ,sometimes its ok if you make mistakes even mummy “perfectionista” makes a whole bunch of mistakes the most important thing is learning from them and using the experience to make you a better person.

Angela June 24, 2012 at 7:13 am

Great advice. Made me feel better :) I’ve been stressed over analyzing lately. I’ll check out those books too.

Cherie Roe Dirksen June 25, 2012 at 11:17 am

Thanks for a great article. You have outlined some very poignant problems and have given excellent solutions.

Cherie Roe Dirksen June 25, 2012 at 11:19 am

Here is a related article about how living in the past can also hamper your life: http://cherieroedirksen.com/2012/01/05/is-your-past-tripping-up-your-future/

Seth Cohen June 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm

It’s so important to promote action as a habit. Stop living in the past and fearing the future. wwww.sethdcohen.com

Dhvani Parekh June 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Oh my god! I could relate to this so so much. I am actually surprised! I have at least 4 of the 7 mentioned habits! :P

We learn these things either when life teaches us a lesson, or a good soul like you posts something like this!
Great post, thank you so much! :)

William June 27, 2012 at 2:21 am

Excellent article, I really identify with the overthinker type. It’s a habit I’ve held on since childhood. I’ve falsely blieved all my life that it was an attribute of the highly intellectuals, but as I matured, I realized that having a high IQ does not an overthinker maketh. It may very well be that an overthinker is really nothing
more than an overworrier.

Julia June 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

Excellent. The best part – the tips on what to do about it!

I just wish there was more to do about “finding problems where there are none”

TIM D June 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I absolutely love the point you have explained about the comfort zone and also the solution you have shared about taking small steps to bypass the fear of change. I have discovered that whenever i try to finish everything i have planned to do i end up wasting an entire day and feeling very guilty and stressed out. Ever since i started focusing on making small changes in my life i have surprisingly alleviated my stress levels. In short, i want to say that what you have shared in your article completely true. I appreciate you.

Angela June 29, 2012 at 12:58 am

I absolutely loved this article.

Anonymous June 29, 2012 at 11:43 am

I will not give up so my next project I have been thinking about was a book of 10 short stories with made oup characters, but I would use the same ones in every story. Each short story would be a chapter of the book. My focus would be to try to convey a different message in every short story.

Amy July 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

Great article! I appreciate the insight and helpful steps to change our thinking. I know it can be done as I worked really hard on it in the past. Thanks for the reminder!

Carol Williams July 5, 2012 at 12:12 am

None of us like to admit that we are ever jealous or have envy, but some times it does rear it’s ugly head. When I experience this, I just remind myself that there is ENOUGH. Most of us have been programmed to believe if someone else gains, there’s less for me. But this is an illusion. If all the world’s resources were divided equally among us we’d all have plenty. Envy steals more from us than we realize. Thank you for addressing that!

Motivating Memes July 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm

You have a lot of good points. Envy is a real trap to watch out for. Those were some great suggestions though. I find it incredibly helpful to focus on gratitude, and acknowledging yourself instead of comparing to others is key.

Remez Sasson July 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm

You are so right Henrik, in saying, “You look for problems even when there are none.” So many people expect problems, and often, if they expect them, they will be also looking for them, albeit unconsciously, and will find them.

A better attitude would, “if there is a problem, I will find a solution. Everything has a solution.”

Jesse Darnell July 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm

This is a very well-written article. The advice is sound and I would agree with all 7 of the habits you’d mentioned. Keep up the good work.

Amy Espinosa July 12, 2012 at 4:06 am

I liked the advice you gave about over thinking. I find myself over thinking a lot and in result I find negativity in my thoughts and at times start to feel sadness, anger, fear, etc. But reading your article caused me relief. When you said that generally over thinking leads to negative thoughts, I just felt a lot of personal questions disappear.

Aira Bongco July 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hi Henrik,

I have come across this article in the best time in my life. You see, I am a homebased worker and I have been spending months at home. While it is comfortable, it always leads me to overthink a lot of things especially becoming over-dependent in my relationships. This served as a wake-up call for me to go out there and just breathe in life once again.

My sincerest thanks,

Aira

Thirdy Rosales July 18, 2012 at 7:42 am

Life is really a matter of choice and this should be the starting point wherein you take hold of your decisions responsibly. Of course, as a social animal, you need others for assistance. I say, this is an aid many of us should remember. Thanks for the post!

Happiness July 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

Happiness comes to them who opens their door for small treats that life provides to them. So be happy and live longer!

Kelsey @ Self Storage Investing July 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm

My big one is #2— I always think about “when the other shoe is going to drop”. I just need to appreciate my success!

monika July 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

hey henrik !! you really are doing a nice job :) m a regular reader of ur blog . keep it up !!!

Ali July 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

most of the times our mind controls us, exactly like what you said. we must remember that our mind is just an instrument, exactly like the computer, its not us, so we can change the thoughts that are hurting us. great post, helped a lot. pranaworld.net

DL July 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Very good advice. I especially understood what you ment about overthinking and negativity.

Deepthi KranthiKumar August 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Million Thanks ,valuable post.

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