Controlling Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are a normal part of everyone’s internal dialogue. Unfortunately, if you don’t learn how to control them they will likely hinder your success.

In the book The Undefeated Mind, Dr. Alex Lickerman argues that negative thoughts have a larger impact on performance than positive ones. This is why it’s so important to develop strategies to control them. In this blog I’ll outline a few strategies to utilize in every arena of life.

First and foremost, you need to adopt a mindset that places outcomes within your control:

All accomplishments are due to abilities or skills you’ve developed through practice. All failures are due to a lack of effort or preparation and can be corrected through deliberate practice.

By assuming this mindset you take control of everything that happens to you. Whenever you fail to meet a standard, you didn’t prepare well or try hard enough. If you think you failed because you lack the ability, chances are you won’t try again. As Dr. Lickerman says, “argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.”

Instead, argue for reasons why you can overcome limitations and develop the necessary skills to succeed.


Treat negative thoughts like negative people; ignore them. When you start doubting yourself, arguing with that thought will likely go nowhere. Negative thoughts are like unhappy children, if you start arguing and negotiating with them, they win. You’ll never learn and they’ll always get their way. Instead, observe the thought, acknowledge it, and wait for it to pass.

Have a plan. If you’re doing something you may not particularly like, plan to think about something you do like. For example, I hate doing aerobic work at the gym. It’s boring and I struggle to make it through. Instead of thinking about how much the activity sucks I imagine that I’m skinning up an awesome mountainside or mountain biking down one of my favorite trails. Find something you enjoy and think about that instead of how much you dislike the current task.




Prove to yourself you can do this. When things are really tough, you may have to provide evidence to yourself that you can make it. Thoughts such as “I’ve done this before and I can do it again” or “I’ve done things much harder than this” can be useful. If you know how far you have to go, you may be able to provide yourself with little victories. “I just crushed that quarter mile, I only have three more of those to go.” By doing this you’re providing your brain evidence that you can make it through whatever it is you’re doing.

Positive thoughts. Thinking negatively can be as habitual as biting your nails. Sometimes, recognizing a negative thought and replacing it with a positive one will suffice. “This is hard…..No, I am crushing this.” Teaching yourself to use conscious thoughts to override subconscious thoughts is extremely powerful and will lead to your brain producing positive thoughts automatically.

Actions feed thoughts. Change your actions associated with certain thoughts. For example whenever the thought “slow down” comes to mind, you pull a little harder on the rower. Over time, you can learn to control your mind simply by behaving differently.

No matter your strategy, nothing will be accomplished without deliberate, conscious practice over and over again, until it becomes a skill. Chances are you’ve been thinking negatively during specific activities for a long time and you can’t change that over night.

If you focus on utilizing the strategies outlined in this article and start accumulating small victories, this will lead to big changes and a new framework through which you will interpret your emotions and internal dialogue. Focus on training your mind and physical accomplishments will follow.


By Matt Malloy