What we think about impacts our behavior. Your thought life can lead you toward your goals or further away from them. Noticing when they’re not serving you well is an important skill to learn so that you can overcome toxic thinking to perform and live better. 

Toxic thinking takes many forms. It includes negative thoughts about yourself, a default pattern of blaming others, excessive worrying, or ruminating on decisions, choices, and situations. Regardless of which pattern most often describes you, the process to overcome toxic thinking is similar. 

Notice your thoughts

You can’t change what you don’t know about. Step one to overcome toxic thinking is to notice the thoughts that capture your attention. Do you notice that certain people trigger you or does an environment lead you to spiral? What causes you to become less productive or unfocused? If someone could read your mind, what would it say? As you become more aware of your thoughts, do so without judgment. Be a neutral observer. Once you notice your thoughts and the patterns that lead to toxic thinking, you are ready to move on.

Be kind to yourself

Beating yourself up will not help you overcome toxic thinking. Once you begin to notice your thoughts, the next step to overcome toxic thinking requires you to practice self-compassion. We are all imperfect. We make mistakes and get stuck in unhealthy patterns.You are your own worst critic, but you can overcome toxic thinking by practicing self-compassion instead of scolding yourself. The benefits of kindness extend not only to others but to you as well. View mistakes or triggers as an opportunity to learn, grow, and heal. 

Imagine your future self

Who do you want to be? In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear says, “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.” Setting an intention or preferred identity will help you overcome toxic thinking as you rewire your brain to make decisions that align with the person you are becoming. 

Catch yourself

When you catch yourself having a toxic thought, swap it with a positive one. Decide in advance what phrase, mantra, or truth you can replace it with. Or if you know a certain place triggers a negativity spiral, determine in advance what you will do to stop it. For example, if you typically call yourself “dumb” or “stupid” when you make a mistake, replace this with “I made an error but I’m able to correct it” or if you know social media creates FOMO, choose to avoid it when you’re already feeling anxious.

Practice mindfulness

Whether through yoga, meditation, prayer, or journaling, becoming more mindful in your daily life will help you overcome toxic thinking. Being more present with your thoughts, actions, and the world around you will help you notice your thoughts, be more kind to yourself, imagine the future you, and catch yourself before the toxic thinking spiral begins. Mindfulness makes each of the other steps to overcome toxic thinking easier. 

If you’re struggling to reach your goals or find yourself languishing, notice if you might need to overcome toxic thinking. Your health and happiness might depend on it.