There's no doubt that negative thoughts can harm your health. They can lead to anxiety and depression and many other problems, and they can even shorten your life. So they're obviously something you want to get rid of as quickly as possible. Furthermore, studies have shown that up to three-quarters of people's thoughts are negative.

One of the main problems with them is how they form in the brain. We know that we learn by going over material again and again. In doing this we are setting up neural patterns in our brain. What this does is build up and reinvent the patterns so they stay in our brain better. This is great for learning something new, but unfortunately it applies to all of our thinking. In particular, it applies to negative thoughts. As they pass thought our mind again and again they are reinforced until it becomes difficult to forget them. As a result they begin “eating” at us, causing anxiety, depression and other problems. Because of this, when a negative thought forms, it is in our best interest to get rid of it as quickly as possible. But you have to do this in the right way. It's well-known that if you want to break a bad habit it's not a good idea to spend a lot of time thinking about it. Indeed, the best strategy is to somehow avoid thinking about it as much as possible.

So, with this in mind, what is the best way to go about getting rid of negative thoughts? The best strategy is to replace them immediately with positive thoughts. And there are, indeed, several types of positive thought that you can use. Four of the best are:

  • Things you enjoy doing. In my case, I enjoy music – in particular, I love to play the piano and always feel good when I'm playing it, and even when I think about it. I also enjoy writing, and unlike most people I enjoy working out, or exercising, and I enjoy thinking about them.
  • Friends and people you like, including your family, always lead to positive thoughts. Think about the good times you have had with them.
  • Your goals, or things you are looking forward to. Everybody has something they are looking forward to – or at least they should have. Think about them.
  • Also, when you have just undergone some type of failure, it's a good idea to think of your accomplishments.

A good way to remember these is to use the mnemonic EFGG, where the letter E stands for “enjoy”, F stands for friends and fun, G stands for goals, and it can also stand for “gratitude.” Gratitude is, in fact, one of the most important things you should have if you want to avoid negative thoughts. Sit down and make a list of all the things you are grateful for. It may surprise you. You should be grateful for your health (assuming you have it), your family, all your possessions, your talents and abilities, and your life in general.

In many ways the most important of the above is your health. You may not be in perfect health, but it certainly could be a lot worse. If you're older you will certainly have to look around at some of your friends and acquaintances. How many of them are in worse shape than you? I'm willing to bet that a large number are.

Let's turn now to other things that can help you avoid negative thoughts. One of the best is mindfulness. If you're not familiar with it, it's similar to meditation, but different in several respects. You begin by forgetting about the past and the future and concentrating on the present. You do this by focussing on your breath. Feel it moving in and out of your nose – think about it and nothing else.

Several other things are also helpful. I'll list them and discuss each of them briefly.

  • Sing. Singing almost always makes you feel good. You do not have to be a great singer, but put your heart into it and you'll be amazed at what it can do.
  • Writing in a journal or diary. What should you write? It does not matter; just let go and write anything that comes into your mind. In particular, let your feelings show.
  • Exercise. The simplest exercise is just walking. But weights, stretching and so on are also good.
  • Smile. Put a big smile on your face. You'll be surprised how it lifts your spirits.
  • Keep busy socially. Go out as much as possible and mix with other people. Also take brief holidays.
  • Imagery and visualization. Try to think back and imagine some of the best times of your life. Visualize yourself lying on a beach or hiking a scenic trail.
  • Affirmations. They are phrases such as “I am happy,” I am successful. “Repeat them to yourself.