05/06/2013 08:33 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

Why Won't Those Negative Thoughts Go Away?

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Do you have that negative voice in your head, the one that just won't go away and keeps telling you what a mess you are? If so, it doesn't mean you're crazy. In fact, it actually means you're programed well to stay alive.

You know the voice. As you look in the mirror before a date it says things like, "You look awful. He's not going to like you."

As you prepare to go out with friends it reminds you, "Remember what she said about you last week? They just keep you around to be nice."

When you try to do something new or go after what you want most, your head loves to cry, "You're not good enough. You're going fail. Why bother?"

It may feel some days like you have an evil alien in your brain trying to drive you insane. It turns out that it's just your brain doing its job. The negative thoughts are there for a reason, and you can do something about them.

The alarm in your brain just wants to keep you safe. It does that by pulling up files from your memory center any time it senses danger. Going on a date, for instance, is a risk. Your alarm knows that like many dates, it might not go well. It doesn't want you to get hurt. So, it pulls up files, in this case thoughts in the form of a negative voice, that will make you feel bad so you'll cancel your evening. To your alarm, it's better not to go out at all than to go out and be rejected.

Even going out with the friends you love and you know love you can cause the alarm to pull up negative files. It's much safer to stay home where you're safest. Your alarm knows that, so it pulls up memories of the ugly things people have said to you before in hopes you won't risk getting into it with your pals or risking leaving the house for dangerous places like your car with 16 airbags or truly risky environments like the Cheesecake Factory.

Doing something new can cause your brain to pull up images, movies, and past disparaging remarks from your parents, teachers, clients, and lovers, all in hopes that you'll put your body in as little risk of harm as possible.

The negative things the voice says won't necessarily even make sense. The alarm doesn't care what negative file it pulls, just that it keeps you from dying. The alarm knows that failing can feel like dying and it just doesn't want you to feel bad.

So here's what you can do about the negative radio station playing in your head.

First, realize it's not a bad thing. As you can turn off an annoying talking head on your car radio, it's the same with your brain. Just listen to the voice long enough to see if it's making sense. Sometimes, the negative voice has a point. You shouldn't invest all your money in one stock because you might lose everything. You might not want to go out with the guy who has already broken your best friend's heart. Skydiving: It might be fun, but it also might kill you, so that voice saying you're a nut to do that isn't entirely wrong.

Second, say "Nope" to the alarm. You can't just say positive things to turn down the voice because false positivity just makes the alarm pull up crazier thoughts to keep you from doing something dangerous. You can't say to yourself, "I'm a great skier" or "I love skiing" when you've never skied and you keep falling. You can take on the hardest challenges, but false positivity doesn't work. When you hear the ugly voice, listen for a moment, say, "nope," shake your head, and create a new memory of you telling the voice it's simply not accurate.

Third, switch from the voice of the alarm to exclamations that are true for you. "I will own the mountain!" could work in the skiing example. "I love my friends even when they're a pain" could be true in uncomfortable social situations. On the bad hair days, you still have the most beautiful eyes or smile or attitude and you have to say so to yourself because that's the voice you want to replace those pesky, irritating negative thoughts.

The hard, uncomfortable moments that challenge us cause our brain to pull up the voice of doubt and fear. When you know that the voice is just trying to protect you, that you can acknowledge it to quiet it down, and exclaim what's most true to you to drown out it's oppressive messages, that's when you'll truly feel positive.

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