How to Stop a Negative Cycle of Thoughts or Experiences
4 questions to ask yourself to get out of a "loop."
Posted March 18, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
- We sometimes get stuck repeating the same negative thoughts over and over, which is known as "loop thinking."
- Negative cycles of experiences can also repeat themselves in our lives, such as having the same problems with a new partner. These are called "loop experiences."
- To get out of a loop, it can help to shift your attention by meditating, socializing or exercising.
- It may also be helpful to reflect on how you responded to the situation, how you felt, what you can learn and how you can grow.
Sometimes in life, going round and round is fun, such as enjoying a ride on a Ferris wheel at a local fair. Many times, however, going round and round is not fun, especially if you happen to be repeating the same negative thoughts or experiences.
To alleviate the stress of these situations, I urge you to find the courage to break out of what I call “loop thinking” and “loop experiences” in order to move on to living a more productive and meaningful life.
What Is Loop Thinking?
Loop thinking can be described as feeling like a prisoner of your thoughts, being trapped in a series of emotions and thoughts that seem to repeat themselves over and over again. Your attention might be drawn particularly to negative thought loops — loops that often trigger feelings of increasing anxiety and irritation. An example would be if you feel you need to justify that you were right about a particular topic or situation and you feel that your feelings have been ignored or misunderstood by others.
If not resolved, your negative thoughts and feelings can intensify — you can’t let them go, you can’t get out of the loop, and as a result, you end up wasting precious time and energy. Besides blocking the flow of energy within your body and jeopardizing your health, your negative loop thoughts can block you from living an attentive and fulfilled life.
What Is a Loop Experience?
A loop experience is a series of experiences that seem to repeat themselves over and over again, perhaps with different people or in slightly different circumstances, but that still feels like the same experience. Of course, positive loop experiences are welcome. It is the negative loop experiences that demand our attention. Examples would be if you seem to repeat the same challenges with every boss you have, despite changing jobs … or repeating the same issues with all your romantic relationships, despite changing partners.
One Exercise to Help You Get Out of a Loop
There are many things you can do to start to address being caught in a vicious cycle or loop of negativity. In the short term, you can attempt to shift your focus of attention with the aid of relaxation techniques, such as meditation, physical exercise, or socializing.
More importantly, I recommend a technique outlined in our bestselling book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts 1 called “Existential Digging.” The title of this exercise suggests you take the time to reflect and examine the deeper meaning of your thoughts and experiences. Ask yourself:
- How did you respond to the situation or life experience? What did you think and do?
- How did you feel about the situation or life experience? What kinds of emotions were stirred up as a result of the experience or situation?
- What did you learn from the situation or life experience? What new knowledge, skills, or attitude do you now possess because of the experience or situation?
- How will you grow from the situation or life experience? How will you apply what you have learned, especially key learning about yourself, for your personal development? What is your course of action to move out of any loop thinking/experience?
It is important not just to increase your awareness of how you might be thinking in a loop or facing loop experiences, but also to reflect on how you responded, how you felt, what you learned and most importantly, how you will grow from these experiences. Make a commitment today to stop repeating old patterns of thinking and behaviour so that you can stop “looping” and start finding deeper meaning in your life and work.
1. Pattakos, A. and Dundon, E. (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work. 3rd edition. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.