Reroute a negative thought train before it derails your day

Backing off not down

Anyone who has spent more than an hour with me knows that I have a bad back. I’m a grateful early adopter of the standing desk. I’m the person standing at the back of the room in training courses. I love a bar or restaurant with high stools where I can stand inconspicuously.

I’m not in pain all the time but when I am, my mind loves to spear off on a story fraught with fear and panic.

‘Here we go again. Why does this always happen? Is it going to last forever? What have I done to deserve this? I can’t do anything when I’m in pain. I can’t cope with this!’

The elements in this woeful story are pretty universal.  Frustration, guilt, vulnerability and fear for the future all loom large. ‘Again’, ‘always ‘and ‘forever’ signal inevitability and offer me zero prospect of escape.

My challenge is to reroute this negative train of thought before it derails my entire day.

Just to be clear here, I’m not for a minute downplaying the impact that pain of any kind can have on our lives. I accept that I’m destined to deal with my bad back for a very long time.  As a result I’m keen to explore ways to manage it mindfully – along with all the other random irritations that can erupt in a typical day. Anything from spilling coffee on my new white shirt, getting cut off in traffic, arriving late to a meeting, a casual or calculated critical remark from a colleague, and so on.

Most of these are fleetingly mind-clenching moments of self doubt, grumpiness or occasional fury. Left unchecked though they can escalate into a really bad day! 

Here are some of my favourite ways to stop tricky moments turning into difficult days. 

Play the right note


First up, note what’s happening. Step back and acknowledge the thought or the feeling. Recognise and label it in an open, curious way.

Hmmm… ‘There’s back ache’, ‘there’s frustration’, ‘there’s hurt’ and so on. 

If you can keep ‘I’ and my’ out of your noting and naming, this helps to stop the story in its tracks. Dr Brené Brown’s three stage process, which she describes as ‘the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution’, resonates with me. Her book ‘Rising Strong’ takes a clear compassionate look at the how we can transform the stories we tell ourselves to try to make sense of difficult experiences large and small.

Remind yourself you’re human

In any given tricky moment, millions of others are experiencing their version of your frustration, disappointment or panic. These totally understandable reactions are just so ‘normal’. Feeling like the fickle fates have singled you out for rough treatment can intensify and prolong your attachment to difficult moments. Remembering that they’re part of our shared human experience can help you move skilfully through and on from them.  

"It's natural to try and get rid of physical or psychological pain - in fact entire industries are built on helping us do this! However one of the most empowering and freeing things we can do is radically accept our pain. Leaning to hold our shame, loneliness, fear and physical pain with curiosity and openness is far more effective than trying to control it or wish it away." Tal Rabinovitz, Psychologist

Apply the 90 second rule

Bioanatomist Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor is responsible for this astonishing biochemical insight into how we respond to our world.


‘When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.’

In essence if we can acknowledge, name and sit quietly with a strong feeling or a difficult thought without judging it for 90 seconds, it will very likely pass.

Doing just this has taught me a lot. I realised that while I often note the arrival of physical or mental pain I hardly ever consciously note its going. 

Distract yourself

Where I have the space and time to do this I find it really effective way to distract myself from negative self talk.   Listening to every note and instrument of Ludovico Einaudi’s exquisitely delicate, complex piano pieces can calm me quickly. You can do this with any type of music, but Smiling Mind have just put together a list of classical music for mindfulness.

Heading for the ocean to get my blue mind on also works wonders.  Knowing what to do and where to go to quiet your anxious, shouty mind is a powerfully protective thing. Even if you can’t ‘physically’ go there at the time, turning your thoughts to an activity or a place you love can stop a messy moment morphing into hours of angst and anguish. 


I’m still to find the form of meditation that works best for me. But I’m intrigued and delighted by the shared experiences of many of my coaching clients, colleagues and friends who’ve found their perfect practice. I’ve observed and occasionally envied the positive effects people close to me have achieved using app based programs like Smiling Mind and Headspace .  I’m also inspired by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s ground breaking work in establishing mindfulness meditation as a mainstream healing practice in the heath sector.

Share the shush

If you have a favourite technique to stop your train of thought running amok in awkward moments, please share in the comments.

By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know what it feels like to be lost in your career. I also know that when you find what you love, heart and soul, your life changes. I work every day with people who are reshaping their current careers, starting new enterprises or searching for a new direction. Basically I help people who don’t like their job to figure out what to do instead!

As a Careershifters and Firework Advanced Certified Coach and experienced career changer myself, I can help you figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.