How to Stop “If Only” Negative Thinking

Is "If Only" negative thinking getting you stuck, making it hard to move on and enjoy the present? Here's 7 tips to help you move forward with your life. Don't let your thoughts control you.

We all do it. We think about a situation that did not turn out the way we wanted it to and start dwelling on “If Only” negative thinking. “If only I had left 15 minutes earlier, I wouldn’t be stuck in this traffic.” “If only I had not caught this virus. I should have been more careful or avoided going there.” “If only my spouse would listen to me better. Then we wouldn’t fight.”

Dwelling on “If Only’s” does not change our current circumstance. Our negative thinking only drags us down and causes us to live in the past. You can’t move forward when your mind is stuck on what happened last.

Here’s some tips on stopping that “If Only” Negative Thinking and moving forward.

1. Interrupt those thoughts with something else. Sing a favorite song. Crank up some happy, energizing tunes and sing or dance along. Try theseĀ 50 Songs to get you Energized and Movin’. Or pick up a book that you enjoy and get into the story or watch a favorite tv show.

2. Practice meditation or another relaxation technique. Deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques can work really well. For specific ideas seeĀ

Deep relaxation breathing

3. Ask yourself, “Is there a problem to solve?” Oftentimes, what has happened is in the past and there is nothing you can do about it. If it is a recurring problem or something that you can do something about, list ideas of what you can do, what your goals are, and take action after carefully considering your options. If it is something that happened in the past that you cannot change, like a conversation that didn’t go the way you wanted it to, try not to dwell on it, just chalk it up to being human, move on, and keep trying.

4. Accept the past so you can build on the future. Remind yourself that life is full of unplanned, unpleasant, unexpected situations and sometimes we just can’t control them. Staying stuck worrying about the past or the unfairness of our current circumstance will not give us the happy life we want.

5. Remember that those around you are just fallible humans too. It’s easy to get frustrated and stew over what someone might have done to cause you pain or frustration. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Try not to assume they hurt you on purpose.

6. Don’t let yourself get stuck dwelling on others choices. Their choices are their own, leave them at their feet.

7. Let go and give it to God. Let Him heal your pain so you can move on.

Serenity Prayer

Title photo by Wendell @
“Is Dwelling on the Negative Hurting You?” by Robert Leahy, Ph.D

17 thoughts on “How to Stop “If Only” Negative Thinking

  1. These are such great tips and I read this at the perfect time! I just finished telling my husband he needed to get past a really crappy situation but it’s in the past. It’s very much an “if only”. :)

  2. Just what I needed to read this morning. I’ve been having quite a few negative thoughts lately, so this was a great read. Thanks for sharing!

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