The first step to working with unproductive thoughts is to become aware of what thoughts you are having. Just as when you are speaking, if you wish to eliminate filler words such as uh, um, or and – the first step is to catch it happening.
Here is exercise to observe your thoughts from the insight meditation center:
During the next week, spend a two-hour period tracking the kinds of things you think about. Find some way to remind yourself every few minutes to notice what you are thinking. Are the thoughts primarily self-referential or primarily about others? Do they tend to be critical or judgmental? What is the frequency of thoughts of “should” or “ought”? Are the thoughts mostly directed to the future, to the past, or toward fantasy? Do you tend more toward optimistic thoughts or pessimistic ones? Do your thoughts tend to be apprehensive or peaceful? Contented or dissatisfied? This is not an exercise in judging what you notice, but in simply noticing.
I think the last sentence is key: don’t be discouraged by your thoughts, just notice what comes out. If you get discouraged, realize you are creating negative thoughts… about having negative thoughts. And then e-mail me. I think it’s really funny, and it will brighten my day.