Negative thinking is a quick route to self-destruction.
Unchecked it can lead to a serious impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.
If you do nothing negative thinking will take over. Over a long period this could result in depression.
It may seem odd that your body would create such a debilitating effect, to cure negative thinking.
In reality negative thinking creates stress.
When we are in a stress state we will move into a fight or flight mode.
Imagine being in this mode on an hourly basis?
Depression reduces these feelings and numbness takes hold.
Depressing the feelings of fear may be helpful but depression also numbs positive emotions.
As horrible as depression is your body is simply moving into survival mode.
It does not want to deal with constant fear, so does what it needs to do to counter this.
This is a worst case scenario and I hope you never have to deal with this situation.
Negative can be controlled and overcome.
Knowing how to reverse this thinking is key and I want to help you to achieve this.
Did you know there are different types of negative thinking?
They all overlap in some way and in reality negative thinking is anything which leads to a negative result.
This can be hard to spot, though, as you may not believe your thinking is negative.
Identifying the different types of negative thinking is the first step in overcoming and addressing the habit.
Like any bad habit, it can be broken.
The Main Four
All or Nothing – ‘This has to be perfect. If it is not perfect I may as well not bother. I will be seen as a failure.’
Negative thinking – ‘Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong in my life. I hit one obstacle after the other and I always end up disappointed.’
Negative self labeling – ‘If people knew what I was really like, they would not like me. The problem with me is I’m flawed and a failure’
Catastrophising – ‘Whatever happens will be really bad and pretty much the worst case scenario I can think of.’
Many other types of negative thinking exist but these are the main four.
All or nothing thinking tends to be the most popular.
Our thoughts are fluid and focus on the past, present and future. We reflect, mull stuff over and develop a tendency of over analysing. Our negative thoughts are based on negative routines.
These routines kick in when we are attempting to avoid or escape from stressful situations – remember fight or flight?
I struggle when meeting new people. I get anxious ahead of the event and there is no real reason to do so. Almost everyone I meet is lovely, kind and funny. Why do I get this way?
Often, I will negatively self label, without even realising I’m doing it.’They won’t find me interesting and I won’t have anything to say.’ is the mantra that loops around my head.
I know this is not rational or logical but this is my reality and each of you will have similar realities.
The first step is recognising negative thoughts happen. The next step is equipping yourself with the tools to fight back.
Hacking Negative Thoughts
Our brain can not differentiate between something that is real and something we imagine with intensity. This trick of the mind can reinforce the negative thoughts swilling around our head. They can also be the key to re-wiring how we think about ourselves, those around us and the environment we live in.
So, how can we take advantage of this? How can we start to reboot our story, the one we want to tell the people and the one we would be proud of?
Sense of Purpose
What gets you excited both personally and professionally (let’s keep it clean my friends)?
When negative thoughts invade it is easy to lose our sense of who we are and what we want to achieve.
Focusing on your sense of purpose and holding yourself accountable, is important. If negative thoughts are creeping into my mind I’ll use this exercise to nudge me back on track.
Part of my sense of purpose is to help others improve and be better at what they do. This is my oxygen and if I feel suffocated I will seek out opportunities, sometimes at the expense of other priorities.
What is your oxygen?
What do you need to feel sustained and nourished?
What ever it is, go find it.
A great way of understanding this, visually, is to create a mind map.
We are not hardwired to be grateful and like any skill it needs practice.
Practising gratitude means we can reprogram how we see the world. Importantly it can also change our thought patterns.
Practising gratitude means recognising, acknowledging and appreciating what you see, hear and feel. It helps to put issues into perspective, help us realise what we have and makes us happier as a result.
One simple exercise to achieve this is to write three things you are grateful for.
Doing this daily will create a new habit and you will focus on the positive in your life.
It can be anything at all – the point is you are creating a daily habit for the things, people, experiences etc in your life that you recognise as being positive.
For example, today I was grateful for: A late Father’s Day Card my Daughter made at school. As warm as my house is today, I’m grateful I live in comfortable surroundings and want for very little. I also love the smell of the pavement when the sun has baked it all day. No? Just me then?
With the last example it can be useful to notice something completely random. It could be anything. The point is you are noticing your environment and working out what you appreciate and why.
As an extention to practising gratitude, writing a daily journal can help to make sense of your experiences and how you are feeling. It allows you to set goals and outline the issues you want to address. It also prevents you from internalising your thoughts and feelings. Studies show that writing about positive experiences increases mood levels and overall health improves.
The Happiness Test
Think about someone, anyone. You may have spoken to them today, you may not have seen them in years. Whoever they are focus on them and focus on the idea of wanting them to be happy.
You are not going to do anything to create their happiness, other than imagine them being happy.
Do this for a couple of minutes. How do you feel? Pretty good, huh?
I was sceptical when someone told me about this technique but I’m amazed by how effective it is.
Wanting someone else to be blissfully happy actually makes you happy.
If you want to stretch your happiness quota, do this:
Think of someone you don’t like.
Someone you have been in conflict with.
Now, focus on them and want them to be happy.
No faking. Be sincere. It is hard – I know, I have tried it.
The reality is the people we are in conflict with are just like you and me.
They have goals and dreams and are, on the whole, decent people. We have created a story in our head which disputes this. However, they want to be happy and you should want this for them as well. Whoever you focus on, know this – wanting someone else to experience happiness and wishing it on them makes you feel happy.
Try it, right now.
We internalise many of our thoughts and feelings. When someone asks you ‘What’s wrong’ and you reply ‘Nothing, I’m fine’ it is because they recognise something about you is different. They can sense it, even if they don’t know what it is.
We push stuff down, we try and cram it inside and we don’t want it to escape.
Talking about our issues actually helps, even if there is no solution. The sweet relief of unloading and talking about an issue can be cathartic. If we sit on issues for too long it will come out in ways we may not like – such as an irrational outburst.
Talk it through, decide how you are going to attack the problem and then attack it.
Virtual and Reality Unfriending
Is social media helping with how you are feeling or making it worse?
We either present the best version of ourselves or we focus on the stuff that offends us.
Either way we feel like we are missing out or we get upset about the bad stuff happening in the world.
If you are focusing on you and aiming to be more positive, how is social media helping? Be selective in who you follow. It could be time to block the news feeds that don’t fit with your goal of positivity, or remove them altogether.
As well as your virtual friends you also need to consider the people that feature in your life most often.
We are the product of the five people we are most close to. If you are unhappy about how you are then are your friends contributing to this?
Are they part of the problem and do you need to consider ditching them?
This can seem like an extreme choice to make, especially if friendships are decades old. Can they change and be the supportive friends you need them to be, or do you need to cut the cord?
The Short, Medium and Long Term
You want to stop negative thinking.
You recognise the majority of your negative thinking happens when you have down time.
This down time means your mind is racing and looping all the issues.
To counter this you need to plan for the short, medium and long term.
The mind map I mentioned earlier would be a great technique to identify what you want from your future. It could be a holiday, renovating your house or reconnecting with friends. The point is, you are setting goals which focus on what you want to achieve.
Some may take little time to achieve, some longer. Whatever the timeline, it is about what you want and the positive outcome this will create. When we are busy and focusing on what is important to us it stops negative thinking.
Four Box Breathing
Want to know how NAVY Seals remain so calm in the heat of battle? Four Box Breathing. It is simple to do and can be done pretty much anywhere. The below box illustrates it best and the benefits of this breathing technique are:
- Reduces stress
- Improves immune system
- Increases focus and attention
- Clears the mind
- Increases energy
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves discipline and meditation
- Helps regulate the nervous system
- Calms nerves
This technique is great when you feel life is getting too much and you need something to provide stability.
Taking this a step further you could merge the exercise with meditation.
The world’s top performers in every industry practise meditation on a regular basis.
Research also suggests that people who perform daily meditation display more positive emotions than those who do not.
Focus on the Present
We spend so much time living in the past or fearing the future, we ignore what is happening right now.
As you read this sentence the moment is gone and a new moment is being created.
Take note of what you are thinking, feeling and hearing.
You might take a kicking from your boss, but notice how you are feeling right now, in this moment. Don’t worry about what is said at that moment, or during the rest of the meeting. What will be so bad that means the kicking will leave a permanent mental scar? In most situations it is rarely as bad as we believe it to be.
Most of our negativity is informed by past events. We exaggerate this into a future outcome. Stay in the present and don’t allow that voice to enter.
When was the last time you blocked out an hour to just have fun?
Fun means different things to different people. For some it might be sitting in their favourite coffee shop, with a book. For others it might be experimenting and learning a new skill or idea. For some it might be getting lost in the latest Playstation or X-box release.
Whatever it is, do it.
We spend so much time prioritising work, meetings, deadlines etc.
If you can’t spend one hour focusing on fun then I would suggest you actually need to schedule three hours of fun.
Smile, laugh and enjoy the positive benefits of feeling happy and having fun.
- Depression is the body’s cure for negativity
- Four main types of negative thinking exist
- All or nothing thinking is the most common
- You can use several techniques to overcome thinking negatively
- By using these techniques you will have an improved sense of wellbeing, will benefit physically and will be focused on positive outcomes
- You don’t have to use every technique. Try them, see what works for you and stick with what works.
- You too can breathe like a Navy SEAL
You don’t have to be a victim of negative thinking.
It may feel lonely and it may not feel like there is a way to break the spell.
I promise you it can happen and it can happen for you.
I have covered several techniques that will help.
You don’t have to look and think ‘How am I going to practice everything on the list. It won’t work. It is too much.’
You see what is happening here?
It is the negative voice rising up again.
Pick one thing that appeals to you.
Commit to doing this one thing for seven days.
Then, see how it feels.
You may feel ready to take on a second technique from the list.
Your confidence will build. You will see the world in a more positive light. You will start to become the person you want to be – the person who has been missing in action.
Do something different. Break the walls around you. Build a different version of you.
Believe and take action