If your mind was like a clear blue sky and your thoughts were clouds, with positive thoughts being fluffy white clouds and negative thoughts being dark, slow moving clouds, which ones would you prefer?
In real life, many people hold onto negative thoughts. They associate with them so much that they forget what colour the sky was in the first place. It’s easy to become affected by negative thinking, both physically and psychologically. This may result in high stress, depression and anxiety.
Although you can take medication to control depression and anxiety, it is essential to learn how to recognise and challenge negative thinking. You can develop a benevolent way of processing past events and thinking about the future.
There are multiple types of negative thinking, such as:
Overgeneralisation: “I missed the bus. I always miss my opportunity.”
Filters: “When I presented to the audience, I got only bad looks.”
All-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be perfect at all times.”
Catastrophising: “If this event happens, it will be a total disaster.”
Personalising: “My neighbour does not say hello, it’s obvious that he hates me.”
Emotional reasoning: “I feel ugly, therefore I must be ugly.”
Fortune telling: “It won’t work out; it’s not even worth trying.”
Negative self-labeling: “I’m an idiot, a failure, I’m worthless.”
Focusing on the negatives: “Bad things happen to me all the time”. “Nothing good ever happens.”
Worrying about the future: “Something bad will happen if I don’t prepare well.”
Regret and guilt: “If only I made a different decision.”
Not enough: “I don’t deserve to be happy, rich, or healthy.”
Although many of the examples of negative thinking are a conditioned or learnt response, some of them can relate to personality type. For example, some people are naturally more optimistic than others.
When negative thinking starts to affect a person’s life, an intervention may be desirable. Quite often, negative thinking is a result of cognitive distortions produced by a distress pattern formed in younger years and which is deeply engraved in personal history.
In this case, a professional consultation will be beneficial. This will help uncover, understand and reframe the distortions by learning a new way towards thinking about oneself and others.
A number of therapeutic techniques can help people change negative thinking. Examples are: mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy and neuro-linguistic programming.
Below is a self-help approach to transform destructive negative thoughts into joyful healthy thoughts.
Tip 1: Label your thinking
You need to know your enemy. Negative thoughts produce negative emotions that produce negative feelings. It’s very easy to catch. Whenever you notice yourself thinking negatively, or experiencing negative emotions, stop and ask yourself, “What am I thinking right now?” Take a mental note or, even better, write down the answers. Acknowledge those thoughts and name them.
Tip 2: Detach yourself from negative thinking
Negative thoughts come and pass just like clouds, you can always take a step back and disidentify from them.
If you find yourself taken over by a negative emotion, such as anger, sadness or fear, you may want to shift your awareness into the present moment. Take a few deep breaths and scan your body to relax any tense muscles. Notice the sensations of smell, taste, tactile sensation, sounds and images. Focus on observing details and become aware of your surroundings.
Tip 3: Analyse your negative thoughts
Notice what triggered those negative thoughts. How is the trigger connected with your past? What do you believe to be true about yourself? Is your belief accurate and true, or is it distorted? What knowledge can you obtain from this analysis?
Like an advocate, collect all the evidence in favour and against your negative thoughts and beliefs. Notice how you can easily find positive examples if you change your focus.
Tip 4: Replace
Think, if tomorrow was the first day of the rest of your life without those negative thoughts, what thoughts would you choose instead? Choose carefully and make an effort to memorise or write down those new thoughts.
Writing a short, positively phrased affirmation on a flash card that you can carry around in your wallet or in your phone can be particularly helpful. This will allow you to stop negative thinking as soon as you become aware of it.
Another powerful way to stop the negative and replace it with the positive is to visualize a STOP sign and imagine yourself putting it up in front of the negative thought every time you become aware of its appearance. Say mentally to yourself, “I demand you to Stop! Enough is enough.” Then continue with rehearsing your positive suggestion.
Tip 5: Practice
Neuroplasticity studies show that stronger neural pathways can be formed any time the task is repeated. So practicing thought change is important. The more you practice, the easier new ways of thinking will become, leaving you with more energy, self-confidence and self-love.
When you practice it is also good to have a goal in mind about something that you can imagine yourself becoming in the future. For example, vividly imagine yourself as a person who thinks positively and who sees proof in his way of thinking.
In your imagination, observe your positive self, as if you could meet your future positive self in person. Take notice of the posture, facial expression, voice tone and the words your positive self speaks.
Enter the body and observe the chemistry, emotions and positive thoughts. Notice what you learnt to become such a person and notice how good you feel being positive. Now come back to your current self and integrate those learnings.
There is good news in any situation and, by starting to practice today, you will observe positive changes in your wellbeing, thoughts and emotions very soon.
More information on mental health can be found at the FreoMind Facebook page.