Perhaps those negative thoughts are always there, perhaps they come and go. Sometimes they’re a day-ruiner. Sometimes, when they get out of control, you begin to realize that they’re a life-ruiner.
Negative thoughts will fester and stop you from going for promotions, jobs, friendships, relationships, adventures, and opportunities. They can stunt personal growth, cause us to make bad decisions, and drive us to become the worst versions of ourselves.
They can warp our perception of experiences and even cause us physical and mental damage, feeding mood and anxiety disorders.
Don’t make negative thinking a lifelong habit. Here are some tips for getting your brain and mind to work with you. Your actions will prompt more positive thinking too!
1. Start a Journal
Acknowledge negative thoughts, don’t try to push them away. You want them resolved, not buried like seeds, ready to rear their ugly heads again. Every day, I record every negative or positive thought, where it happened, why it happened, and who it happened with. It helps me identify triggers and turn negative thoughts around next time.
2. Always Ask Yourself, “What Would I Say to a Friend?”
We tend to find it easier to be kinder to others than ourselves. There’s a simple exercise developed to aid children in reframing cognitive distortions, teaching them to recognize “BLUE” thoughts – Blaming myself; Looking for the bad news; Unhappy guessing; and being Exaggeratedly negative.
It also works for adults. Turn those “BLUE” thoughts into true thoughts by imagining that your friend has this problem. You’d probably reassure them. What advice would you give?
3. Say “Stop“
Becoming aware of your Chimp and its patterns takes time. When you spot it, say “Stop,” out loud, and tell the Chimp how to behave.
4. Change Negativity to Neutrality
It’s a lot easier to turn down negativity than switch it off. Ask yourself, “Is this thought helping or hindering me in my journey to become my best self?” If it’s hindering, be gentler with your language. For example, change, from “This is impossible,” to “Let’s try a different approach.” Interestingly, when you do this, your brain will come up with answers to your questions.
5. Create an SOS File of Positive Praise
I compile positive emails and comments from clients and friends, to dig out when I’m feeling insecure. Some days it’s a lifesaver. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how quickly I bounce back.
In the words of Mr. Miyagi, “When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life. Breathing. No breath, no life.” Every day, I use the 4-7-8 breathing technique that NAVY Seals use. You can do it throughout the day for maintenance, or as an SOS. It’ll quickly get you into a calmer state, where you can be more rational.
7. Talk to Somebody
Whether it’s a therapist, close friend, or colleague, with an understanding of the exact boat you are in. As long as it’s someone supportive, who will identify the positives, and put any negative thoughts into perspective.
8. Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
I do three 10-minute workouts daily. Exercise positively affects mood and reduces stress. I’m also thankful that my dog Colin gets me outside. More oxygen to the brain improves concentration and memory. Exercise can also lower blood pressure and release chemicals in the brain that help you feel happier and more relaxed.
9. Identify Areas to Change
Which areas of your life do you most often think negatively about? Perhaps it’s work, a relationship, your downtime. Start by focusing on one small area and on how you can approach that in a more positive way.
10. Surround Yourself With Positive People
Negative people will likely increase your stress levels, make you doubt your abilities, and make it harder to manage negative thinking in healthy ways. Instead, seek supportive people who you can depend on to give grounded advice and feedback.
11. Practice Self-Compassion
It’s taken me years, but it’s never too late to begin. Tara Cousineau’s 2017 book, The Kindness Cure points out that self-criticism just makes you feel stuck. But, she says, replacing disapproval and self-judgment with self-compassion allows you to accept in a gentle way that you are flawed – strengthening your mental wellness.
12. Practice Positive Self-Talk Out Loud
Use your name, not “I.” Creating emotional distance in our self-talk can help to calm us down, see things more clearly, and think more rationally, according to University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross.
Realistic thinking will eventually become second nature, as your brain starts to view you and your talents fairly. Maintain positive actions, and you’ll soon notice your confidence increase – along with your achievements and opportunities.
NOTE: If you’re constantly experiencing negative thoughts, it’s important to seek advice from a mental health professional. People suffering from depression and anxiety often experience destructive thoughts, that can become incessant and painful.