#MyTherapy, Mind-Body Connection
Many people struggle with negative thinking in all aspects of their lives. Negative thinking can hold us back from our full potential in work or romance, with our family and friends, at our jobs, hobbies, or at home. There are many ways we can change the negative thought patterns that have these effects. It’s important to remember, however, that removing negative thoughts and feelings altogether is unrealistic. Instead, we should aim for a balance between the two.
One article from Lifehacker recommends doing this by “canceling” your negative thoughts about yourself. Self-deprecating humor and negative self-talk is a very common way to deflect our true feelings about ourselves. It also lets us set low standards so that we can try to avoid the disappointment that comes with failure. Some people stick to negative thought patterns by arguing that they are more realistic.
However, our reality can shift based on our perception of the world and our place in it. “If you fear that saying only positive things about yourself is delusional or will skew your view of the world, consider that it’s already skewed to see the worst side of everything. There is also a big difference between acknowledging reality and predicting a negative future that hasn’t come to pass.” (Lifehacker)
Changing our thought patterns takes time, which is why this article recommends counteracting negative ideas rather than outright changing how we think. You do this by saying out loud that you cancel your thought, then state the opposite as true. The article provides the example of “I can’t be trusted”, which would be changed to “I cancel that thought. I am trustworthy. I can be trusted.” (Lifehacker) Canceling your negative thoughts is just the beginning. In order to establish positive thinking overall, there are certain traits you can practice.
In the late 1990s, psychologist Martin Seligman shared his research on “learned helplessness”, which he distilled into traits common among pessimists versus optimists. According to his research, we can learn how to handle problems differently by also examining these traits and practicing the optimist’s point of view. An article for the Huffington Post explains that optimists, according to Seligman, “…see life through a positive lens” and “…see bad events as temporary setbacks or isolated to particular circumstances that can be overcome by their effort and abilities.” (Huffington Post)
The article also references Barbara Frederickson, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She found that “…it is important to actively maintain a conscious balance between our negative and positive emotions in order to maintain a positive attitude…’we need three positive emotions to lift us up for every one negative emotion that brings us down’” (Huffington Post). Knowing that we can’t remove negative feedback or feelings entirely, the solution Frederickson offers instead is to live in the moment and actively choose to do things we enjoy.
If negative thinking is bringing you down or holding you back, there are plenty of ways to add “positive thinking” to your list of resolutions. Make sure not to do more harm than good—adding this as a measurable goal with realistic timelines rather than just “I want to think more positively”. Track your thoughts or work on a positivity log every day, week, or month. Be realistic about how often you will keep to this new habit and remember you can always change your goal. Check-in with yourself once a month or once a quarter and reevaluate your resolutions. If you’re on track, reward yourself and think about pushing for more change. If you’ve fallen behind, maybe give yourself an ‘extension’ or change how often you want to practice your new goals. It’s very important to know that positive thinking is not the total absence of negative thinking. Instead, it’s about striking a balance and choosing what thoughts to focus on.
You can also incorporate positive thinking into other resolutions. Instead of resolutions that focus on what you don’t have or what you aren’t doing, set goals to learn new skills, add new exercises, or try new foods. Focus on the positive results, consider the way that these resolutions will make you feel. And again, make sure your resolutions are measurable and achievable. Instead of “learn to cook” or “learn to play guitar”, choose a specific skill. Master a recipe without referencing the cookbook or sign up for guitar lessons once a week. Take these resolutions seriously and talk about them with others. You may even want an accountability buddy or simply a friend who is setting the same resolutions as you.
If you want to take your positivity goals a step further, try sharing positive experiences with others. In an article for Buffer, Walter Chen shares ideas for spreading positivity. These ideas include sending out emails to let others know the positive impact they’ve had on you, and practicing acts of kindness like buying coffee for the stranger behind you in line at the coffee shop (Buffer).
Positive thinking may not come naturally to everyone, but there are many ways to shift your thought patterns. How will you shift your thought patterns in the new year?
Chen, Walter. “How to Rewire Your Brain for Positivity and Happiness.” Buffer, 11 March 2016, https://buffer.com/resources/how-to-rewire-your-brains-for-positivity-and-happiness.
Dayton, Tian, Dr.. “New Year’s Resolution: I Will Become a Positive Thinker.” Huffington Post, 31 Dec 2012, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-years-resolution_b_2388829.
Lutkin, Aimee. “When You Have a Negative Thought About Yourself, Cancel It.” Lifehacker, Lifehacker, 26 Feb. 2019, lifehacker.com/when-you-have-a-negative-thought-about-yourself-cancel-1832873530.
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