Negative thinking is one of the most difficult things to control but it is an important factor of living a happier, more positive life. The average person has thousands of thoughts every second, some of which are conscious self-inflicted ideas, and others that play silently in the background of our subconscious mind. Many of these thoughts are immersed in negativity, whether we are conscious of it or not.
No matter a person’s age, gender, ethnicity or level of happiness, negative thinking is an affliction that affects everyone at one time or another in various forms. The problem with negative thoughts is that they tend to be difficult to detect and often create a snowball effect that can quickly overcome our minds.
We have all had those days where nothing seems to go right, perhaps you set the alarm for 6:30 but don’t wake-up until 7:00, then you hit a major traffic jam, spill coffee on your shirt, lose the report that is due in 20 minutes, miss the bus or stub your toe, etc… All of these actions start with your first negative thought and begin spiraling out-of-control like a snowball that grows bigger and bigger with every gathered flake.
Consider a frustrated moment when you felt bad about yourself, maybe it was before a party when you realized the dress you were planning to wear was too tight or looked all wrong, chances are this one negative emotion led to others that made it more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to get yourself back in gear and ready to go. When we allow negative thoughts to enter our mind we run the risk of allowing them to overcome us and even consume us in mere moments.
The reason negative thinking is so dangerous to our lives is because many of these thoughts happen deep inside our mind where we are unable to read, reach or even control them on a conscious level.
So if we don’t know they are happening how can we change them?
The answer is simple, yet complex all at the same time. Although you will never be able to control every thought your mind processes, you do have the ability to choose and adjust the ones you think about consciously.
Conscious thoughts usually occur in reaction to some action. For example: Your alarm doesn’t go off at 6:30 a.m. as it should have. When you awake at 7:00 a.m. you realize that you didn’t set the switch to the ‘on‘ position. For a number of people the first reaction would be one of negativity, such as, “I am such an idiot!” This simple routine reaction allows negativity to enter your mind and breed like fungus. Instead of reacting negatively and blaming yourself, belittling yourself, or ‘freaking out’ (so-to-speak) it is best to accept it as a fact and move on. Replace the negativity of the situation with a positive, purposeful thought instead. E.g. You woke up 30 minutes late, but you got the extra rest you have needed.
The key is to realize that reacting negatively is not going to change what happened!
Negative thinking can manifest itself in all sorts of situations and usually creeps up without notice, burying itself deep inside our minds where it then becomes a bad habit that is hard to break. Negativity can come in a number of forms and requires an ongoing effort to keep contained. The main areas for negative thinking are: Negative thoughts about yourself, Negative thoughts about other people and Negative thoughts about the world in general. These three types of negative thoughts can co-exist or live solely on their own, and although they all have the ability to seriously affect your happiness, negative thoughts about yourself tend to be the most common types, usually causing the most personal damage. Negative self thinking tends to be accompanied by the two other types and is often deep-rooted. Although there may be deep psychological reasons why you experience negative thoughts, you don’t need to know ‘why‘ you think negatively in order to successfully stop these thoughts, you simply need to know ‘what‘ thoughts you are thinking.
Below are some helpful tips that will help you to become more aware of your thinking and encourage you to consciously send your thoughts in a more positive direction. At the end of this list are a number of exercises that will also help to heighten your awareness of your personal thought process and aid you in reversing your negative thinking into more positive action oriented phrases.
Helpful Tips to Control Negative Thinking
- Remember “This too Shall Pass” – Once we realize and accept that each negative obstacle we encounter is only a ‘temporary’ barrier, it becomes easier to let it go and move forward toward more positive goals. Nothing lasts forever and each moment is an opportunity to learn something new.
Glass is half full
- Replace to Erase – For each negative thought you notice, replace it with a positive one. This will not rid you of all your negative thoughts instantly but what it will do is create a habit over time. By replacing negative thoughts with positive ones you are telling your mind (both conscious and subconscious) that negative thoughts are unacceptable. This will eventually lead to your mind replacing negative thoughts on its own without your conscious effort.
For example: If you are thinking about how much you hate your job, switch that thought instead to the things you do like about it. Perhaps you enjoy the type of work you do, how close it is to home, or how supportive some of your co-workers are. If you are thinking about how your friend is always late switch instead to something more positive like her great sense of humor or outgoing personality. Each positive thought you have helps to overpower the negative ones by erasing the negative energy that these ‘bad’ thoughts send out. Glass is filled with half water – after this you will not say glass is half empty but half full.
- Fight Fear with Action – One of the main sources of negative thinking stems from the words “I can’t.” I can’t often comes from fear (fear of failure, rejection or judgment) and can be debilitating and harmful to your personal life. Fight fear with action and action oriented words. Instead of saying “I can’t,” just go ahead and give it a try! Not much is truly impossible, if you put your mind to it you “can” accomplish anything. Replace words like ‘I can’t” or ‘I won’t be able to’ with ‘I will’ or ‘I’ll try’ this simple act alone will change your outlook and greatly improve your level of happiness. Consider the slogan of the top-selling show company in the world, perhaps Nike was on to something with the phrase “Just Do It!”
- Inspire Happiness – One of the simplest ways to increase the amount of positivity in your life is to surround yourself with things that inspire positivity. This applies to all areas of your life. Seek out art that makes you feel good, tack up inspiring quotes that inspire positivity, and surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook. We have all heard the phrase “Birds of a feather flock together”, this applies to those that you allow into your life. The more positive the people around you the easier it will be for you to be positive yourself. Fill your home, office and life with things that make you ‘feel’ good and remind you of all that life has to offer. Another great way to inspire happiness is by sharing it with others. A friendly smile or a simple hello is contagious, share your positive outlook on life and watch it come back to you with even greater power.
- Stop and Take Stock – Every once in a while we all need to stop and take stock of the things that take up time and space in our lives. These things can be material items, emotional baggage or physical people, the point is to take a look at all the things that surround your daily life and assess whether they have a place there or not. If they don’t offer you some form of positivity then cut them out of your life (people, objects and emotions) and if they do provide some sort of positive purpose, allow them to bring more by opening up to them and allowing them in deeper and more openly. By doing this regularly you will rid yourself of toxic items, people and emotions that weigh you down and create negativity over time. No matter how positive your mind, allowing negative elements into your life will inevitably impact your well-being.
- Avoid Over Analyzing – Many of us spend far too much time analyzing and reconstructing something that someone said or did to us. This act is a breeding ground for negativity. Through over-analyzing we tend to twist and contort things into something that they were never meant to be. Think back to high-school when a boy/girl you had a crush on called or spoke to you. Chances are you and your friends went over the entire conversation word-for-word analyzing each syllable until you had dissected every possible intention for the conversation. We tend to find negativity in words and actions that was not meant to be there, and we dwell on it even if it was part of the purpose. Negativity breeds negativity. It is because of this fact that focusing on one negative thought will always lead to other negative thoughts that soon spiral out-of-control. Instead of over-analyzing a situation simply let it go. If you can not let it go, or need clarification, simply ask for it rather than jumping to conclusions and focusing on a negative that may or may not even exist.
- Control What You Can – One lesson every person should learn is that “You can not control other people’s actions, you can only control your reaction to those actions.” Embracing this lesson will make a huge difference in your overall well-being. Write it down and post it where you will see it regularly if you must. Create a poster to hang at your desk, or write it in lipstick on your bathroom mirror. Live it and accept it as fact. Once you accept that you can not control other people and switch your focus instead to controlling what you can, yourself,you will find that negativity (especially other people’s) holds far less of an impact on your life.
You may not be able to change the friend who is always late, the co-worker that is always complaining or the family member that is always putting you down, but you can control the way their actions make you ‘feel’ and how you are reacting to them. Don’t let other people control your emotions, make the choice to be the master of your own thoughts and feelings. If there is someone, or something that is constantly bringing you down then remove it from your life, or create distance where you can. Accepting that you can not change others will save you an ample amount of time and energy, and will probably reduce the amount of negativity you absorb greatly.
- Re-Vamp Your Vocabulary – The words we speak have a huge impact on our emotions. Words like ‘should’, ‘could’ and ‘might’ are indicators of negative thinking and should be erased from your vocabulary, or reduced in the very least. Each phrase you speak should resonate positivity and indicate some sort of action in the ‘now.’ Even simple phrases such as ‘Someday I will travel to Europe’ and ‘I will try to get this project done’ should be used with care. Positive thinking works best when used in the ‘now’, by focusing on the present and having your thoughts/words reflect an action or accomplishment, you are training yourself to avoid settling for anything less than success. Rephrase where you can, for example: “I might take a Yoga class” should be changed to, “I will take a Yoga class.”
Positive action words inspire results and ‘force’ you to complete the stated action, making success more likely. There are obviously times when these phrases can not be avoided, but each time you catch yourself using them consider whether there is another way of phrasing the message you are trying to convey. Use your words as motivation and inspiration to yourself and those around you.
- Focus On Your Feelings – The way we feel physically can be an excellent indicator of our thoughts. You may not be able to pay attention to every thought that passes through your mind, but chances are you will be able to pay attention to how you are feeling. Make an effort to stop regularly throughout the day and assess the way you are ‘feeling‘, if you find that you are physically reflecting sadness, anger or frustration, take a moment to think about something that changes the way you feel. You can do this by recalling a happy memory, thinking about something you are grateful for or something you are looking forward to. Another way to change your mood quickly is to ‘fake it‘, paste a pretend smile on your face or laugh out loud, it is almost impossible to feel bad when you are smiling. This is a silly trick that works wonders for your emotional well-being.