Negative thinking is like a virus that can slowly take over our thoughts until pessimism and putting ourselves down start to seem normal. We get so used to it, we lose sight of the fact that there might be other ways to experience life.
The good news is: we don’t have to remain locked in negativity. There are techniques we can use to change the way we think and brighten our moods, but first, we have to learn to recognise when negativity is clouding our thoughts.
Here are some of the common ways we might be thinking negatively.
All or nothing thinking
In all-or-nothing thinking, we define ourselves in black or white categories, leaving out the shades of grey in between. Examples include, “I’ve always been a failure,” “I’m never able to get myself together,” or “I always let people down.”
Realistically, though, nobody is good or bad all the time! If we were to look back carefully over our lives, we would find plenty of evidence that proves our negative thoughts wrong: times when we’ve been successful in our efforts, such as getting a driver’s license, holding down a job or helping out a loved one.
When we’re feeling down on ourselves, it’s important to consciously remind ourselves of all the times when we’ve been successful.
When we have a mental filter, we focus on one small, negative aspect of a memory at the exclusion of all other aspects. An example of this could be if we celebrated a special occasion with our family, laughing and getting along with everyone, except for one small disagreement with a sibling.
Viewed through a mental filter, this one small, isolated incident would cause us to see the whole event as having been negative.
Shift the filter! When we start to focus on a negative memory, we need to stop and think: what else was happening that day? Look for the bright spots.
Disqualifying the positive
Sometimes we are unable to see or accept the positive in our lives. For some reason, good things don’t count. For example: a nurse who diligently completes her rounds, builds good relationships with her patients and has excellent technical knowledge relevant to her job has every right to feel pretty pleased with herself - but with a tendency to disqualify the positive, this same nurse may somehow still feel inadequate at her job, even if she receives glowing performance reviews from her superiors. She may think, “Yes, but they just don’t see the times when I make mistakes,” or “Yes, but I’ve had more experience than my peers.”
Stop the ‘Yes, buts’ and give ourselves permission to be happy! Count our blessings and achievements, even if they seem small.
When we catastrophise, we assume a disaster will follow a minor setback. This can create a domino effect, where the first setback makes us mentally imagine a series of setbacks, all leading up to a larger catastrophe.
For example: our son develops a cough, which leads us to fear it might become a chest infection or even pneumonia, which makes us worry about the availability of a GP appointment, which makes us wonder if, without immediate attention, our son will need hospitalisation.
Slow down! Take steps to deal with each problem as it comes instead of trying to think ten steps ahead. Focus on the problem in front of you.
This is where we conjure up some sort of ‘ideal’ for how we ought to be, and then compare ourselves negatively to it: “I should own a house at this stage of my life”, “I should be slimmer”, “I should be able to live a ‘normal’ life”. ‘Should’ thinking sets up expectations and we feel guilty for being unable to meet them.
Instead of thinking about what we should do, we can try to think about what we want to do and figure out how to work towards it. Everybody in this world is different, wants different things and reaches milestones at different times. That’s ok! That’s what makes life interesting.
Don’t let negativity cloud your thinking
Most of us can get caught up in negative thinking occasionally, but it becomes a problem when we find ourselves looking on the gloomy side all the time. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting some more tips to embrace positivity in your life, so we hope you’ll come back to check them out!