It’s easy to get sucked into negative patterns of thinking – stressing about things in the past that didn’t go as planned or worrying about the future. Focusing on the parts of our lives that leave us dissatisfied may be very natural, but it can affect our quality of life and well-being. Excessive negativity and dissatisfaction can take away focus from the present and leave us deplete of energy. Persistent negative thoughts can also increase the risk for anxiety and depression in the long run.
To avoid these adverse effects, our minds can be trained to replace negative thought patterns with more helpful and constructive ways of thinking. This can make a significant difference to how happy and comfortable we are with our lives on a day to day basis. Here are some tips on how to manage and decrease your negative thoughts:
- Identify which of your thoughts are real and appropriate and which are distorted and harmful. Thought distortions are a way in which our minds convince us that something is real when it is not, thus reinforcing negative thinking. For example, our minds may choose to see only the negative side of a situation and discard any positivity (filtering). Or, we might be assuming the worst possible outcome in each situation (catastrophizing). Another thought distortion is seeing everything as black or white, without any in between (black and white thinking). To be able to effectively counter and reduce thought distortions and their effects, you first need to recognize when you persistently experience such thought distortions.
- Challenge distorted thoughts. Once you realize that you are falling prey to thought distortions, address them and evaluate their source. Think about how you would respond if a family member or friend were having those thoughts. You would probably debate their negative views; do the same to your own thoughts. Additionally, try to rationalize with yourself – is it really all your fault? Is there really nothing to look forward to? Will you really end up failing?
- Don’t judge yourself (or others). Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all succumb to judging those around us and, oftentimes, ourselves. When you realize that you are experiencing judgmental thoughts, pause, think about what you’re thinking and try to let it go. Or, you could try being a positive judge by twisting any negative judgement about a person or yourself into a positive one.
- Be grateful for what you have. Feeling grateful has been shown to contribute to happiness. Even when everything feels like its falling apart, being able to count your blessings, even the most miniscule ones, can make a difference to your health and well-being. In addition to feeling more positive within, you will exude positivity to those around you. A tested method of practicing gratitude is by keeping a journal to note down the good things in your life on a regular basis to help you through challenging times in your life.
Most importantly, like (or love) yourself! The most time we spend with anyone during our lives is with ourselves, so it is imperative to be comfortable with who you are and your life as it is. Focus on your strengths rather than dwelling on mistakes or failures.
If, even after practicing positivity, you find yourself falling prey to persistent negative patterns of thinking, you may seek professional support. Counseling and therapy can help to reduce emotional suffering and experience positivity.