Having negative thoughts is something that happens to most of the people on this planet: everyone experiences negative thoughts every now and then. It is perfectly normal and simply a part of life, sometimes these negative thoughts just slide into your head.
However, the situation becomes undesirable when your head is filled with negative thoughts more often than not: it becomes a pattern. Your complete way of thinking becomes negative and you may feel like you’re losing control about your thoughts.
Having a dismal and pessimistic thinking pattern has more of an effect than you may think: it can take a heavy toll on you. Besides that, negative thinking has been consistently linked to an increased risk on mental health issues such as anxiety.
When you feel like your thinking pattern is only negative and it gets to a point where you feel like you’re unable to enjoy your day anymore, it may be a good idea to address your situation and take back control.
In this article are some tips for you to grab these negative thoughts by the horns and turn the situation around.
Recognize negative thoughts
It is important that you train yourself into recognizing the negative thoughts and see how they are very different from the positive thoughts. Cognitive behavioural therapist Amy Morin mentions a very interesting and helpful exercise to recognize negative thoughts. She calls these negative thoughts BLUE thoughts.
In this case, BLUE is an acronym for Blaming yourself, Looking for bad news, Unhappy guessing and Exaggeratedly negative. BLUE represents thoughts that are so negative, that they can’t possibly be true.
- Blaming yourself. First off, let me stress the importance of taking responsibility for your part in a situation. However, excessive self-blame isn’t productive and it is not the way to go. In fact, excessive self-blame has been linked to mental health problems, like depression. Pay close attention for all the times you tell yourself that you have “ruined everything,” or that a situation is “all your fault.”
- Looking for bad news: If seven good and positive things and one bad thing happen in one day, it’s very easy to focus on that one bad thing. But dwelling on bad things that have happened will keep you stuck in a negative place. That’s why it is important to take a step back from the situation and create a more balanced, realistic outlook.
- Unhappy guessing. No one can know for sure what will happen in the future. And although you too have no idea what will happen tomorrow, you may still presage doom and gloom. Whether you imagine that you’re going to embarrass yourself in a business meeting at work, you assume traffic is going to be bad and you’ll be late for work, or tell yourself that you’ll never get farther in life: if you’re not careful, unhappy guessing can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Exaggeratedly negative. When you tell yourself that your entire presentation at school was a complete disaster, everything about your job is just horrible, or that date you had went disastrous, this will lead you into a downward spiral. The more negatively you think, the worse you’ll feel. And the worse you feel, the less likely you are to think positive thoughts and take positive action.
Recognizing BLUE thoughts are a great first step in dealing with these negative thoughts.
Replace them with positive thoughts
It doesn’t just stop at recognizing the negative thoughts. When you notice a negative thought, train yourself to also think of a positive thing. This way, you can replace the negative thought with a positive one (or if it doesn’t feel like replacing just yet, at least you are making sure there’s a balance).
Your goal should be to have a replacing positive thought for every unwanted negative thought that slides into your mind. In the words of Amy Morin (cognitive behavioural therapist), this practice is called replacing a BLUE thought with a true thought. You take the negative BLUE thought and replace it with a more realistic explanation.
Now for some people, this process is harder than for others. People differ from one another and we are all unique. This means one person may be more on the pessimistic side of the spectrum than others, or someone may experience more difficult situations than others. Just remember that it’s OK if you can’t get this to work immediately. Recognizing your negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones requires some practice.
Take some time every day to actively practice, allow yourself to get used to this strategy and don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t work immediately.
Think about the things you do have
Another thing to help you deal with negative thoughts is to start thinking in abundance instead of lack. Once you start paying attention to all the things you do have instead of all the things you don’t have, you’ll see you have more to be happy about than you may think!
If you keep thinking “I don’t have a car”, “I don’t have a nice job”, “I don’t have 20.000 followers on social media”, “I am not skinny enough”, “I am not pretty enough”, “I am not good at this and this skill”… wow, you’re going to set yourself up for failure. Again, these type of thoughts may turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies if you don’t watch out and change the way you think.
So, let’s try and take a look at the things you are and that you do have.
If you feel like you’re not pretty enough, go to a mirror and look at yourself. Name something you do like about yourself. Maybe you have the cutest freckles or birth marks. And look at your eyes, no one else has eyes like yours. Whatever you see, be proud of the fact that you are unique! No one is you, and that that’s your superpower.
Maybe you feel like you don’t have a nice job. Sit down with pen and paper and write down the things you do appreciate in your job. Maybe the work isn’t nice, but it does help you to pay your bills. Or maybe it isn’t your dream job yet, but you did learn a few things that you wouln’t have know had it not been for this job. Or maybe you have amazing collegues that make it all bearable! And maybe, just maybe… your job isn’t that bad at all. Or maybe it is! And that’s just a sign for you to come up with a plan to take steps towards a job that is a better fit for you.
The thing is, people are used to focussing on the things they lack so much, that they forget the things they do have, the things they are and the things they can do.
Try to see the solution, not just the problem
Ok, so you have a problem, or a difficult situation. It’s easy to keep seeing the problem, the hard bit of it. The first step in this is to look at the situation from different angles. Once you do, you’ll notice that A. there may not really be a problem, or B. there’s not just one side to the problem.
Often, there are multiple ways to fix a problem, or to at least make a change.
Whenever you notice you have a problem, don’t dwell on the negative feelings it gives you but immediately start comming up with solutions. Problem A may keep you from doing/having/experiencing B, but you may still be able to do C, D and E (and these options may even eventually bring you to B after all!).
Just remember, there are more solutions then you think at first. Allow yourself a moment to take a good look at the problem and allow yourself to come up with all kinds of solutions. Challenging yourself to come up with solutions will also help you to think more positively.
Good luck, you are on your way!