Negative thoughts are like gremlins, when we feed them at the wrong time, they can reproduce and create havoc in our minds. Sometimes they are funny but sometimes they can cause a great deal of destruction.
Negative thinking is more common than we think; a great percentage of our daily thinking contains some negativity or negative bias. So, technically the problem is not having negative thoughts or negative thinking, the problem is that we tend to believe our negative thoughts, and what is worst, we tend to think that our opinions are facts (that goes for other kinds of thinking as well). Believing our negative thoughts can influence our mood, our behaviour and create a direct path to depression and hopelessness.
I am going to be a bit controversial in this article. There is a plethora of articles, books, and motivational speakers advising to eliminate negative thinking, my suggestion to you is: DON’T, instead, become aware of what they are telling you and challenge them.
Let me explain. First of all, let me tell you about Negative Automatic Thoughts (ANTs). These are thoughts (obviously negative) that rob you from happiness, self-confidence and self-love. These are ingrained, go-to ideas about yourself or the world around you. “I am a loser”, “No one truly loves me”; “Happiness is not meant for me”, “I am not attractive”, “I am not good enough”, etc. are some examples of ANTs. These thoughts “walk” through our minds affecting every encounter, every time we fail at something, every prospect job or relationship, every problem-solving opportunity. Your ANTs make you believe that what you are seeing/feeling is the absolute truth.
Our opinion, even of ourselves, is just that, an opinion, it is not an absolute truth.
When we get uncomfortable or become aware of our patterns, we tend to fix things by saying things like: “stop thinking that” or “…change what you are thinking about to something else”. Not that those cannot help sometimes, as a matter of fact, I am pretty sure I have done it myself and even recommended it to some of my clients; however, ACT researcher has found that in many cases the more we try to eliminate them, the stronger some of them become. Chances of really riding ourselves from negative thoughts are very slim; our fight will only lead to frustration, disappointment and even more negative thinking about our ability to eliminate them. In some cases, to prove ourselves right, we develop what we call distorted cognitions, where we maximize the times in which the thinking is true and minimize the many other occasions in which the thinking is not true.
It is also helpful to become aware of your cognitive distortions. Sometimes your brain lies to you.
So, base on their research, I am proposing a different strategy. When faced with negative thinking or ANTs ask yourself:
- Is this thought true?
- Is it absolutely true?
- Is this thought helpful right now?
- Is this thought important right now?
- How do I feel when I have this thought?
- Who would I be without the thought?
- Turn the thought around to its opposite; is the opposite truer than the original thought?
You can have the PDF “Dealing with Negative Thoughts” and much more from my website. Click here
The goal is to gain some perspective, become aware of the corrosiveness of our thinking and of course to eventually change the way we talk and view ourselves.
This system is based on the work of Dr. Daniel Amen and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.