Negative thoughts may fester and stop you going for promotions, friendships, relationships, adventures and opportunities. They can stunt personal growth, cause us to make bad decisions, and drive us to become the worst versions of ourselves. They can warp our perception of experiences and even cause us physical and mental damage, feeding mood and anxiety disorders.
Many people are reporting that negative thoughts have increased in strength and frequency since COVID with many working from home feeling bored, isolated, lonely and sluggish. All of which increase stress, anxiety and negative thought patterns.
Negative Thoughts Can Take Many Forms
The thing about negative thoughts is that they don’t usually reflect reality. They’re common, entirely normal and not our fault. Below are 10 common distorted thinking patterns.
1. Polarized Thinking
3. Mental Filtering
4. Discounting the Positive
7. Emotional Reasoning
8. “Should” Statements
10. Personalization and Blame
12 Tips to Turn Those Negative Thoughts into Positive Actions
Over time, due to the process of neuroplasticity habitual negative thinking patterns wear such a path that they become physical neural traits in your brain. Scientists say that our brains are always looking to make habits because they’re always looking for ways to save effort. But a habit cannot be eradicated; only replaced. You have to go back to the very beginning of the stimulus/response cycle and replace the current response with a different one.
How many times have you listed all the positive steps you’re going to take, then not acted on them? That’s because the longer you think about doing something, the less likely you are to do it. Negative thoughts will talk you out of it. Don’t make negative thinking a lifelong habit. Here are some tips for getting your brain and mind to work with you. Your actions will prompt more positive thinking too.
1. Start a Journal
Acknowledge negative thoughts, don’t try to push them away. You want them resolved, not buried like seeds, ready to rear their ugly heads again. Every day, record every negative or positive thought, where it happened, why it happened, and who it happened with. It helps identify triggers and turn negative thoughts around next time.
2. Always Ask Yourself, “What Would I Say to a Friend?”
We tend to find it easier to be kinder to others than ourselves. There’s a simple exercise developed to aid in reframing cognitive distortions, learn to recognize and challenge “BLUE” thoughts:
Looking for the bad news
and being Exaggeratedly negative
3. Say “Stop“
Becoming aware of your negative thought and when you spot it, say “Stop,” out loud, and tell yourself to behave.
4. Change Negativity to Neutrality
It’s a lot easier to turn down negativity than switch it off. Ask yourself, “Is this thought helping or hindering me in my journey to become my best self?” If it’s hindering, be gentler with your language. For example, change, “This is impossible,” to “Let’s try a different approach.” Interestingly, when you do this, your brain will come up with answers to your questions.
5. Create an SOS File of Positive Praise
Compile positive emails and comments from clients and friends, to dig out when you’re feeling insecure. You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you bounce back.
When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basic of life. Breathing. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. You can do it throughout the day for maintenance. It’ll quickly get you into a calmer state, where you can be more rational.
7. Talk to Somebody
Whether it’s your EAP Assist counsellor, close friend or colleague. As long as it’s someone supportive, who will identify the positives, and put any negative thoughts into perspective.
8. Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
Exercise positively affects mood and reduces stress. More oxygen to the brain improves concentration and memory. Exercise can also lower blood pressure and releases chemicals in the brain that help you feel happier and more relaxed.
9. Identify Areas to Change
Which areas of your life do you most often think negatively about? Perhaps it’s work, a relationship or your downtime. Start by focusing on one small area and on how you can approach that in a more positive way.
10. Surround Yourself with Positive People
Negative people will likely increase your stress levels, make you doubt your abilities, and make it harder to manage negative thinking in healthy ways. Instead, seek supportive people who you can depend on to give grounded advice and feedback.
11. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-criticism just makes you feel stuck. Replacing disapproval and self-judgment with self-compassion allows you to accept in a gentle way that you are flawed – strengthening your mental wellness.
12. Practice Positive Self-Talk Out Loud
Use your name, not “I.” Creating emotional connection in our self-talk can help to calm us down, see things more clearly and think more rationally.
Blog via EAP – Employee Assistance Program