Many of us suffer from the effects of negative thinking. Without realising it, we are prone to think in ways that do not help us. In fact we often talk to ourselves more critically and harshly than we would do to anyone else. Imagine having a friend who did nothing but criticise you all day long…… Then imagine inviting that person into your home every day…… It wouldn’t be long before you wanted to kick them out, would it? And yet, many of us continue to criticise ourselves in the same way, relentlessly. Over time, this kind of thinking has a negative effect on our performance, our well-being and even our mental health. On the other hand, positive thinking is linked to more positive achievements, more stable emotions and happiness!
So how can we combat negative thinking and become more positive minded? Here are some tips:
- The first step is to recognise negative thoughts when they occur. You can do this by asking yourself, when things are not going well or you’re feeling bad “what am I thinking right now?” If what you are thinking is something negative about yourself (such as ‘I’m so useless, I can never get anything right….’) then you’re guilty of stinking thinking, and it’s time to turn it around.
- How does that thought make you feel? Notice what emotions it brings up. Upset? Angry? Frustrated? Sad?
- Next ask yourself if you have any proof that your thought is true; for example do you have any evidence that you are useless? What things have happened in your life that prove it? Ok, so maybe you do have some evidence that you’ve messed up now and again, but does it really make you a total failure? Next ask yourself what evidence you have that your thought is NOT true, and usually you will find some, possibly even lots. Play your own counsel for the defence and disprove your original thought.
- Consider what could be the worst possible outcome in this particular situation. This may seem counter-intuitive or that it is inviting more negative thinking, but often when we weigh up how potentially bad a situation really is, it turns out that it isn’t quite so bad as we had feared. It’s like stepping back to look at an obstacle with wider perspective – perhaps it’s not as big as it looked from close up. So think about what the worst might be – and ask yourself if you could cope with that.
- When you’ve done that, ask yourself what the best possible outcome might be. After all, it might happen! Don’t discount it. Certainly don’t consider the worst without considering the best too. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself honestly what the most likely or realistic outcome will be. If you’re prone to catastrophising (always predicting the worst outcome), this should be helpful.
- Ask yourself what you would say to a close friend if he or she were in your shoes. Whatever reassurance or advice you would give to your friend – that’s what you should be saying to yourself. In other words, treat yourself as you would treat your closest friends (it’s amazing that we don’t do this).
Now, reevaluate your negative thought – has it changed? Do you feel differently about it now?
So what about the 50+ shades of grey? We’re prone to thinking in terms of black and white – that a situation will turn out either 100% one way, or 100% the opposite. For example that you will either completely nail something, or fail miserably. Even 99% may be considered a failure. When in reality there are infinitesimal shades of grey in between black and white. Remember this when you’re judging yourself, or worrying about the future – that things can often turn out grey – not perfect, not disastrous, but ok.
So stop being so hard on yourself, talk to yourself like a friend, and embrace the colour grey!