The secret to breaking free of negative thinking
- Health & Wellbeing
We all know that negative thinking can be toxic to our minds and bodies. Yet realising how negative thinking can keep you stuck and discovering how thinking positive can enhance your life will help make you both healthier and happier. Why?
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This is because negative thoughts can be highly emotionally arousing, triggering the stress response to perceived danger, or producing euphoria. Both of these states disable our ‘thinking brain’ and lead us into problematic behaviour. Here, we provide you with the first step to taking control of negative thinking.
The observing self
The first and most fundamental skill is to start to become aware of your thoughts. This sounds simple, but we are so conditioned to accept our thoughts as fact that we identify with them to the point that we feel we are our thoughts.
Don't say you can't, say that you can!
By becoming aware of our thoughts, we give ourselves a very powerful tool: we separate ourselves from our thoughts, so that we can be objective about their accuracy. This has been called stepping into our observing self, a term introduced by psychiatrist Arthur Deikman, to explain the part of our mind that ‘steps back’ from the world of thought and sees what is going on inside it from a more detached perspective, rather than being blindly led by our thoughts as if they were fact.
When you learn to do this and keep doing this, it can be surprisingly freeing. You are no longer a slave to negative thoughts that can, otherwise, pull you down and stop you moving on in your life. You can realise that thoughts are just that – thoughts – and that you have a choice to not be a slave to negative thoughts.
Discover the dirty tricks of negative thoughts!
It takes courage to admit to ourselves that we have been slaves to negative thinking, but once we realise that these thoughts are not fact, our lives can turn around! Below is the master list of thinking ‘errors’ that trip us all up at times.
Take a look at the list below and see if you can identify with any of these styles of negative thinking, then be on your guard for when they occur. You might like to name the part of you that can get caught up in these patterns of thinking, so that you can quickly identify when ‘he’ or ‘she’ tries to creep in and ruin your day! For instance, if you are prone to making a mountain out of a mole hill, or ‘catastrophising’, you might say to yourself, ‘Uh oh, here comes Catastrophising Cathy, I had better cross the street away from her so that I can stay in my rational mind!’
Six Common Faulty Ways of Thinking (and how to break free)
1. Black-and-white thinking (It must be one thing or another)
Only seeing a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way, without allowing any possibilities in between, eg. unless everything is right, then it’s all a total failure!
Jumping to the worst possible conclusion in any given situation, without considering all the other possibilities, eg. you sneeze once and know you are coming down with flu again.
Focus on the positives of a situation to reduce stress or anger
Because something has happened once, believing that will always be the case, eg. you went to a busy restaurant and felt panicky and now you believe that you will always feel this way when you go out to eat.
4. Focusing on the negative
When you ignore the positives in any situation, eg, you feel devastated and a ‘failure’ that you have lost your job, while ignoring all the ways you have succeeded in life – you have lost jobs before and always found another (often better) one; you have good networks; you are skilled and other areas of your life are working well.
5. Jumping to unfounded conclusions
Allowing your imagination to take over and believe the fantasies it comes up with, eg. a friend makes an off-the-cuff remark without thinking, which you take personally and then jump to the conclusion that they no longer like you or want your friendship.
6. Believing and using controlling statements
Using words such as ‘should’ ‘must’, ought’, ‘never’, and ‘always’ means that we are being controlled by ‘rules’ that we have made up for ourselves somewhere along the line, or that someone else has made them up for us! Let them be warning signs that someone else is doing our thinking for us! They are usually reflections of someone else’s views that we have unconsciously taken on and which can keep us trapped in fixed and unhelpful ways of living.
What helps you ‘think positive’? Join the conversation.