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Most people have experienced negative thoughts at some point in their lives. Whether it’s feeling anxious about an upcoming event or ruminating on something that went wrong in the past, these thoughts can take up a lot of space in your mind and prevent you from moving forward.
While negative thoughts are expected from time to time, it’s essential to be aware of how these thoughts impact your life. If negativity like this is unchecked, it can lead to a downward spiral of pessimism and despair. In contrast, positive thinking has been shown to improve mental and physical health, increase resilience in the face of challenges, and lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.
What Is Negative Thinking?
Negative thinking is a form of cognitive distortion or distorted thinking. It’s a way of thinking that leads you to believe things that are not true or to have a negative view of yourself and the world around you.
Negative thinking can be harmful to your mental and physical health. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. It can also make you more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or drinking.
One theory about why people tend to think negatively is that it’s a form of self-protection. By expecting the worst, you feel that you’re less likely to be disappointed or hurt. Another theory is that negative thinking is a learned behavior. You may have learned it from your parents or other role models. Or you may have developed it to cope with a traumatic event or stressful life situation.
Common Negative Thinking Patterns
Some common cognitive distortions include black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, and catastrophizing (always expecting the worst). Let’s look at some examples of negative thinking patterns and what you can do about them.
All-or-Nothing Thinking (Black-and-White Thinking)
One example of black-and-white thinking is when someone believes they are either good or bad, and there is no in-between. This thinking is limiting because it leaves no room for growth or improvement.
Someone who thinks in black-and-white terms may feel like they are a failure if they make one mistake, which can lead to discouragement and a lack of motivation. To overcome black-and-white thinking, it is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that no one is perfect. Focusing on the positive aspects of yourself and your life is also helpful – rather than dwelling on the negative.
Another example of black-and-white thinking is when someone believes that there are only two options or outcomes and that one of them must be wrong. For instance, someone might think they have to choose between being happy and successful, and if they choose happiness, they will never be successful. However, this type of thinking is limiting because it doesn’t allow for the possibility that both options could be correct or that there may be other options that haven’t been considered.
To overcome black-and-white thinking, it is essential to remember that there are many different ways to achieve a goal and that not every option has to be either right or wrong. It is also helpful to look at the situation from multiple perspectives and consider all possible outcomes before making a decision. Black-and-white thinking can be limiting and discouraging, but it’s possible to overcome it by expanding your thinking and considering all options.
Overgeneralization (“This ‘always’ happens or I’m ‘never’ going to get it right”) is a cognitive distortion whereby an individual draws sweeping conclusions based on minimal evidence. Overgeneralization can lead to inaccurate and unhelpful thinking patterns that can ultimately be quite limiting.
For example, if you overgeneralize and believe that you are always a failure, you may never even try new things for fear of failing again. Alternatively, you may become paranoid and isolated if you overgeneralize and believe everyone is out to get you.
Overcoming overgeneralization requires learning to question your thinking patterns and evidence your beliefs with concrete evidence. Once you do this, you can see that your overgeneralizations are often inaccurate and unhelpful. You can learn to catch and challenge your overgeneralizations with practice before they lead to negative consequences.
Hyper-Focusing on Negativity in a Bowl Full of Positivity
Hyper-focusing on the negatives is a form of rumination or obsessively thinking about something negative. It can make you feel stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and can even lead to depression. Some examples of hyper-focusing on the negatives can include things like:
- Only ever seeing the bad in people and situations
- Constantly dwelling on past negative experiences
- Fixating on potential worst-case scenarios
This kind of thinking can be very limiting because it causes us to miss out on all the good around us, leading to anxiety and depression.
To overcome this, it is crucial to learn how to focus on the positives. This means:
- Noticing the good in people and situations
- Focusing on the parts of your life that are going right
- Letting go of negative experiences from the past
- Visualizing positive outcomes for the future
If you are hyper-focusing on the negative, try to take a step back and focus on the positive. For example, force yourself to think of three good things that happened during the day, or write down five things you’re grateful for. Thinking about the good breaks negative thinking patterns and helps you feel better. In addition, practicing these things will help you see the world in a more positive light and overcome negative thinking patterns.
Discounting the Positives
Discounting the positives is a form of cognitive distortion where an individual minimizes or dismisses the good aspects of a situation, leading to negative thinking patterns and making it difficult to see the silver lining in any situation. Recognizing when you are discounting the positives is the first step to changing this unhealthy thought process. Some common signs that you are discounting the positives include:
- You find yourself only focusing on the negative aspects of a situation
- You downplay or dismiss any good things that happen to you
- You convince yourself that good things are just lucky accidents and not worth celebrating
- You think other people must have it better than you because you can’t see any good in your life
- You always expect the worst and are surprised when things turn out okay
If you exhibit any of these signs, it’s essential to take a step back and reframe your thinking. Instead of fixating on the negative, try to look for the positive in every situation. It might not be easy at first, but with practice, you can train your brain to see that the glass is refillable.
Discounting the positives can be dangerous because it leads to a negative spiral of thinking. When you only focus on the bad, you miss out on the good. This can make you feel hopeless and helpless and can lead to depression and other mental health issues. If you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, it’s important to seek help from a therapist, life coach, or counselor who can help you learn healthy coping strategies.
Passing Judgment & Jumping to Conclusions
When you’re passing judgment like this, you’re essentially deciding without any objective basis or understanding – leading to all sorts of problems in your personal and professional life.
When jumping to conclusions, you’re not considering all the facts. Instead, you might react to something based on your prejudices or personal feelings without objectivity. This can be a big problem because it means you might make decisions that aren’t really in your best interest.
For example, let’s say you hear of a job opportunity that is in a field of interest to you. It’s something you’d like to pursue but you decide not to even apply because you’re positive they will want someone with more experience than you.
- Result: You’ve just made a decision based on your own bias, or negative thinking about yourself, without any real evidence to back it up. In this case, this company may have loved the fact that you had less experience so they could train you how they wanted. You lost out on a great job because you didn’t look for the facts before you decided not to apply.
Another example, you meet up with some friends and there is a new person in the group. You immediately decide you don’t like them based on how they look or talk. Maybe they don’t say much so you think they’re a snob. So, you ignore them or become sarcastic towards them.
- Result: You’ve lost out on a potentially great new friend. You have made the new person feel bad even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it. More than likely, you’ve also made your friends feel uncomfortable with the situation, even if they don’t say anything. Next time they want to introduce someone new or even bring along this same new person, they may decide not to invite you.
If you’d taken the time to get to know the person before passing judgement, everyone would have been happier. In addition, if you had still determined you didn’t like the person, your other friends would have listened to your opinion because you’d have had facts to back it up.
Or let’s say you’re in a meeting at work, and someone suggests an idea you think is stupid. Without considering their point of view or looking at the evidence, you immediately start arguing with them and trying to prove them wrong. But then, upon reflection, you realize their idea might be pretty good.
- Result: You’ve wasted your time and energy arguing with someone when you could have been trying to devise a better solution.
Passing judgment and jumping to conclusions based on your own bias or personal feelings without evidence can be a big problem. If you’re not considering all the facts, you’ll miss great opportunities and make bad decisions that will cost you in the long run.
If you want to avoid this habit, you can do a few things.
- Practice self-awareness – Pay attention when you catch yourself doing it and try to step back and look at the situation objectively. If you can’t do this alone, ask a friend or family member to help you.
- Fix it when you do it – Ensure you’re taking the time to understand the issue to avoid making the same mistake again. Then, apologize to the person and let them know you’re working on this issue yourself.
- Facts first – If you want to live a full and happy life, you need to make sure you’re considering the facts before you make any decisions. Don’t let your biases and personal feelings get in the way of making the best choices.
You may make big mistakes when you practice decision-making based on personal feelings or biases. For example, it can lead you to ignore evidence that contradicts your beliefs or to misinterpret proof in a way that supports your beliefs.
Jumping to conclusions based on your feelings or biases can also cause you to mistreat people. For example, if you believe that all members of a particular group are bad, you may be more likely to treat them harshly, even if they have done nothing wrong. This can result in discrimination and other forms of unfair treatment.
Avoiding negative thinking is vital because doing so can lead to inaccurate conclusions with serious real-world consequences.
Making Mountains Out of Molehills
Making mountains out of molehills means overreacting to something that is not a big deal. It means you are blowing things out of proportion and making them seem like a bigger issue than they are.
This can be damaging because it can make minor problems seem much more significant than they are, leading to unnecessary stress and anxiety. It can also be difficult for others to take you seriously if you constantly make mountains out of molehills.
If you think you might be practicing this form of negative thinking, there are a few things you can do to stop yourself.
- Take a step back – If you can see that the problem is not as big as you are making it, let it go and move on.
- Keep your emotions in check – If you find yourself getting too worked up about something, focus on your breathing and acknowledging your feelings instead of reacting.
- Apologize – If you have already caused issues due to this, try to apologize and make amends with the person you may have upset.
If you can learn to stop making mountains out of molehills, it will be much easier to manage your stress and anxiety levels, and it will also be easier for others to take you seriously.
Having Unrealistic Expectations
Everyone has expectations in life. Some of us have realistic expectations, while others may have unrealistic ones. Having unrealistic expectations can limit you because it often leads to disappointment and frustration. If you find that your expectations are often unrealistic, here are some tips to help you stop doing it:
- Be honest with yourself – The first step is to look at your expectations and be honest. If you find that they are often unrealistic, it’s essential to try to adjust them.
- Set realistic goals – When you set goals for yourself, ensure they are achievable. Going after something possible will allow you to avoid getting frustrated and feeling like you’re not good enough.
- Try to see things from different perspectives – It’s easy to get caught up in our view of things, but it’s essential to try to see things from other people’s perspectives. This can help you have more realistic expectations.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – Everyone is on their journey in life. Focus on your progress, not someone else’s. Comparison only sets you up for disappointment anyway.
- Be patient – If you are getting impatient, remember that no one knows how to do everything straight out of the womb or straight out of school. Learning and growing take time.
Making a conscious effort to adjust your expectations can make a big difference in your life. It can help you avoid disappointment and frustration, and it can help you focus on what’s important. If you realize that your expectations are often unrealistic, don’t be afraid to make a change. You will be glad you did.
Blaming Yourself for Things You Can’t Control
If you constantly blame yourself for things out of your control, you’re likely suffering from a condition called “learned helplessness.” This can be highly limiting and prevent you from enjoying your life to the fullest. To stop this cycle of self-blame and start taking control of your life, you can take certain steps once you are aware.
Learned helplessness occurs when you believe you are powerless to change your circumstances, no matter what you do. This can lead to hopelessness, despair, and a general sense of powerlessness. In some cases, learned helplessness can even lead to depression and anxiety.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of learned helplessness, it’s essential to understand that it is possible to break free. There are things you can do to take back control of your life and start making positive changes. Here are some tips:
- Identify the source – To change your thinking, identify the source of your learned helplessness. For example, what situations or circumstances trigger these feelings? Once you’ve identified the triggers, you can begin to work on changing your thinking around them.
- Challenge your negative thoughts – If you have negative thoughts about a particular situation, take a step back and challenge those thoughts. Are they true? Is there evidence to support them? So often, people get caught up in negative thinking patterns that are not based on reality.
- Practice self-compassion – One of the best things you can do for yourself is to practice self-compassion. Every person makes mistakes; it’s part of being human. If you can learn to be compassionate towards yourself, it will be easier to let go of the need to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong.
- Seek professional help –. A therapist, counselor, or even a life coach can assist you in exploring the thoughts and emotions that keep you stuck. They can also provide accountability as you work towards making positive changes in your life.
It is possible to break free from learned helplessness, but it may not be easy. It will likely require some effort and commitment on your part. However, the rewards are well worth it. When you break free from this cycle of self-blame, you’ll find that you can enjoy your life much more thoroughly. You’ll also have a greater sense of control over your destiny.
Dealing with Negative Thinking
Your happiness needs to stop negative thought patterns because they can affect your mental and physical health. For example, negative thinking is linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders – not to mention physical health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Additionally, negative thinking patterns prevent you from reaching your full potential. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, you’ll never be able to reach your goals. Therefore, it’s vital to learn how to stop negative thinking patterns so that you can live a happier and healthier life.
As you may have noticed, the cure is the same for any negative thinking:
- Recognize the negative thought – Be mindful of what you are thinking and work hard on turning the thoughts into positive ones or, at the very least, neutral. These thoughts are almost always more realistic than negative thoughts, which are usually based on erroneous information.
- Challenge the negative thought to find the truth – The truth is the most critical aspect of any decision-making you need to make. Your feelings are important, don’t misunderstand, but feelings are not facts and can be very wrong and lead you down the wrong path.
- Practice self-compassion – When you are kind to yourself, you are more likely to see the good in yourself and your situation. You are also more likely to be able to cope with difficult emotions and experiences. Self-compassion can also help you feel more connected to others, leading to more supportive and fulfilling relationships.
- Steer your focus to something more positive – Once you understand the root cause of your negative thinking, you can begin to work on changing it. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a failure,” try thinking, “I’m doing my best.” This can be difficult initially, but it can become easier with practice.
Final Thoughts: Cultivating Positivity
Learning how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your mindset. Allowing negative thoughts to control your life will prevent you from living a full and happy life. They will also stop you from becoming the person you were meant to become.
However, by discovering where these negative thoughts originate and turning them around mindfully, you can open yourself up to a life full of possibilities, joy, and abundance.
Related Article: Positive Thinking – Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress