Lets face it negativity surrounds us. It happens at work, at home, on the news, on social media and in public. It is exhausting! Negativity is not as simple as having a bad day, but rather can be rooted in deeper issues. Our negativity often can start with our negative thoughts about ourselves that have been shaped through our experiences. It can be draining to be negative and if you are only saying a part of what is really occurring in your mind, then that can lead to a lot of sadness, depression and stress. Everyone struggles with negative thoughts, but they do not need to take up so much “space” in your mind. Even though our negative thoughts can come from our beliefs about ourselves, chances are those beliefs are NOT TRUE. You can actually work through them and let them go to have a more joyous life. Changing your negative thinking can be good for your overall well-being.
There are several types of negative thinking. These are common ones I see in my practice.
All or none thinking: Otherwise known as black and white thinking. This type of thinking leaves little room for a “gray area”.
Disqualifying the positives: This thinking focuses only on the negative and has a hard time seeing any of the positives.
Catastrophizing: Even small problems are large problems.
Overgeneralizing: Thoughts include all, never, and always.
Personalizing: A person believes they are the cause of some event not in their control.
How to Change Negative Thinking
1. Identify Negative Thinking Patterns.
Negative thoughts are often automatic thoughts-meaning they just come to our mind. We may not even realize it is happening and are use to the thoughts. To identify a thought or a thought pattern first pay attention to your thoughts. Instead of just pushing a negative thought aside (“I am not skinny enough, I am not good enough, I am not smart enough”) notice that it is a negative thought. When beginning to work on negative thinking, it may be helpful to write the thoughts down. Often, people can notice a pattern of reoccurring thoughts or themes. One way to work on identifying negative thoughts is by practicing mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as ” paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally”. Practicing mindfulness allows us to become more aware of our thoughts without labeling or judging them. It can help take away the power of negative thoughts.
2. Evaluate and Challenge the Thought.
Once you are able to identify your negative thoughts, you can begin to challenge them by asking questions such as “Is that even true?” or “what evidence do I have that supports that thought?” Think about ways to disprove that thought. For example, “I am not smart enough”. Challenge the thought by exploring areas you have been successful and areas you are good at.
3. Replace the Thought.
If you have reoccurring negative thoughts then identify a thought you can replace it with that is more accurate. “I am not smart enough” can be replaced with “I have a good job that I do well.”
Negative thoughts stop you from moving forward in you life. It allows you to not create goals and move toward the life you want. Negative thoughts keep stress, anxiety and sadness more central in your life instead of joy, fulfillment, contentment and happiness. I would love to hear how you have worked on your negative thinking.
-Jessica Fowler, LCSW