If you are prone to negative thinking, you may feel as though this is an innate quality which will impact on you throughout your life. It is this misconception that drags many people down in their lives, as they allow negative thoughts to consume them and overwhelm their mind-set.
In fact, negative thinking is a habit that can be challenged and changed through knowledge, strategy and behaviour. As we understand the cause of our negativity and change the way in which we perceive situations, we can develop a more positive outlook that delivers huge rewards in our personal and professional lives!
6 ways in which you can stop negative thinking
So, here are six simple and actionable ways in which you can stop negative thinking and develop more positive behavioural habits:
1. Develop a consistent sleeping cycle
Negative thinking is a symptom of depression, and as such it is often exacerbated by a lack of sleep or an irregular sleeping cycle. The link between negativity, depression and sleep deprivation has been explored at length during numerous scientific studies, including the 2005 Sleep in America pools which discovered that subjects diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep less than six hours each night.
To negate this and ensure that you are well-rested, you should commit to developing a healthy and sustainable sleep cycle over a prolonged period of time. This must enable you to achieve a full eight-hour sleep every evening, so create a routine based on the time that you need to rise for work in the morning.
2. Write down your Negative Thoughts in a Journal
The issue with negative thoughts is that they are usually formless and ambiguous in our minds, making them hard to quantify or resolve through verbal reasoning. They can also hide the real source of our angst, so it is important that we are able to process these thoughts and understand their various triggers.
The best way to achieve this is to write down your negative thoughts in a journal, translating them into words and affording them actual meanings. Start by recording your thoughts quickly and directly, as you focus on expressing yourself rather than attempting to phrase your thoughts logically. Once they have been committed to paper, you can then begin to review them and identify specific triggers or common themes.
This process also helps you to develop the habit of expressing your thoughts in an open manner, making it easier to manage relationships and resolve inter-personal issues.
3. Stop thinking in extremes
Life is far from black and white, and those of a rational mind-set are able to factor this into their everyday thought processes. The same cannot be said for those who are prone to negative thinking, however, as these individuals tend to think in extremes and imagine the worst case scenarios when they are faced with a problem.
Unfortunately, this prevents you from embracing the subtle nuances of life and considering the positives that can be drawn from any situation.
In this respect, the key to challenging a negative mind-set does not lie in contriving a forced and completely positive mind-set. Instead, you should consider the various positive and negative possibilities that exist within any given scenario, committing these to paper and creating a list that can guide your thought processes. This will instantly afford your brain viable alternatives to the extreme negative, without forcing you to suddenly alter your mind-set in a moment.
4. Deal with facts and stop mind-reading
On a similar note, negative thinking also makes you incapable of dealing with any kinds of uncertainty. So when you are placed in a stressful or unfamiliar situation that has a potentially negative outcome, you have a tendency to pre-empt certain events and apply meanings to them without any significant facts. This can be described as mind-reading, and it is only likely to foster further negativity.
This can be easily resolved with a change in behaviour, as you look to gather facts and details relating to the situation and use these to make an informed judgement. The key is to start with a scenario and state all of the logical explanations in order of their relevance, using either a pen and paper or verbal reasoning. If a friend has not replied to a text immediately, for example, this could be due to a number of reasons such as their battery dying, their presence in a meeting at work or the fact that their handset is on silent and the message has not been read.
By listing these realistic explanations, you can avoid the temptation to pre-empt negative outcomes and react impulsively. Over time, experience will also teach you that logical and reasonable explanations are usually more likely than the worst-case scenarios which play on your mind.
5. Accentuate the positive and embrace it when it does happen
One of the main issues with negative thinking is that it clouds your judgement at all times, even when a scenario ends with a positive outcome. This can either cause you to minimise the positive outcome and the impact that it has in your mind or prevent you from seeing any positivity at all.
Let’s say that you are afforded a pay-rise at work, for example, but one that is lower than some of your colleagues. Instead of focusing solely on this single negative element, it is far better to celebrate the offer of a pay-rise in the first instance and recognise the fact that there are others who have received less. This introduces perspective to any situation and provides definitive facts to contrast your negative thoughts.
Perception is the key here, as you look to view negative occurrences as temporary and specific rather than permanent and pervasive. Instantly look to balance a negative thought or observation with a contrasting positive, as this will enable you to get into the habit of developing a far greater sense of perspective.
6. Re-frame your circumstances and actively seek out positives
While there are scenarios that clearly deliver both positive and negative effects, there are others that may be instantly perceived as being wholly negative. This is the worst nightmare for anyone who is prone to negative thinking, as they are presented with a situation which feeds their pessimistic mind-set and offers no immediate hope of resolution.
You may be at an airport when your flight is delayed, for example, which is a negative scenario that forces you to panic and consider a number of opportunities that you may be missing out on.
The way to resolve this is to actively seek out positives, initially by re-framing the circumstances and reconsidering a perceived problem as a potential opportunity. So rather then focusing on what you may be missing out on, why not list the other things that you can achieve while waiting for your flight? Whether you complete work tasks or enjoy some relaxed retail therapy, the key is to distract yourself from negative thoughts by searching for positive resolutions and optimising your time.