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How To Stop Negative Thinking: 6 Ways To Fine-Tune Your Mind

How To Stop Negative Thinking: 6 Ways To Fine-Tune Your Mind

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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