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Published on December 3, 2019

How to Break Free from Negative Thinking for Good

How to Break Free from Negative Thinking for Good

“I’m not good enough to accomplish this.”“They won’t like me. I’m too ugly to be around them.”“I won’t ever be able to get out of this situation.”

Negative thoughts, such as the examples listed above, can make us feel as though we are never truly enough to change our lives. Whether we believe that we are not good looking enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, or something in between, we are always right.

How we see ourselves dictates how we lead our lives. This simple truth, while it is currently impacting your reality in a negative way, is actually good news. Why?

You can change your thinking, and when you can change your thoughts, you can change your reality.

Put simply, if you start to believe and feel like you are good looking, intelligent, wealthy, or other things, you begin to see yourself in that light. If you tell yourself that you are capable of achieving greatness, you will eventually get there!

That said, many find themselves wondering what to do when they get stuck in negative thinking. Are you tired of letting your negative thoughts run your life? Do you want to take control of how you feel and put yourself out there?

If you want to start writing your own narrative, let’s learn more about negative thought cycles and how you can change your own internal voice.

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Where Do Negative Thoughts Come From?

You aren’t going to wake up one day and find that you are suffering from random negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are often a mix of ideas that we develop on our own as well as ideas that we may have gotten from others.

For example, if you are constantly watching media where individuals are depicted as having thin bodies and perfect skin (and you do not have the same characteristics as those who are traditionally considered to be beautiful), you may come to the conclusion that you are not beautiful or deserving of love.

This is far from the truth, but your own take on how the world works can play into how you feel about yourself.

Equally harmful, the opinions of others can start to affect our self-perception. If several people tell you something negative about yourself, you may begin to take these opinions to heart, telling yourself the same things over time. This self-belief then becomes the model for how you live.

More often than not, the reality is that individuals who lack confidence and self-esteem are going to develop negative thought patterns.

This does not mean that confident people do not face internal crises of their own. After all, everyone prone to experiencing a negative thought here and there. However, those who are self-aware and confident are able to bounce back from these thoughts and return to their truth.

Those who do not think highly of themselves, on the other hand, are going to keep believing the negative thoughts that come into their mind. The issue? These negative thoughts turn into a repetitive cycle that becomes harder to break over time.

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When you tell yourself something for months or years at a time, it can be difficult to transform that internal dialogue into something more positive and realistic. But is it possible? Absolutely!

The Importance of Quitting Negative Thinking

Beyond low-self esteem, there may be mental health-related causes behind your negative thought patterns, like depression. One of the major symptoms of depression is, you guessed it, negative thoughts. Depression can make us feel unworthy of love and life, even if we have everything we could wish for.[1]

You may be struggling with anxiety instead, which can paint uncertain visions of the future and leave you anticipating the worst long before the moment has arrived. Some people have anxiety about the present or will return to past moments where they feel as though they failed, which affects their feelings about who they are or who they will be.[2]

Having mental health issues can make your situation more complex, but it is important to know that these types of health issues are highly treatable. You are more than deserving of self-love and getting help is the first, most important step of your journey!

How to Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking

In order to overcome your negative thoughts, you are going to need two things: self-awareness and a willingness to love yourself. Once you are armed with these two tools, take a look below to learn more about how you can break free of the cycle of negative thinking.

1. Become Aware of the Thoughts That Are Affecting You

Negative thoughts are hard to catch because they have a tendency to become a part of who we are. These thoughts build our belief system and go unchallenged even when they pop up daily.

All change begins with awareness. Whatever it is that you believe about yourself, take the time to pay attention to your own dialogue. What are you saying to yourself on a regular basis? How does it make you feel? Is any of it true?

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When these thoughts are brought to your attention, you begin to notice just how often you are saying these things to yourself. Once you’ve cultivated awareness around these thoughts, you can begin to develop the change that you want.

2. Learn to Accept Them As They Come (and Move on)

A lot of people believe that you have to completely remove negative thoughts from your life in order to be happy. Not only is this not possible but it’s also not true. You are going to experience negative thoughts regardless. It is what you decide to do with these thoughts that matters.

Next time a negative thought comes into your mind, treat it like a passing car. Acknowledge it and let it pass you by. Don’t try to wave the driver over to you. Don’t continue thinking about once it has passed. Just let it go.

Giving power to your thoughts allows them to have control over you. You can’t stop a negative thought from entering your mind, but you always have the power to let it go!

3. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts

Our own beliefs play on a loop, telling us certain things over and over again. While it’s important to let go as was mentioned above, it is also important to get to the root of these issues and figure out where they are coming from.

Let’s imagine that you are telling yourself you are stupid throughout the day. If you notice this pattern, ask yourself: Does this have any basis in reality? Am I really stupid or am I telling myself this unnecessarily? Is there any evidence to support this?

Challenging your negative thoughts will help you to realize that they are highly-exaggerated and untrue. This gives you the opportunity to transform these negative thoughts into positive ones that resonate with you.

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4. Replace These Thoughts with Kinder, More Realistic Alternatives

Anything that is broken must be replaced. The broken record playing on a loop within you can easily be changed to a tune that you can actually sing to.

Whenever a negative thought comes up, take the time to stop yourself and think of something positive to put in its place. If you find yourself saying, “I can’t do this”, try telling yourself that you are more than capable instead.

Keep in mind, however, that you need to tell yourself things that you truly believe. If you start telling yourself things that don’t resonate with you and encounter a situation that proves your belief wrong, you may do more harm than good!

Bottom Line

Changing the way you think is a rigorous but rewarding process that will change your outlook on life. If you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts, learn more about where they come from and how you can stop them for good with the guide above!

More About Positive Thinking

Featured photo credit: Max Ilienerwise via unsplash.com

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Dylan Buckley

Dylan is Lifehack's Motivation Expert specializing in self-development, with extensive experience working for life coaches and startups.

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Last Updated on July 9, 2020

How to Stop Being Passive and Start Getting What You Want

How to Stop Being Passive and Start Getting What You Want

Have you ever wondered what keeps you stuck in a state of passivity each day? You tend to know exactly what you need to, but you never have the energy, motivation, or willpower to do it. You know you need to learn how to stop being passive, but how do you do that?

You are not alone. Being passive can leave you stuck in a bit of a rut that is difficult to escape from. This article will help to shine some light on your predicament by not just exploring the methods of how to stop being passive, but also the finer and very important details about what causes passive behavior, as well as an important distinction between positive and negative forms of being passive.

Let’s dive straight in.

What Causes Passive Behavior?

Passive behavior is often the leading cause of people feeling stuck either at work or in their life. It occurs when your life situation is unhappy, but the only thing you “actively” do about it is complain. This, of course, doesn’t change anything. Passive behavior in this sense leaves people feeling stuck, hopeless, and miserable for the vast majority of their life.

Passive behavior can emerge from a number of different sources, but there are three main ways that tend to be the most evident.

Lack of Motivation

Perhaps the most common and most obvious cause of passive behavior is the simple fact of being unmotivated. In the conventional sense, motivation gives rise to action. When you feel motivated, you go and do the things that you set out to do. When you don’t feel motivated, you don’t act.

You might wake up one morning and be eager to get a nice, long, satisfying workout in, so you head to the gym. On another morning, or for a number of consecutive mornings, you might not feel motivated at all. As a result, you don’t get a workout done.

Not being motivated and not always doing what you set out to do is fine. It is part of the natural ebb and flow of life and all of its contents. However, it is a myth that motivation needs to be preceded by action. The secret of successful and seemingly “always motivated” people is that they know that that is a myth. They also know that, quite often, it is usually action that leads to motivation[1].

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Don’t believe me? You have probably experienced it many times yourself. You have forced yourself into your workout gear and then suddenly felt ready to go. You forced yourself to begin writing a report and then all of a sudden you’re in full flow. You forced yourself to meet friends just for one drink and ended up having the time of your life. Action, and then motivation.

Motivation sometimes leads to action, but motivation only comes around every so often. However, motivation that follows action is always in your control. It may seem counterintuitive, but whenever you feel unmotivated and passive, just do something. Anything. And you will usually find that motivation and productivity follow closely behind.

Lack of Goals

Another common force behind passive behavior is the lack of any meaningful goals that you are striving towards. If your life consists of going through the motions, doing the same boring tasks every day, and eating the same sort of stuff, not only can it quickly begin to feel like Groundhog Day, but it can also begin to eat away at your life energy. Anyone with experience of these sorts of patterns will be able to directly relate.

When your only goal is to make it through another day or make it to the weekend, that is a massive portion of your life that you are throwing away. Discovering and creating meaningful goals in your own life can radically change all of that.

Ideally, because you spend large portions of your life at work, you will want to start by finding some meaningful goals within the work section of your life. You can strive towards creating something amazing and valuable for your customers or brainstorming ways that your business can become further integrated into the community. There are a number of ways to create meaningful goals at work. If you really cannot find any, then a goal might be to find a place or line of work where you can.

Thankfully, though, life doesn’t exclusively consist of work. Meaningful goals can be spread out across all areas and interests of life. Maybe you set yourself a goal of setting up a local football team in your neighborhood. Maybe you volunteer for a charity that means a lot to you.

Meaningful goals almost always involve other people, and this kindness, generosity, and good-will not only grows in others and your community, but it grows inside of you, too. The growth of these qualities in your life inevitably leads you out of passive behavior.

Analysis Paralysis

You might be shocked to realize that anything that involves analysis is one of the leading causes of passive behavior. Yet, it is this “analysis paralysis” that occurs to varying degrees in various people over time that is a big contributor to passivity and ultimately not getting what you want out of life[2].

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Analysis paralysis is so common in the modern era due to the infinite sources of information that we have available to us via books, websites, podcasts, YouTube, etc. Because of this, a child who didn’t know any better would probably spend hours upon on hours watching YouTube videos, studying textbooks, and analyzing different expert’s opinions on how to ride a bike rather than actually just getting on one and learning through experience.

It is common for you to slip into this same trap as the child in many other areas of life. You want all experts to agree on something before you take any action on it. You want to memorize the instructions front-to-back before you start on step one. You want a 100% guarantee that something will work from start to finish before you try it for yourself. Of course, that guarantee never arrives, and you remain in the same place.

Forget all of that. Your brain is great for many things, but it is actually more likely to keep you stuck in the same place than it is to move you forward towards your goals. It will give you ten reasons why you shouldn’t for every one that you should. This is where listening to your intuition is important. There are countless examples of people living extraordinary lives and accomplishing truly wonderful things after they followed their intuition and ignored their “intellectual impulse” to have all of the details figured out first.

Experience is not only the greatest teacher, it is the most direct route to experiencing, learning from and enjoying reality. Whatever goes on in your head is a projection. Whatever actually happens is reality. Spend less time reading about bikes (which is passive behaviour disguised as active behavior), and start getting on that bike for yourself.

Is Being Passive a Bad Thing?

As already highlighted briefly in the introduction, it is important to distinguish exactly what is meant by “passive” in this article. Here, we are talking about passivity and how it relates to things like boredom, frustration, unhappiness, feeling stuck, and all other connotations. The passivity that we are talking about is living a relatively unhappy existence and not really doing anything about it.

Passive is not always a bad thing, though, and while the positive meanings of being passive aren’t the focus of this article, they are worth pointing out so that you don’t avoid passivity altogether.

Passive can also relate to peace, contentment, and even things like creativity and inspiration. It is very rare for somebody who is in an active state all of the time to produce anything original and not completely burnout. Great individuals throughout history that put a lot of emphasis on stillness, reflection, and the “good” form of passivity include Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi, and many, many others.

There is an important distinction to be made between the passivity that is causing unhappiness and the passivity that is to be used in intervals to take your life to the next level. In this article though, we are focusing on the former.

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How to Stop Being Passive

Now that we have established some of the causes of being passive and the different faces of passivity, it is time to explore ways in which you can stop being passive (in the negative sense) and start to find effective methods of allowing more happiness into your life.

1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

One of the most effective ways to stop being passive is to stop reacting to other people and situations as soon as they unfold. Your knee-jerk reaction is rarely the best course of action to take, and yet, it is a deeply-seated habit of all humans to respond angrily to anger or to see an unexpected situation as much more of an issue and struggle than it actually is.

To stop being reactive, you can start being proactive. The best thing you can do in this sense, paradoxically, is to simply watch your reactivity as much as possible[3]. What feelings flare up and cloud your judgment in certain situations? How do you respond when things don’t go your way or to plan? The closer you can watch, and the more honest you can be, the less automatic your reactions become, and the more proactive and effective your responses to situations and people will be.

You can also try to imagine different scenarios about how things might play out in the future. Thing about what might go right and what might go wrong so that you can anticipate and plan your action ahead of time. However, it can be difficult to predict the future, which is why I always emphasize starting with yourself.

2. Consider the Future and Act in the Present

Closely linked to the point above, while you can never accurately predict the future, it is always useful to give some consideration to how it might play out. What goals do you want to achieve? What circumstances do you want in your life? What obstacles might arise, and how can you either avoid them or be effective in dealing with them?

Considering all of these questions and any others that are personal to you will give you an excellent basis for action.

From this position, you can now focus all of your attention back into the present moment. The future is important to consider, but don’t live there because it doesn’t exist. All that exists is the present moment. You can only ever take care of the things right in front of you. Focus only on taking care of them, one thing at a time, and you will find that your entire future and life will fall perfectly into place.

3. Address the Emotional Side of Passivity

As we covered earlier when discussing lack of motivation and its direct influence on passivity, the reason that you are being passive is probably because you are invested in the story that you need to be motivated before you can take any action.

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Being passive, unmotivated, uninspired, or any other great word that you want to throw an “un” in front of is often an emotional issue that needs addressing. For you, addressing the problem might simply mean taking action and letting the motivation follow. It might be attaching something emotionally rewarding (a treat of some kind) with action that you want to take that, for now, isn’t emotionally rewarding in itself.

There is usually some sort of emotional gap that needs to be bridged before you can truly step out of being passive and step into the life that you want to live.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has managed to shine a bit more light on being passive, where it comes from, how it keeps your life stagnant, and what to do about it.

As you already know, reading about riding a bike doesn’t teach you how to ride a bike. Even more sneakily, it is inaction disguised as action, because deep down you know you just need to do it.

Going from passive to active living is exactly the same. You have read this article, you know what to do… now go do it!

Your new life awaits you on the other side.

More Tips on How to Stop Being Passive

Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

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