Negative thinking is a much more common problem than you may think. Many of us experience them every single day. That’s why it’s important to understand what they are, where they come from, and how you can overcome them.
Negative thoughts are the thoughts we have that essentially cause us to adopt pessimistic points of view. Negative thinking leads us to focus on the worst aspects or possible outcomes of a given situation instead of the positives. This negative thinking can cause us to experience a great deal of stress, worry, and sadness as long as we continue to adopt these thought patterns.
Here are a few examples of some common negative thought patterns:
I won’t attempt to chase my dreams because I know only a few people make it. I’m not going to be one of those people, so why even bother trying.
I would love to take on a new role at work, but will I even be able to handle that? If I try and fail, people may only see me as a failure. This could make my life at work more difficult and less satisfying.
I wish I could give presentations like that person. But I’m just not good at public speaking and it scares me. I guess it just wasn’t written in the stars for me. It’s not one of my skills and I can’t get over my fear.
If you can relate to any of these thoughts, then this article might just be exactly what you’re looking for.
Table of Contents
What Causes Negative Thinking?
Negative thinking is mainly a result of fear.
Nobody likes feeling afraid, and very few of us enjoy facing our fears. But fear is the source of our negative thinking. Fear paralyzes us and prevents us from pursuing the things we truly want in life as we attempt to avoid negative outcomes.
For many, a big one is fear of the unknown. When we don’t know, or we can’t predict an outcome of a situation, we choose to play it safe. This often leads us to adopt a pessimistic point of view.
Though this negative thinking may allow us to avoid our fears, such as preventing us from ever having to get up on a stage and give a speech, it will prevent us from reaching our full potential. In the long-term, this often leads to greater dissatisfaction and more regret than adopting a more optimistic point of view and taking a risk pursuing more positive thoughts.
This is why it’s so important to become aware of what scares us and prevent it from negatively impacting our minds in this manner.
So, are there any common negative thoughts people have? This is a difficult concept because each and every one of us is unique. This means one situation that may cause an individual to engage in negative thinking may actually trigger a different person to adopt a positive thought approach.
For example, consider we have two people. One has spent their entire life training to be an athlete and never studied a day in their life, while the other individual has spent their entire life studying and has never once exercised.
If we were to have these two compete in an athletic event, who do you think would be more likely to adopt a positive pattern of thinking? Likewise, if we were to have these two compete in a trivia event, who might then be more likely to adopt a positive thought pattern?
My point here is that what causes negative thinking in anybody is subjective. It’s going to vary.
That being said, there are some common fears, so here are some of the most common negative thoughts:
I’m not good enough to achieve that goal so I guess there’s no point in even trying. Besides, if I try and fail then people might think I’m a failure.
I couldn’t possibly be as good as him/her at that, they’re so naturally talented. Even if I worked hard I won’t get that good. Unfortunately, I don’t have what it takes.
I wish I was as good looking as those movie stars and models. Then people would like me and I would be super popular.
How to Stop Negative Thinking
Finding ways to challenge negative thinking isn’t easy, nor is it simple. It takes careful planning, patience, and a good amount of effort to truly master your mindset. However, finding ways that enable you to overcome your negative thinking is truly satisfying.
Funnily enough, as we attempt to overcome our negative thought patterns, negative thinking itself can impede our progress. Again, we need to be patient and retain a positive mindset. Life developing any skill, this will take time and practice.
The first step to overcoming negative thinking is understanding your thoughts, what triggers negative thinking for you — Is it a person, a place, a certain experience? Take note of them. These insights will allow us to recognize negative thought patterns in our lives.
The next step is to begin establishing a plan that will help you to combat your negative thinking in these circumstances. Once you’ve created a plan that you think will work for you, it’s time to try it out.
Then, it’ll just be an ongoing process of tweaking this plan as you move forward to figure out which strategies best help you overcome your negative thinking.
Here’re 7 powerful ways you should start trying:
1. Don’t Try to Stop Your Negative Thoughts Altogether
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that what you focus on becomes your reality. This is the idea behind my next point.
If you spend most of your time thinking about how to stop your negative thoughts all the time, what do you think your focus will be on? Your thoughts will always be on your negative thoughts of course! This will only increase your anxiety and make you feel worse.
The more you focus on your negative thinking, the more likely it is to have an influence on you and your daily functioning. Your goal, thus, shouldn’t be to eliminate your negative thoughts completely, but to be able to recognize them more efficiently so that you can combat them when they do arise!
Simply saying you won’t ever have a negative thought won’t help you overcome your negative thinking. It can only ever serve you as a short-term strategy. This is because regardless of how hard you try, you are at some point going to have negative thoughts. And if you haven’t taken the time to develop your systems for overcoming that negative thinking, then it will begin to take over you.
2. Understand Your Thinking Styles
If you can understand your thoughts, it’s possible to begin controlling the outcomes that they are having on you.
So take a moment to assess how you think right now. Do you tend to be optimistic or do you tend to adopt a more negative point of view? Do you approach situations positively or negatively? These are the types of questions you can ask yourself to help shine some light on your thinking styles.
If you’ve determined that you’ve got a negative approach to your thinking style, think about why that might be. Do you tend to adopt negative thoughts in certain situations over others? Is there a particular event, situation, person, or place that triggers negative thinking for you consistently?
Once you’ve identified the source of your negative thinking, the next step is to begin putting a plan in place to tackle the issue!
3. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
After you’ve identified your common negative thoughts, try to find ways that you can begin to challenge them.
Ask yourself whether the thoughts you’re having are realistic. Are they true depictions of the situation? Or, are your fears and negative approaches causing your negative thoughts to be exaggerated?
Would you support the thought if someone else had it? For example, if your closest friend said that they would never be good enough to get that next promotion, would you support that thinking? Or, would you step in and remind them how great they are?
Start using these strategies for your own thinking as well. Don’t give your negative thoughts a free-pass.
4. Release Your Judgment
It’s just the reality of being a human that we all make assumptions, have biases, and make judgments of others based on our experiences. It’s one of the foundations for phenomena like stereotyping and discrimination. But this comparing of ourselves to others can also serve as a method through which we put ourselves down.
When we set goals for ourselves, we tend to look at people who have already accomplished those goals. We look and think about how much better they are than us. Why they were able to achieve that goal and why we never will be able to. These negative thoughts rush in and drag us down.
So try to let go of these types of judgments where you compare yourself to others. You’ll feel free when you finally achieve this.
The best way I’ve found to do this is to begin reflecting more consciously on your thinking. Recognize where this negative thinking stems from within you, what stereotypes, assumptions, and biases you are allowing to generate these negative thoughts in your life. Then find ways to alter this line of thinking.
5. Learn How to Cope with Criticism
Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with standing up and defending yourself in certain situations, we can all work on being better receivers of criticisms, especially when these are serving constructive purposes.
Lots of negative thinking can occur when someone criticises us. We begin to focus only on the negative things they said. We make up reasons as to why we aren’t good enough. This is something that can easily be avoided by learning how to cope with criticism.
One of the ways that I have been able to do this is by looking at criticisms as opportunities rather than shortcomings. If someone says my writing lacks emotion, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer, it simply means I need to focus on this aspect of my writing to further develop it. This criticism has provided me with the opportunity to become a better writer.
If you want some tips on how to do this, check out this article: Why a Criticism Is Better Than a Compliment
6. Focus on Your Strengths
I’m sure if you reflect for a moment on the comments you remember people making about you, the majority are negative. This is because as humans, we tend to focus on the negatives and overlook the positives in our life. We dwell on our mistakes and shortcomings while brushing aside our successes and positive traits.
So try to shift your focus. This can go a long way to helping you overcome your negative thinking. The more you shift the focus of your mentality to positive things in your life, the easier it is going to be for you to think and act positively!
Try writing out a few positive things about yourself right now as an exercise. Then next time when you find yourself thinking negatively about yourself, either pull these positive statements out or write out a few new ones!
If you think that you might need some help with that, take a look at this article: How to Become Successful 10 Times Easier: Don’t Focus on Improving Your Faults
7. Seek Professional Support When Needed
The final thing I will mention about negative thinking is that you should never, at any point, feel the need to take it on all by yourself.
If your negative thinking at any point becomes overwhelming or begins to interfere with your daily activities, recognize that you may need help to conquer it. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support if you ever feel you need it. There are tons of people who are willing and eager to help you.
These supports change lives. So if you feel that you might benefit from them, make sure you take advantage of them!
Negative thinking is nothing that anyone should be continually subjected to. You deserve to be happy.
Understanding the root of negative thinking is the first step to overcoming it. So make use of the strategies mentioned above and stop letting these thoughts hold you back from moving forward!
More on Positive Thinking
- How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed
- 5 Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude
- Why Negative Emotions Aren’t That Bad (And How to Handle Them)
Featured photo credit: Bonnie Kittle via unsplash.com