We know that it is more helpful to think positively rather than negatively, but what does that really mean?
Taking responsibility for the types of thoughts we have can be very empowering. We can’t always change or control external events, but we do have power over the stories we tell ourselves about them. Often it’s our response to what happens in our lives that has a far bigger impact than the actual events.
Recognising we have a choice in how we respond helps us feel more in control.
So, for now, let’s consider:
- What kinds of thoughts contribute to making us feel worse?
- What kinds of thoughts can we consciously adopt to help ourselves feel better?
Thoughts that make you feel worse
We can get stuck in a rut of thinking in particular ways without really considering that these thoughts may not be helpful, or empowering, and are in fact making us feel worse.
Knowledge is power. Once we become aware of these thoughts, we can make conscious steps towards changing them.
According to Rewire your Brain by John Arden (p58, 59), the following kinds of thoughts create negative traps, and can make you feel worse:
- Polarised thinking – black and white, all or nothing, good or bad
- Overgeneralised thinking – taking one bad thing that happened and making conclusions about your entire life
- Personalisation – interpreting every glance or comment made by someone as a reflection on you
- Mind reading – negatively assuming that you know what others are thinking
- Shoulds and should nots – making rigid and inflexible rules about what’s right/wrong and what you should/shouldn’t be doing
- Catastrophising – perceiving any event as a major catastrophe or a sign that a catastrophe is about to occur
- Emotional reasoning – basing opinion on how you feel
- Pessimism – assuming the worst
Do you recognise any of these? Remember if you do realise that you think in some of these ways, judging or criticising yourself for doing so is unlikely to help.
Re-programming your thoughts
Again, according to Arden, the following types of thoughts can help you resist negative thinking and moods and re-wire your brain.
If you don’t tend to use these, perhaps you could experiment over the next few days:
- Thinking in shades of grey – considering a range of possibilities rather than immediately going to extremes
- Context checking – adjusting your opinions and perceptions to the context of the situation, rather than making assumptions in advance
- Optimism – viewing situations as opportunities
- Detaching – disconnecting from repetitive negative beliefs
- Externalising problems – when something unfortunate happens, focus on solving the problem rather than assuming it reflects something about WHO you are
Commit to doing the work and be as patient and compassionate with yourself through change as you can.
This Mind Body Green post talks about the book a little more.
Being positive does not mean disconnecting from reality
You don’t need to pretend bad things aren’t happening in order to approach your life in a positive way. Being too positive in the face of challenge isn’t always helpful.
However it’s helpful to recognise the choices you do have in each moment.