Experiencing emotional pain is one those things our society tells us we should look to move away from and avoid at all costs. As such we grow up an exist in community where it is not socially acceptable to experience, feel or express anger or feel safe to admit we feel fearful, afraid or vulnerable. Our friends, family, partners and co-workers look to move quickly to provide a solution, tell us to ‘snap out of it’ or, to the tune of words I’ve learnt have been used in the elite sport industry … ‘suck it up, buttercup’.
The truth is feeling negative emotions, provides value and benefit to us. They are energetic indicators guiding and navigating us that we are internally out of balance, that something needs to be addressed.
Choosing to be happy is commonly recommended in life coaching frameworks and self-development books. When you learn how to do this, there can be wonderful shifts experienced but in the absence of first acknowledging our negative emotions, we can actually dampen and halt our progress toward feeling and operating from a more positive state of mind.
It goes without saying that thinking negatively holds us back from experiencing joy, happiness, satisfaction at work and in life in general. We invest time and energy into an exercise which stops us in our tracks from experiencing fulfilling relationships and pursuing our personal goals and desires.
Thinking negatively can be powerfully deprecating, energetically, emotionally and mentally draining to those around us and ultimately, impact the results and experiences that show up in our lives. The energy, tone and vibration of negative thoughts and language (whether spoken out loud or communicated in written form) can have serious, unfavourable effects upon ourselves and those around us, at a deep subconscious level. If you’ve ever spent time in the company of someone who’s highly skilled at identifying the glass being half empty, you’ll be familiar with the experience of feeling drained and physically feeling a loss of energy! You want to get away from them as soon as possible.
What if you, also at times, could be that person? Good news!
With practise of the Four Simple Steps to Reverse Negative Thinking, you will gradually open up and re-set/rewire your neural pathways to fire in ways which help you tap into your creative ability, see possibilities and opportunities, problem-solve and experience a lighter, happier demeanour and mood.
1) Self-Awareness – getting good at Thought-stopping
One of the principles of Mindfulness centers on being present….being present to noticing, watching and observing what is going on around you in a particular moment…but also noticing what you are thinking, your mood and emotions. If we use the analogy of your being the director of a movie….what do you notice? What do you observe? The instance of catching ourselves in moments of time, is the key skill here as it gives us tremendous power to slow down the unhelpful thoughts and feelings that may be transpiring:
“Ah…interesting that I have that point of view….there’s something arising inside me here….what is it?”
By looking to stop and observe ourselves in how we are reacting to our environment (like taking a moment to stop and smell the proverbial roses) we can stop the negative downward spiral in its tracks, from unravelling and escalating.
2) Assess, Don’t Judge
Too often, we automatically start labelling ourselves with self-criticism and negative evaluation and/or the circumstances around us…
“I’m not good enough”, “I should know how to do this”, “I can’t do this.
We start to give power to a negative thought pattern.
The nerve patterns in our brain are designed to keep us safe, protect us and adapt to survive. The neural networks therefore look to ignite and connect with those other memories, learnings and self-deprecating thoughts.
Even though this is what our brain is designed to do, we can redirect this automatic process.
Under your breath or out loud, ask yourself a question:
“Does this (thought/way of thinking) help or hinder me?”
“Does that thought move you toward feeling, experiencing, being what you want to be, do, have or feel?”
If the answer is ‘no’ then you have empowered yourself in a split second to stop the dialogue of the broken record continually repeating and now be in a position to choose to change it.
3) Reframing – Identify and Actively Choose the Alternative Statement
Get ready to feel a little uncomfortable!
This can be the most challenging part in the process, yet also the simplest and most positively impacting step. You now get to be the conductor which chooses the train track you want your brain to now travel on to….which neural pathways you want to reset it to fire toward.
Example 1: “I can’t do this” …to…. “I feel as though I can’t do this. I feel overwhelmed, however is there something I can do?”
Here, you are allowing and guiding your own thought process to tap into pathways that identify possibilities and alternatives. Also, do you notice a shift in how you feel physically? Energetically?
Example 2: “I’ll never be able to do that”… to ….. “I feel right now that I will never be able to do that, however is there something I can do that can take me closer toward it?”
Once again, do you notice or feel a shift in the energy of the new perspective?
Example 3: “This sort of (negative) thing always happens to me”….to….. “If this sort of thing keeps happening to me, is there something I can do to change this occurring?”
For this second example, some individuals feel uncomfortable considering why they should be a change agent to negative circumstances which they see as resulting from factors outside of their control.
However, if the willingness is there to have a better experience than the current one, then we invite the possibility to consider what control we have over changing our perception and experience of what’s happened.
Ultimately, we are looking for an alternative statement that helps our brain re-position our perception and emotional experience to one which allows us to feel better. Find re-framing language that has meaning and resonates with you.
If you have challenges with this step, look to work with a psychologist or therapist to help you identify what these are for you.
4) Practise, practise, practise. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Again? …..Practise, practise, practise. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Practise the process. It will take effort and commitment. We are applying an active strategy to replace an automatic one that has been ingrained within us for a long-time however, in similar fashion, your brain will over time adapt.
Don’t be surprised if you soon start noticing your ability to see the possibilities and opportunities becomes an automatic pattern of thinking!
Keep a diary. Catching yourself in the moment can be difficult and being able to identify the alternative can be challenging in the heat of the moment. Our minds can go blank. Use a worksheet to review how you normally think. See if you can choose a fresh situation you can recall where you found it difficult to see possibilities, felt stuck, limited. Start from there and see if you can review and identify what the alternative statements/self-talk you could use to help you have experienced a different, better outcome.
Actively choose to be around more positive people. Being in the vicinity of positive people feels good! You feel positively energised and you are likely to absorb some of their habits and behaviours. You can also watch and observe how they respond differently to you in challenging situations.
Actively choose to limit the time you spend with negative people. If you notice those you regularly keep company with are naturally negative thinkers and perceive the glass as being half empty, consider making a proactive choice to move away from them…spend less time with them. It might be time to look for some new people to spend time with.
Positive Thinking Podcasts. Use the world of subliminal marketing to condition your style of thinking. Search for and find podcasts which allow you to be exposed to this constantly. By feeding your mind with positive food, the output is likely to be more positive!
“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour.
Keep your behaviour positive because your behaviour becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”
About the Author
Helen is a registered psychologist, who first-hand understands the traps we can fall in when we get stuck in a negative spiral of thinking. When she falls into these pot-holes, she exercises a few steps to shake up the stagnation: gets up and changes her physical state (think dancing in the lounge-room to Bruno Mar’s 24K Magic), calls or contacts a friend and/or puts on a podcast from one of her favourite podcast shows, Inspire Nation.