I used to think I was the only cynical weirdo for whom negative thinking just came way more naturally to than positive or even neutral ones. But this is how it is for majority of the people, at least according to psychologists. But to deal with anything, you need to know why it exists in the first place.
Our brains have spent thousands of years benefitting from being negative from the days when we were hunter-gatherers. So essentially, they have been hard-wired to look for danger. This is where our anxiety comes from—years of hyper-awareness of predators and food scarcities.
Today, even after thousands of years, the brain will keep you focused on the negative things— whether it is problems at work or worrying about the guy who won’t return your texts. These things are not survival-level but the brain wants to treat them that way, because this comes naturally to it. After all, a few hundred years of relative safety won’t magically take away thousands of years of evolution.
So focusing on the positive things—towards things you’re grateful for, towards understanding that even bad things can have positive outcomes—requires effort. Way more effort than being negative.
I think, now more than ever, we really need to WORK towards being a little more positive (with the world ending and all). It’s a skill like any other, that you have to acquire. But it’s a skill that is unmatched.
Think about the benefits. People try to put you down, but you stay… positive? Fucking win.
Shit keeps happening, but you’re headstrong? What a legend.
So, in this article, I’ll be talking about the 3 things that I do to keep negative thinking in check. No bullshit, no clichés. Just things that have really, honest-to-god, relieved me many times.
Keep A Gratitude Journal
Or hell, even maintaining a note section in your phone about things that you’re grateful for works wonders. I prefer the latter one.
The point is, when you decide to list out the things that you’re grateful for, you are redirecting your monkey mind’s thought habits towards the things that make you feel good, instead of self-degrading and criticising. When you focus on your gratitude and make it feel more REAL by writing it down, you’re giving clear instructions to your unconscious mind that this is the way you want to think. Within a few weeks (Research estimates 3), it will make a difference to the general tone of your thoughts.
Your thoughts define your actions, and your actions define your life. Everything starts from your thoughts. Make ’em count?
Start TODAY. Write down 5 things you’re grateful for today, and please don’t think that it has to be something huge. Start with the little things: maybe the weather was great today, the sunset was beautiful, your family was being cute, or your mom made you your favourite meal. ANYTHING. Start small, but start.
It’s going to be a little difficult to do this everyday in the beginning but trust me, this little activity has the power to change your thoughts, and in turn your life.
When you focus on your gratitude and make it feel more REAL by writing it down, you’re giving clear instructions to your unconscious mind that this is the way you want to think. Within a few weeks, it will make a difference to the general tone of your thoughts.
Don’t Freak Out When You Have Them
The most important thing I’ve read and realised about negative thinking is: You should never freak out over having it.
I used the tactic of telling myself aggressively to “Stop!!” when a negative thought crossed my mind. But I realised soon that this little freak out that we have to halt a negative thought causes way more stress, and sets you up for a never-ending cycle of negative thoughts and frustration over negative thinking. The harder you push this thought, the closer it gets.
Instead, taking a more mindful & relaxed approach seems to work best. In the sense that rather than trying to stop the thought or chase it away, acknowledge this thought and let it flow through your mind like the ocean’s waves. Acknowledge that it’s a part of you. Instead of denying it’s existence, accept that it’s there in front of you and you are willing to deal with it.
Look at the situation from an objective view and say, “Well, there’s a negative thought. Now what was I doing before?”
Notice the negative thought, let it roll through your mind, and calmly bring your attention back to the present moment. If possible, replace it with a positive thought. ‘So and so happened to me, but this is the bright side!’ There’s almost always a bright side. If nothing else, you come out as a much stronger person who is ready to deal with so many challenges that the previous version of you couldn’t have.
It seems like a very small thing, but it’s working well for me right now—even though I’m relatively very new to this.
Cut Off Toxic Sources
At the end of the day, negativity is contagious. The people you surround yourself with, the news that you expose yourself to, the people you follow on social media—everything plays a part.
It might be time to say goodbye to someone who only makes you feel the worst about yourself.
While it’s great to stay informed, it is not necessary to consume negative news all the time. Try taking a 24 to 48 hour break from the news, stick to headlines only, or research some good, hopeful news to balance your intake of current events.
If you’re annoyed by someone you’re following on social media, unfollow away. If you can’t, for whatever reason, muting stories and posts is a heavenly feature that we’re blessed with now. Use it.
Try to make your external factors as toxic-free as possible, adopt a mindset of acknowledging and letting go of your negative thoughts, and keep a gratitude journal. These 3 things work wonders for me, what works for you?