The power of thought will never cease to amaze me. When you sit back and analyze the way things have unfurled for you in your life, I’m sure that you can pick out many occasions where you believed you could do something, and then you did.
Unfortunately, though, for most of us, the overriding pattern seems to be believing we can’t, so not even bothering to try. Negative thoughts can be our greatest enemies in life.
They can affect us in tiny ways on a daily basis. They stop us from speaking to that person, walking into that shop, or speaking up at work, all of which accumulates to mean we’re missing out on opportunities and simply not living life to the full.
They can also get in the way of big decisions, meaning you decide not to take that trip, start that business, or tell that person how you really feel. Allowing negative thoughts to rule can affect the entire course of your life.
Naturally, you’ll never know what might have been yours had you allowed positivity and self-belief to reign supreme, but I think we can all safely agree that believing in yourself can unlock the door to the life you’ve always dreamed of. A life that’s extraordinary, not just adequate.
Once negative thoughts take hold, however, it can be difficult to oust them. Ruminating on them is counterproductive and if they continue to dwell in your mind, it can lead to depression and mental health issues, which is not something that should be taken lightly.
But how can you weed out the negative thoughts that are in your head or prevent them from taking root in the first place?
Here are a few suggestions of effective ways to ensure that positive thoughts have the room they need to thrive and that negative ones wilt and fade.
1. Look After Yourself
Let’s start with the basics. If your environment isn’t comforting and you’re not looking after yourself properly then that’s essentially holding open the door to your mind and allowing negative thoughts to stride on in.
You’re far more likely to feel positive about things if you’ve got a stomach full of nourishing food, are well-rested, and are warm and comfortable.
If negative thoughts are creeping in, before addressing anything else, make sure your basic human needs are covered to give positivity a fighting chance of winning the battle for your head space.
2. Reframe The Situation And Focus On The Positives
It’s time to look for that silver lining. Cliché as it might be, it’s true that almost any negative situation that you’re presented with can be looked at in a different way and some kind of positive element to it can be identified. That positive element should be what you focus on.
Whether you focus on the fact that something small such as missing a bus gives you a chance to catch up on some reading or look at a more serious situation such as losing your job as an opportunity to finally start that business you’ve always dreamed of, there’s often a positive in there somewhere. It’s just a matter of identifying it.
Has the situation you’ve ended up in presented you with an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise had? Have you learned anything from the experience?
As the Monty Python guys sang, always look on the bright side of life.
3. Write It Down And Throw It Away
This strategy is great because it’s something quick that you can do physically to improve your mental state.
Next time a negative thought comes striding into your head, grab yourself a bit of scrap paper. Write the negative though down, then crumple the paper up and throw it away.
The action of crumpling it up and casting it out can be incredibly powerful for your brain. You’re physically freeing yourself of the thought, which has travelled from your mind down your arm and flowed out through your pen, symbolizing your complete rejection of it.
Even if this seems a little silly to you, you’d be surprised at just how effective it is. Give it a try and see for yourself.
4. Put Forward Contradictory Evidence
Rather than just accepting your negative thoughts as accurate reflections of reality, try to think about any evidence that might contradict them.
For example, if you’re convinced that you will fail an exam (despite preparing properly for it), just remind yourself of all those times in the past when you have excelled in tests.
Or if you’re dreading an upcoming social gathering and are sure you won’t enjoy yourself, just think back to similar events where you’ve had an absolute blast.
By repeatedly challenging your negative assumptions, you will train your mind to disarm your inner pessimist and break the cycle of negative thinking.
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself when negativity is looming on the horizon is find some kind of distraction to occupy your brain and stop it from ruminating.
Call a friend and ask them about what’s going on in their life. Do a sudoku puzzle. Go for a run. Read a book. Watch a mystery murder that has you on the edge of your seat rather than something inane that will allow your mind to wander.
Or, you can try doing a visualization exercise. Try recalling the order of the pictures on your walls or even something like all the coffee shops you pass on your way to work, in order.
Absolutely anything that involves concentration in this way is great, as your brain won’t have space to worry about anything else.
Whenever you catch that negative thought sneaking in again, do the visualization exercise, and sooner rather than later, your brain will learn the pattern and start doing it automatically.
6. Think About The Company You Keep
We’re often more susceptible to the energies of those around us than we think, and we pick up the habits of other people surprisingly easily.
Think about it. If you spend time with someone who uses a certain turn of phrase or has a particular accent, you might find yourself starting to subconsciously copy them, right?
Negativity can be ‘contagious’ in much the same way. We tend to voice our negative thoughts to those around us; we don’t keep them locked away in our heads.
If you spend most of your time with serial complainers who always focus on the negatives, you run the risk of that being a behavior you learn. Conversely, if you’re around people who are generally positive and optimistic about life, that’s bound to rub off on you too.
They say that we’re the sum total of the five people we spend the most time with, so make sure you choose them carefully. If you surround yourself with positivity then you’re giving yourself a fighting chance of preventing negativity from taking over.
If it helps, try to keep in mind that your behavior is rubbing off on others too. Chances are you care about the people you spend the most time with, so realizing that you might be impacting on their happiness with your negativity may be enough for you to stop it from becoming your default setting.
7. Reword Your Thoughts And Eliminate Absolutes
When negative thoughts enter our heads, they often contain words such as “never” or “worst” or “must” which are inflexible and do not offer a path to a more positive outcome. They are the final word on the situation you face and, thus, they prevent you from taking action (which we’ll talk about below).
When you come face to face with disappointment, for instance, you might be tempted to bemoan that this “always” happens to you. This is, of course, unlikely to be true. So not only can you put forward some contradictory evidence as suggested in point 4, you can restructure your thought to put a more pragmatic spin on it.
Even if you have no contradictory evidence to help in this regard, you can still come up with some more hopeful wording to use.
So instead of, “I can’t do this,” try, “this is a challenge I can rise to.” And if you worry that you will never find a job, tell yourself that a new job is within your reach given the right attitude, effort, and realistic expectations.
These days, there’s pretty much a book or a course specifically designed to help you readjust your mindset around a particular topic or learn a new skill, so there’s no excuse for sitting back passively and complaining when you could be out there changing things.
If you really want positivity to become the dominant force in your life, you have that power within your grasp. With a bit of determination, your mind could become a place where positivity has space to flourish.
Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.