Negatives to Positives
If you have a propensity to negative thinking, you may not even know it.
Your way of thinking will have become a habit and it’s rare for us to
reflect on our habits and where we may need to change them.
If our tendency is toward negativity, to always criticising, finding the
wrong rather than the good in others, seeing the glass half empty,
fretting and worrying, feeling angry and resentful, we may not realise
just how much damage we are doing to our health, well-being and
There are many sayings to describe our negative habits, one such is,
“If you think the worst, then you’ll make it happen.” But in the world
of scientific clinical research, there is a name for this…and that name is
“nocebo effect.” This is the concept that adverse health or clinical events can be produced or influenced by negative thinking and negative expectations. We attract to ourselves what we regularly and habitually think about and often this thinking is outside our conscious awareness. Some may call it the mind-emotion-body effect. It is said behind every medical condition, there is an underpinning emotional / thinking context.
This effect is now widely recognised in medicine though you may still find some doctors and consultants who treat it with skepticism.
For more information on how some of our negative thinking and feeling can affect our health, read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L Hay or visit the Mind-Body Glossary on the website, My Holistic Healing.
Where do negative thoughts come from?
Negative thoughts are caused by ingrained patterns related to our own beliefs: about self-esteem, security, money, people, life, and everything else. They form neural pathways in our brains, just as water running over land creates and carves out rivers. When the water stops flowing, when our negative thinking ceases, the river dries up, and when we instate positive thinking, a new pathway or river is carved out.
As an example, you may have thought at some point that life is difficult. Then, whenever you felt that life was being difficult, your thought was reinforced and grew on to become a belief. By now, in your life, after constant reinforcement, you will fully believe that life is difficult, as you've now made a habit of believing that. (This page does not address the issue of the law of Attraction which says that like attracts like, so your negative thinking is in fact attracting to you negative versions of your own negativity.
These old habits of thinking, feeling, and believing, do become engrained in our brain’s neural pathways and unless we create new positive pathways, we find ourselves reverting to younger type.
Some people tell us simply, shape up, just think positively. But that may work short term, but seldom last. It takes more than one telling a river to dry up for it to do so!
Sometimes, trying just to be positive is like applying a cosmetic to a blemish; the blemish is still there underneath and covering it up may hide the fact that it is doing you damage. “Just” being positive is like putting a plaster on a wound without addressing the cause. Sometimes we need to actively clear the negative to make way for the positive. We need to root out the cause of the negativity.
As has been mentioned, our patterns of negative thinking are based on old, well-practised, repetitive, cognitive routines ie ways of thinking and specific thoughts which we have rehearsed over and over again in our early years to the point they have become habits as well as beliefs. Such thoughts may have been learned in the home eg I am not good enough, (dad says) I have to do better, (mum says) I should be more helpful. Then we get to school and again we are given messages which we take on board without discernment, we swallow them down whole as if they were true, things are said to us which we believe and repeat to ourselves. They become the mantras which form our neural pathways – the wiring of our brain. Such thoughts include things like “You are dumb!” “You are a loser.” “You’re a baby for crying.” Sticks and stones. If we are regularly bullied at school, we then may develop daily fear-filled thoughts of turning up to school anticipating that we will be bullied again, and again. Then we form beliefs, critical thinking, that school is bad, people are bad, that life is unfair. And on the cycle goes until a merciful respite of holiday-time arrives. Sometimes the messages are positive; often they are not. Sometimes some of us simply rise above them, but some of us, depending on our personal make-up, sensitives especially, find it harder to do so.
So, telling people just to be positive isn’t always that simple; it takes practise to develop a new habit. It’s often said it takes 28 days to change a habit provided you work at it consistently for several times each day, consecutively. Doing it once a year over 28 years won’t crack the mustard seed.
Usually our negative thinking is motivated (usually ineffectively) by the goal of escaping/avoiding distressing feelings or problematic life situations…again think of being bullied at school. You probably developed a habit of wanting to escape school or, in my case, for years, and daily, just did not want to show up. These unhelpful routines persist, and then they appear in us as adults because we remain in a cognitive mode – ie typical way of thinking - characterised by several features. These are sometimes referred to as the drivers of old habits of thinking – and they drive us automatically and mostly outside our awareness. They include:
We take our way of thinking and what we think based on our experiences to be gospel truth – to us they are very real, but our thoughts are not always THE truth. We may conclude schools is bad and people are out to bully us, but the bullies won’t necessarily be thinking so. For them it is probably one big joke. So our thinking is simply that OUR thinking based on how we view an experiences –it is not necessarily true of the world nor of all people.
When life is uncomfortable or challenging, we develop a tendency to try to avoid, to escape, or to get rid of unpleasant experiences
We then develop a way of regularly not thinking in the present moment, of not seeing things as they are – we dwell on and in the past and future, we keep replaying the past like scratching an old wound, repeating how awful things were and often therefore expect or fear the future will be awful. Because something bad happened in the past we expect it to happen in the future and so we are likely to attract something similar into our lives. Like attracts like.
We then develop another habit - of living on “automatic pilot”, of having knee-jerk reaction, habitual ways of thinking and reacting
Desperately needing our “awfulness” to be different, to be taken away, to stop, we can get angry when this does not happen, we then get depressed – and this reinforces how awful life is
We talk to ourselves unkindly, treat ourselves harshly, we scratch our wounds and keep them open, infected, we sabotage by holding ourselves back, not pushing ourselves forward because we think badly of ourselves
We live in fear, not love; loving the Self is an alien concept. Ask people who ridicule the concept if they genuinely love themselves and you will see them squirm or blush.
So next time your mind jumps to habitual negative thinking, to conclusions that send you in a downward spiral to fear, anxiety, anger, depression, shame or even guilt, STOP and do a reality check, checking to see where your thinking or your head was at the time of that interpretation. Then positively challenge your thinking. It helps to do it on paper. In our river metaphor, you are effectively stemming the flow of water, redirecting it, and making way to create something new.
It can help to do this as a physical exercise.
Take a firm step forward, push your hands out as if stopping something coming at you, and say strongly, STOP.
Notice what you are thinking and feeling.
Lower your hands and as you do so, imagine, really imagine, what you would prefer to be feeling instead.
Now imagine what thoughts would you need to create and support that feeling.
Or approach this more as a thinking exercise
When you are aware of a habitual negative thought, decide to STOP
You are now going to challenge your thinking
Thinking of your thought
Ask yourself - Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Then ask - Can you absolutely 100% know that it's true? (Yes or no.)
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
(The above four questions are adapted from The Work by Byron Katie)
Your thought / belief is that school is a scary place.
Applying the above format,
Ask – is true, that your school is a scary place? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Ask – can you know 100% for sure that school is a scary place?
Now when you think of that thought, that school is a scary place, what happens, how do you feel, how do you react?
Now ask – if I did not believe that thought that school is a scary place, who would I be, how then would I feel, how different could life be?
Now that may be enough, or you may take your exploration deeper as follows: -
Coping strategies. In trying to avoid, escape, or get rid of the unpleasantness (which your thoughts are about), we often turn to anger or drugs or alcohol or even good old chocolate and comfort eating. So, instead, we need to find healthier ways to face, embrace, and replace either the situation (and we may have no control, over that) or our way of thinking about it (which we can change.)
Change the metaphor. Rather than seeing everything as scary, a place of hell, a war or battle (and using related language eg in battle language you would talk of gearing up for battle, or war, against opponents, of fights, of battles, of being wounded etc) see the situation as a dance with someone, and in dancing it takes only one person to change one step for the dance to change. How would your language change? It would be about movement, lightness, harmony, working as a team, in a group, co-operation, supporting your partner. If you see things through colours. instead of seeing things through a red lens, how would life look if the lens were blue, or green, or a more spiritual colour, purple?
Be NOW HERE rather than NO WHERE. Aim to live as fully in the present moment as possible. A tiny change makes a big difference. Ask how life would be if you weren’t thinking the negative thought. Who would you be without the negative thought? Then key into how life would look and feel and take small steps to bring that about.
Choice – not obligation. Rather than engaging your automatic pilot, give yourself choices. How else could I react in this moment? How would I like to be reacting instead? What different coping strategies can I employ? Approach your situations with curiosity – “What if I treated others by facing up to them?” “What if were to dance with them, what would be my preferred dance?” How funny would we look as we swirled round the floor?” “What if instead of criticising them, I created thoughts of love for them – not romantic love, but compassion, understanding, wondering why they are as they are, what is their life story?”
Learn to let go. Could I just accept things as they are, without any need for them to be different? Some days you’re the statue, other days you are the pigeon! Could I simply remind myself in any moment to just “Let Go!” For more on this go to the Sedona Method website.
Self-care. Ask yourself, does bullying yourself (which is what being unkind to yourself and treating yourself harshly really is) really work? Find one thing each day for a month that you can do for you or to you to be kind to yourself…a spa day away, a weekend away, time out to read a book, a swim, a meditation, a meal with a friend. Phone a friend and ask that you only talk about positive things. Do things for you, top up your energy bank.
Self-love. Above all, learn to love yourself. Until you love yourself and can give love to yourself, you will find it difficult to give love to another.
START Now, and alongside facing your demons, and well-done for facing up to them by the way, get to work on developing a positive mental mindset.
Read – Loving What Is by Byron Katie
Read – Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Read - I ♥ Me by Dr David Hamilton
Research online for resources on Positive Thinking
Like attracts like
As you think -
so you get.