Learning how to stop negative thinking could go a long way to improving your health, relationships, and ability to set and reach goals. You’ll feel better, too!
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of “positive thinking,” a phrase the minister Norman Vincent Peale’s brought to the world in “The Power of Positive Thinking,” first published in 1952. But those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression tend to see the problem in the “glass half empty” way — we worry that we don’t know how to stop negative thinking.
The specifics count. Learning how to stop negative thinking means you have to catch yourself when you’re doing it. Then you might distract yourself, listening to upbeat music on your headphones on the bus rather than reading email. Or you might focus on learning how to change negative thinking. Let’s say you begin to imagine that your daughter is in trouble whenever she fails to answer a text within a half hour. You might remind yourself that she could simply be busy with her activities or forgot to charge her phone.
It’s important to learn how to stop negative thinking or change it because the habit, if it goes on all the time, triggers emotions that have bad effects on your health.
However, learning how to stop negative thinking isn’t the whole story. According to ancient Stoic philosophy and many thinkers since then, your self-esteem and decisions will improve if you cultivate the trick of putting aside your emotions — good and bad. When you have an important choice to make, you want to think clearly.
And sometimes that means facing the bad stuff. We don’t want our pets to die, yet they will. We don’t want our parents to die, yet they will. We don’t want people to disappoint us, yet they will.
Peaceful, happy people are realistic. They aren’t surprised when things go wrong.
Know thyself. You may be inclined to zig-zags, soaring hope, and crashes. You may be perpetually trying to do the impossible. We all know people who keep banging their head against the same wall. If you’re one of them, negative thinking is your friend. You need to be realistic and change your goals or armor yourself against disappointment.
On the other hand, if you can’t imagine anything going right, ever, you need to practice the many techniques to change negative thinking.
Make a point of sharing good news with people who will be happy for you and respond enthusiastically. And return the favor. Be happy for other people and celebrate their successes. Put aside your envy or a tendency to second-guess: “You’re engaged? To that guy who left his wife when the kids were still little?”
Make a point of doing good deeds. Volunteer. Especially on a bad day, stop to give money to a panhandler or give directions. Push aside thoughts like “Nothing I do will make a difference.”
Pick up hobbies that help you notice beauty in your environment. We live in a time when everyone is taking photos with their phones — which can be annoying. But taking photos when appropriate can help you see things you wouldn’t notice. Spend time in green areas and learn to recognize flowers, trees, or birds.
Keep learning. Boredom is bad for relationships and work performance. Spend time with people you enjoy and share activities that are good for you and new or challenging. Exercise and hobby buddies will improve your health.
Set up realistic goals and a strategy to achieve them.
Be kind to yourself. During a rough period, perhaps after a breakup, job disappointment, or health challenge, remember that nearly all problems are common. The details vary, but the big picture doesn’t. Think in phrases like, “Most people are hurt when….” Accepting responsibility for your mistakes is easier if you know you are not the only person who has made those mistakes. You don’t have to dwell on the mistake, either. Instead, learn your lesson and do better next time.
June 24, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN