- How to Stop Being Negative: 37 Habits to Stop Negativity Forever
- What Is Negativity?
- Where Do Negative Thoughts Originate?
- The Effects of Negative Thinking
- How to Stop Being Negative: 37 Steps to Stop Negativity in Its Tracks
- Create Distance
- 1. Who in your life is negative?
- 2. Distance yourself.
- 3. If they are family, you can simply reduce the time you spend around them.
- 4. Don’t feel guilty about cutting negative people from your life.
- 5. Don’t argue with the negative people, or get drawn into their drama.
- 6. Like attracts like.
- 7. Take up a new hobby.
- Recite Positive Affirmations
- Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Thoughts
- Practice Gratitude
- Take Control of Your Life
- 21. Stop mind-reading.
- 22. Stop watching the news.
- 23. Set goals.
- 24. Stop multitasking.
- 25. Do things that have a purpose.
- 26. Don’t think about the past.
- 27. Get more done.
- 28. Rest.
- 29. Eat healthy.
- 30. Exercise.
- 31. Reduce your social media time.
- 32. Live your life, not theirs.
- 33. Stay clean and organized.
- 34. Make a “to do” list.
- 35. Cut things out of your life.
- 36. Say “no” more often.
- 37. Remove physical clutter from your life.
- Positive thoughts make you feel good.
- 21 Things You Can Do TODAY to STOP Being Negative
- How to Stop Being Negative(21 Things You Can Do TODAY)
- Good Looking Negative Loser
- #4 DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM NEGATIVE PEOPLE AND THEIR TOXIC REACTIONS
- #5 STOP BEING SARCASTIC
- #6 STOP BEING A HATER
- #7 DO WHAT YOU WANT
- #8 GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
- #9 REWARD YOURSELF FOR A JOB WELL DONE
- #10 RECOGNIZE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- #11 NO MORE NEWS, NO MORE POLITICS
- #12 CLEAN YOUR ROOM
- #13 LOVE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING OTHER THAN YOURSELF
- #14 GET SOME SUNLIGHT
- #15 SET ONE DAILY SMALL, SPECIFIC, ACHIEVABLE GOAL
- #16 STOP MULTITASKING
- #17 START EXERCISING/STOP EXERCISING
- #18 HAVE AT LEAST ONE NEW EXPERIENCE EVERY 10 DAYS
- #19 USE BOREDOM TO DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE
- #20 DO ANYTHING ELSE THAN BE NEGATIVE
- #21 EVERYTHING YOU DO SHOULD HAVE A PURPOSE THAT YOU CAN DEFINE
- 12 Powerful Tips to Overcome Negative Thoughts (and Embrace Positive Thinking)
- 11 Ways To Stop Negative Thought Patterns And Move Forward
- Center for Healthy Minds
- 1. Notice the Good
- 2. Express Gratitude Regularly
- 3. Compliment Other People Regularly
- 4. Notice Your Breath
- 5. Cultivate Compassion
- 6. Bounce Back from Challenges
- 7. Work with Negative Emotions
- 8. Practice Mindfulness of the Body
- 9. Explore Our Common Tendency to Be Happy and Avoid Suffering
- A Practical Guide For Positive Thinking (Works Instantly!)
- Take action
- Success is a result of daily actions…
- We Take a Good Thing for Granted
- Ask Me How My Day Was
- “Are You Actually Complaining Right Now?”
- Reprogramming My Brain
- Don’t Let the Good Go Unnoticed
- Putting Positivity Into Practice
- Even When It’s Bad, It’s Not That Bad
- Make Sure To Share The Love
- Life Is Exactly As Good (Or As Bad) As We Choose To Experience It
- Your Turn: List 3 Good Things That Happened Today
- The Four Keys to Overcoming Negative Thinking…for Good
- KEY ONE: RECOGNISE & STEP BACK FROM NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
- KEY TWO: COMING TO YOUR SENSES
- KEY THREE: REGULAR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
- KEY FOUR: HELPFUL QUESTIONS FOR UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS
- PRACTICING THE FOUR KEYS
- 5 Ways You Don’t Realize You’re Being Negative
- 1. Negative Inferences
- 2. Inability to Accept a Compliment
- 3. “Yeah, But…”
- 4. Reacting Instead of Responding
- 5. Feeling Better at Someone Else’s Expense
How to Stop Being Negative: 37 Habits to Stop Negativity Forever
Last Updated on October 22, 2019
There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission of anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Please do your own research before making any online purchase.
Thinking negatively is second nature to a lot of people.
We often do it and don’t even realize we are doing so. But has it gotten to the point where others have criticized you for being negative?
If so, then this is a habit that can severely hamper your social standing. The truth is, being negative won’t get you very far.
The more negative you are, the worse you will likely feel, which just starts an ugly cycle.
Learn to stop the cycle of negativity in your life so you can grow and improve.
If you are worried that your negative attitude is affecting you, then you can start working on strategies to reverse that.
In this article, I will show you 37 strategies you can implement to stop being negative.
(Side note: One simple way to stop being negative is to build the “right” mindset. To learn how, I recommend checking out this book that will help you learn how to create calmness in your life and eliminate negative thinking.)
But first, let’s talk about negativity—specifically, how it can hurt both your personal and professional life.
What Is Negativity?
Negativity is an overall attitude that one may have about something, whether it is actually a problem or not.
Negativity refers to a certain way people can see things, a label that people can put on what they see, and a way of describing one’s feelings about what they see.
The problem here lies with people’s minds. Our minds have a tendency to default to the negative, and to look at things in negative ways. This means that people often expect the worst unless they are able to think positively.
People who are negative are always skeptical of suggestions, and tend to reject any advice.
There are people who are always skeptical of suggestions and tend to reject any advice.
While this is used as a survival mechanism to be able to find what is wrong in a situation and shield oneself from danger, this is not a healthy way to live life and develop connections with other people.
Do you see the glass as being half empty or half full? If you tend to think in a positive way, you will always see the glass as being half full, because you are looking on the bright side of things.
But if you see the glass as being half-empty, you are focusing on the weaknesses of the glass rather than its strengths.
Whenever a challenge comes up, a negative person will default to predicting a negative outcome before it has even happened. Being a negative thinker is also referred to as being a pessimist.
Where Do Negative Thoughts Originate?
Negative thoughts are often the product of established patterns that are related to our belief systems. This could be about a variety of things, such as self-esteem, productivity, finances, relationships, a career, or anything else.
Do you know where your negative thinking comes from?
If you want to understand where your negative thinking comes from, there are several things that you should consider.
Do you find that you complain a lot, or are often sarcastic?
Do you blame other people and never accept blame yourself?
These may be some factors that lead to negativity.
Some others include:
- Often criticizing people
- Being attracted to drama
- Having a victim mentality
- Always expecting the worst
- Feeling depressed
- Taking things personally
- Dwelling on bad news
One important thing to know is that when you are around negative people, you will become more negative yourself. Negativity tends to be contagious.
The Effects of Negative Thinking
When you have negative thoughts, your brain gets into fight-or-flight mode. This stress response was great for people who lived many generations ago and had to be aware of natural predators, but in our current culture, it is not necessary for survival.
Having chronic stress is detrimental on people’s health, both physically and mentally. It impacts one’s overall well-being, even if that person does not realize it.
If you live in fear, you may also miss out on possibilities because you are holding yourself back.
Constantly being in a negative emotional state can even lead to eating disorders, including both over-eating and not eating enough, which both can further impact one’s health.
This can lead to weight gain or weight loss that happens quickly and in ways that at harmful to your vital organs.
Being negative also influences those around you, including your friends, co-workers, family, and children, who can then grow up to be negative people themselves.
Constantly being in a negative emotional state can lead to are more stressful life.
If you are unable to see the positive aspect of things, or you fail to have faith or trust in anyone, you are putting yourself at risk for leading an unhappy life.
This will cause you to live without any peace of mind because you will be in a constant state of conflict.
How to Stop Being Negative: 37 Steps to Stop Negativity in Its Tracks
It is important to stop living with negativity. It can impact your overall health, and even the health of the people around you.
Furthermore, if you are constantly thinking in a negative way, people are not going to want to be around you because they will notice how much you tend to bring them down.
If you allow yourself to drain your life of joy and happiness, you will be missing out on the best things that life has to offer. If you are wondering how to stop being negative, look at the following steps to start making a change.
You want to surround yourself with as much positivity as you can, which will require you to stay away from negative influences.
You have the power to pick and choose whom you spend your time with. You should consider your options wisely in order to get the best outcome.
1. Who in your life is negative?
Identify the negative people in your life who may be bringing you down. Specifically, think about how the people you are spending time with make you feel.
Begin by identifying the negative people in your life. Sometimes, it may be yourself.
2. Distance yourself.
Put some distance between you and any friends, family members, or co-workers who you think may be contributing to your negativity.
Limit the amount of time you spend with them, and make sure to monitor your feelings when you are around them so you can know when it is time to leave.
3. If they are family, you can simply reduce the time you spend around them.
If certain family members shows signs of being a toxic person, maybe limit your time with them to just holidays and birthdays, especially if you find that they bring you down on a regular basis.
Chances are, if you feel this way about a family member, there are other people in the family who feel the same way.
4. Don’t feel guilty about cutting negative people from your life.
You have to do what is best for you. The positive effects this will have on your life will outweigh the negative.
5. Don’t argue with the negative people, or get drawn into their drama.
Just decrease the time you spend with them. Fade out.
Do not engage in problems that are stemming from negativity. Instead, keep your positive attitude and walk away.
Stop yourself from engaging with the negativity of others.
6. Like attracts like.
If you want to be positive, surround yourself with positive people. They will help you maintain your happiness. Make some new positive friends.
Not only will they make you feel good, but they will also rub off on you. Remember, you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, so make sure those people are positive.
Try to emulate their positive attitude. When you act positive long enough, you begin to become positive.
7. Take up a new hobby.
Find a hobby that other positive people enjoy. This way, you can meet some like-minded people who enjoy doing the same things that you do.
Having a hobby is actually quite good for you in many ways. Pick one (or two) from these lists of hobbies for men and hobbies for women.
Recite Positive Affirmations
You can use positive affirmations to re-frame your thinking and change your attitude about life. Affirmations are short, positive statements that will encourage you to focus on your goals while getting rid of your self-defeating beliefs.
8. Re-program your mind.
Here are some examples of affirmations that you can use:
- I can let go of small things.
- I can always find a silver lining.
- I will start looking at the glass as being half-full.
- I am in control.
- I will replace criticism with compliments.
9. Adopt an affirmation habit.
Take some time every day to repeat 5-10 positive affirmations. You can do this however often you feel like you need to, but make it a point to stop at least twice a day to take the time to do this.
Use positive affirmations to re-frame your method of thinking and change your attitude about life.
Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Thoughts
What are some of the negative thoughts that you commonly have? Think about how you could possibly replace these thoughts with positive ones. Create a positive spin wherever you can.
10. Practice replacing negative thoughts with positive.
Let’s say that you always dread waking up in the morning and getting out of bed. Turn that around into looking forward to waking up and starting a new day.
Need a little help? Here are 29 tips on how to be more positive in life and work.
11. Recognize when you are falling into negative thinking patterns.
Some signs that you are falling into a negative thought pattern include limiting your thoughts to black-and-white beliefs without considering anything in the middle, trying to predict the future, making over-generalizations, and catastrophizing small events.
Cultivate a growth mindset to help you overcome negative thinking and improve your life.
12. Make the effort.
Changing your negative thoughts to positive ones requires a conscious effort.
To eliminate negative thoughts, you need to recognize them and actively replace them with positive thoughts. This is similar to replacing former beliefs that don’t benefit you with ones that do.
Practicing gratitude is a huge factor in overall life satisfaction. It is important to realize how grateful you are for the things around you and stop to appreciate the small things in life. Actively practice gratitude in order to stop being negative.
13. Do this regularly.
People who practice gratitude on a regular basis by stopping to reflect upon the things they are thankful for have more positive feelings, get better sleep, are more compassionate, and have stronger immune systems.
Realize how grateful you are for the things around you and stop to appreciate the small things in life.
14. Remind yourself of what is good in your life.
These may be small things that someone wouldn’t normally notice, like the pretty flowers you pass on your commute to work or the fresh foods you have available to eat.
Remind yourself of how privileged you are, even if you don’t always feel that way,
Want to create a daily routine filled with quiet, self-reflection? If so, check out Effortless Journaling — How to Start a Journal, Make It a Habit, and Find Endless Writing Topics.With this book, you can make the journaling habit a part of your daily routine.
15. Get a gratitude journal and write three things you are grateful for every morning.
Your gratitude writings could be written on toilet paper and the theory behind gratitude will still work. You don’t “need” fancy gratitude journals.
BUT… they do make the process easier. Check out the best gratitude journals to help you in the process of daily gratitude journaling.
If you start your day off with gratitude, you are setting yourself up to practice gratitude for the rest of the day. It also helps start your day out on a positive note.
16. Stop complaining.
Where does complaining get you, anyway? Nowhere. So just stop it!
17. Tell someone you love them.
Whether it is someone who you say this to all of the time or someone you have never said it to before, go ahead and tell people how you feel.
Let people you love know that you love them.
18. Don’t gossip or listen to anyone gossiping.
Gossiping is toxic. Don’t get wrapped up in it, or involved with other people who enjoy this negative activity.
Gossiping is only one of the many bad habits you should break if you want to get rid of negativity in your life.
19. Say “Thank You.”
If someone does something nice for you, no matter how small it is, tell them that you are grateful.
If someone holds the door for you or lets you into their lane in a traffic jam, either say thank you or give a friendly wave and smile to show your gratitude.
If you want to extend your thanks in a professional setting, write a thoughtful “thank you” card.
“Thank you” is more than about acknowledging kindness. It makes you feel better and another person feel better. It is a true win-win, and can even be instrumental in deepening casual relationships.
20. Express yourself.
Tell people the positive feelings that you experience. This will help spread the joy to the people who are around you.
Take Control of Your Life
Feeling like you are in control is a big factor in staying positive. You realize you can make your own choices and your life can go however you want it to go.
Make your own decisions about what you do with your time and who you spend your time with.
21. Stop mind-reading.
Making assumptions and trying to read other people’s minds will result in an acceleration of the fear that already exists in your mind.
It can increase your anxiety and lead to a sense of panic. It is important to remember that your thoughts are only thoughts—they are not real circumstances.
Finally, never assume that someone is doing (or not doing) something because of you or something you did.
22. Stop watching the news.
There is way too much negativity in the news. Spend your time watching something more uplifting—or, better yet, get involved in a hobby that makes you happy and gives you a sense of purpose.
23. Set goals.
Make your goals small but achievable, and then reward yourself when you succeed. Having goals is inherently optimistic because it allows you to continue to have faith that you will accomplish things that are out of the norm.
24. Stop multitasking.
Do one thing at a time, and do it well. When you try to multitask, you are not doing anything really well and you’re also wasting your time—you are just doing a lot of things to get them crossed off of your to-do list. If you want to be productive and succeed, pay attention to one thing at a time.
Multi-tasking DOES NOT WORK. Focus on one thing at a time.
25. Do things that have a purpose.
When you finish doing something, you want to feel like you have accomplished a task. Do things that have a purpose, such as volunteering or getting some exercise. There are a lot of things you can do to give you a sense of purpose.
26. Don’t think about the past.
Ruminating is not a healthy thing to do. Try to live in the moment rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
27. Get more done.
The more productive you are, the better you will feel. Do your best to use your time wisely so you can be efficient in the work that you do and stop wasting time on things that do not benefit your life or lead you to your ultimate goals.
Your body needs appropriate rest to rejuvenate itself and recover from the day. Make sure that you sleep on a schedule so you are not trying to play catch-up with your sleep after a long week.
29. Eat healthy.
Eating healthy will make you feel good inside and out. This will help you stay positive and feel good about yourself.
- Decrease processed food
- Practice portion control
- Healthy Habits
Exercise increases endorphins, which will naturally make you feel good and be positive. Try to get moderate exercise at least five days per week for 45 minutes each day. This will help stop negativity.
Regular exercise helps improve your mood and physical health.
Not only is your time being wasted on social media, but you are also probably spending a lot of time comparing your life with the lives of others.
Spend as little time as possible on social media, and, if possible, remove it completely.
32. Live your life, not theirs.
Don’t worry what other people are doing or what they have in their lives. Live your life as best you can, and don’t try to be someone else or compare yourself to others.
33. Stay clean and organized.
Living and working in a tidy area makes a huge difference in your stress. Clean up your space, putting away anything that you don’t use on a daily basis and leaving a lot of clear space so you don’t feel overwhelmed by a mess.
34. Make a “to do” list.
If you feel overwhelmed in your life, write down everything you need to do. Not only will this help you have a visual representation of the things you need to accomplish, it will also make you feel really good as you are able to cross things off your list.
35. Cut things out of your life.
If you participate in activities or events that you don’t enjoy, don’t spend your time doing them.
Leave as much time as you can to do things that you really enjoy doing so you will spend less time dreading things or wishing you were somewhere else.
36. Say “no” more often.
Don’t feel obligated to do things that other people want you to do. Only say “yes” to things that you have time to do, and things that you actually want to do.
37. Remove physical clutter from your life.
Clutter inevitably makes you feel stressed out and overwhelmed. Spend some time each day getting rid of physical clutter and giving yourself the free space that you deserve.
Generally, your mind can produce two categories of thoughts—positive and negative. Your thoughts influence your emotions and change how you feel.
Positive thoughts make you feel good.
Negative thoughts make you feel unpleasant. It certainly takes some practice to stop negativity and start having a positive outlook on life.
But if you are able to change your perspective on things, you will be able to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life. Start with the steps mentioned in this article and see what changes they make in your overall well-being.
Finally, a simple way to stop being negative is to build the “right” mindset. To learn how, I recommend checking out this book that will help you learn how to create calmness in your life and eliminate negative thinking.
21 Things You Can Do TODAY to STOP Being Negative
How to Stop Being Negative
(21 Things You Can Do TODAY)
updated: July 5, 2015
Anytime I decide to write up an article with a “generic” title, I have to make sure it’s stuff that you probably haven’t seen or realized.
This is Get-A-Life (GoodLookingLoser.com) and not an eHow content farm.
I’m a legitimate Douchebag well before I’m a “self-improvement guru”.
At the same time, I purposely DO NOT read other articles on the subject because I try to write up EVERYTHING from my own life. So I don’t know if this advice is elsewhere.
Either way, I legitimately hope this helps your life, it comes directly from my own life.
I used to be a negative person, way more than I even knew.
The same suggestions below can also apply to treating day-to-day depression.
Good Looking Negative Loser
I had a HUGE problem with negativity until I was 26 years old.
The ironic part is –
I didn’t even know it.
Concerning this matter – ignorance isn’t bliss.
Negativity can seriously lower your quality of life, prevent you from accomplishing your goals and even take years off your life by keeping a constant level of cortisol (stress-hormone) circulating in your veins. It can even make you fatigued and fat (again, cortisol).
Negativity is a beyond just a situational mindset.
It’s an entire lifestyle. Not a healthy one.
The good news is, using a lot of suggestions below I was able to become a super positive person and reap the benefits.
Again, this article is written in hindsight.
I didn’t even know I was a negative person and I didn’t even realize I was using the advice I’m giving below.
I actually made this list in under 5 minutes. I have a tremendous understanding of my former negative/depressed/underachieving/full of shit self.
#1 ADMIT THAT YOU ARE A NEGATIVE PERSON
(and that it’s negatively affecting your life…)
Just like Alcoholic’s Anonymous –
The first step is admitting you have a problem.
I grew up in Washington DC.
The people in DC smile a little more than people in Philadelphia and New York. But not by much.
It’s a goal driven, socially-cutthroat and high-stress city. Just that type of environment tends to produce very uptight, pessimistic and sometimes- straight up ANGRY people.
I was one of them.
It never occurred to me that I was a negative person.
I liked to think of it as “realistic” or “happy but never satisfied”.
Starting 2007, I began listening to the stuff from the ‘seduction community’. Unlike 95% of the stuff, the insights on positivity/negativity were useful and motivated me to make some changes.
It wasn’t until I moved out west to San Diego, where everyone is smiling, playing or high, that I truly realized that I was a pretty negative person.
At first, I had a difficult time fitting in – everyone was always so happy and positive. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the West Coast. One day sitting by the pool in Mission Valley at 11am on a Thursday Morning, I realized that my life was great. It probably always had been. I just never let myself realize it.
I thought back to my life on the East Coast (in DC and Florida) and how there was always one-more-something I needed to do to be happy (lift a certain amount of weight, be a certain weight, have a certain GPA, buy a certain item, hook up with # girls, etc.). I realized how many hours I spent in my head thinking “what is wrong”. I realized how many hours I had spent with friends “venting” (just bitching about stuff and not doing anything about it) and listening to them do the same.
Those negative thoughts seemed far from my mind.
I had a long way to go, but it was a start.
Once you legitimately change your beliefs, you can change your thoughts.
Once you change your thoughts, you can change your feelings.
If it were only that easy though.
Advice like –
Just let it go!
Don’t worry about that!
… is beyond pointless.
I’ll see if I can help you though.
#2 IDENTITY NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
(when you start to think negatively, take timeout and try to put the breaks on as soon as possible)
Negativity is the result of repeated thought patterns.
The majority of the time – you aren’t trying to be negative, it just happens because your programmed that way.
Try to break these patterns.
After I realized I was a pretty negative person, through similar advice from various sources, I began to identify my negative thought patterns.
I realized that only I would turn a neutral situation into a negative one, but even worse – I’d often turn a positive situation into a negative one.
I realized (or was told, I don’t remember) that negativity is indeed A THOUGHT PATTERN.
An involuntary, unconscious or automatic thought pattern.
Just like approach anxiety, negativity is a repeated cycle that causes a physiological and psychological response that is outside your control when you are in the moment (and somewhat afterward too).
Through excessive mental masturbation, I realized my specific thought patterns and vowed to break them.
The following are among the steps I took to break these patterns-
#3 RECOGNIZE OTHER PEOPLE’S NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS AND THOUGHT PATTERN
A big step to get a grip on your own negativity is recognizing negative behavior from OTHERS.
By identifying negative behavior when you see it, you’ll slowly be less apt to demonstrate it.
You’ll also not want to be around it because it’s contagious.
I now have an ultra sensitive “negativity radar”.
I can’t stand to be around negative people.
So I almost never put myself in that position.
There is often direct connection between negative people, miserable people and unsuccessful people.
Sometimes it’s all 3!
#4 DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM NEGATIVE PEOPLE AND THEIR TOXIC REACTIONS
You may have to distance yourself from some of your friends and family.
I definitely did this and it was completely worth it.
Anyone that had tried to ‘bring me down’ more than 1 time, past or present, I stopped talking to with absolutely no notice. I simply deleted their cell phone number, Facebook and whatever ways that they’d try to contact me. I haven’t talked to 95% of them since. Some were even “best” friends.
Once you become a positive person, you won’t feel any excitement or comfort by chilling with negative people.
Try to replace them with positive people. It’s really helpful if you have a friend (even if you don’t know him/her that well) that is super positive. You can humbly ask them how and why they are so positive and gain some insight on their thought patterns.
Positive people love helping others, so don’t be afraid to express your admiration for their emotional health.
If your whole group of friends is negative – even better reason to ditch them and do your own thing. You aren’t going to change them. Every day you spend with negative people filling your thoughts from their insecurities is a step backwards. Whether you ditch them today or tomorrow is up to you – you eventually will have to distance yourself if you are going to be anything special.
#5 STOP BEING SARCASTIC
My ‘sense of humor’ has really changed over the past 5 years.
I laugh and smile at things that were previously not humorous to me.
I also don’t laugh or smile at thing that previously were hilarious.
Sarcasm is often a form of negativity, even if its funny, it needs to be limited.
“Wow this steak is great.” :rollseyes:
“Shelly’s party was really fun. I hope she has another one.” :rollseyes:
People once thought I was the most “hilarious” person and would always laugh at my sarcastic jokes. For 2.5 decades it reinforced and rewarded my negative sarcastic thought patterns.
I broke this very easily, I simply just stopped making sarcastic remarks and caught and corrected myself when I did.
Negative people tend to have a sarcastic sense of humor. The reverse is true as well.
Not always, but sarcasm tends to come from deep-seeded bitterness.
There are some positive people that are sarcastic, but I haven’t met too many.
#6 STOP BEING A HATER
Haters are jealous, negative people.
Thankfully, I didn’t really have to break this one.
In my early 20’s I was a bit of a hater though.
These days, unfortunately, it’s much more acceptable and popular to try and tear people down rather than to speak positively about them.
One of the better ways to break this cycle is to simply HAVE SOMETHING GOING FOR YOURSELF. Or at least be working on a worthwhile goal(s) where you literally don’t have the urge or time to be a jealous chump.
Even if you are just starting out and looking for validation, it’s better than being a hater.
Once you accomplish some stuff, you’ll get your validation.
And Once you get ahead of people, you’ll want to help them rather than put them down.
#7 DO WHAT YOU WANT
Negative people are often negative because they don’t Do What They Want.
With the exception of sitting around and pouting, you should ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU WANT but particularly if you need to break negative thought cycles.
People that are negative often have a “victim mentality” where they constantly seem to find themselves being taken advantage of and then relish their inferior position.
If you DO WHAT YOU WANT, you won’t find yourself in compromising positions or with regrets.
- “How to Not Give a Fuck What Other People Think (A Fresh Perspective of An Overdone Topic)”
#8 GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
I suffered from something known as “athlete mentality,” if something went “wrong” it deserved to be punished. Since there was not usually a coach around to do it, I would punish myself.
I used to think this was the attitude of a winner when it was just the attitude of an insecure perfectionist.
When stuff goes wrong these days, for the most part, I realize that “wrong” is a temporary condition and I take responsibly by FIXING it instead of taking responsibility by punishing myself.
This one isn’t easy but the first step is realizing that you are often doing more harm than good by ‘punishing yourself’
#9 REWARD YOURSELF FOR A JOB WELL DONE
Negative people only punish themselves and hardly ever reward themselves.
This is the second-half of #7.
Negative people love to punish their mistakes/failures and almost never reward their achievements/successes.
Not rewarding success doesn’t reinforce the effort and mindset that it took to get there. To break negative thought patterns, we need to reinforce positive thought patterns.
Even if it’s just a piece of Chocolate cake, reward yourself for once. And Don’t feel guilty when you do.
In fact, reward yourself several times a day. Not with chocolate cake though.
#10 RECOGNIZE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Negative people are quick to recognize and remind of failures and seldom recognize their achievements.
Even if you aren’t where you want to be in life, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means you have work to do.
Chances are – you’ve done something you were once proud of in your life.
Rather than sitting there for 2 hours and thinking about what you haven’t accomplished yet, sit there for 2 hours and write a list of all the stuff you’ve accomplished – no matter how small, superficial or unspectacular IT COUNTS, YOU DID IT and YOU WERE PROUD OF IT.
These were some of the “achievements” on my list in 2008 –
- I made my varsity hockey team as a freshman in high school.
- I got a scholarship to the University of Florida.
- I was on the honor roll every single semester.
- I won “Most Likely to be President of the United States in 4th Grade”.
- I won “Best Body,” senior year of high school.
- I suck at basketball but I won “Most Improved Player” in 7th Grade.
- In 10th grade pottery class, the Senior Class President (Stacey) made a clay sculpture modeled after my ample butt cheeks.
#11 NO MORE NEWS, NO MORE POLITICS
Case in point – My Family.
They have no idea how hard it is for neutral/positive/not miserable people to be around them.
For every positive/feel good story there is in the news, there is 23(?) negative stories.
99.99% of the stuff in the “news” doesn’t even affect your life and even if it does – you can’t do anything about it and it can put you in a bad mood.
If you were on your deathbed I almost guarantee that you wouldn’t say, “Damn, I wish I watched more CNN/FoxNews.”
If you do think you might say that, it’s probably time to hang yourself.
Being an “informed citizen” or engaging in political debate with people usually is a waste of time. It’s a form of mental masturbation but it involves a partner or two.
After the bombing incident in Boston, I have been breaking this rule recently – discussing taxes, gun control and homeland security with people recently. Before, during and after the discussion – I’m pissed off, even if I’m talking to people that I agree with.
Instead of mentally masturbating to news networks – why don’t you just masturbate to porn? It’s more enjoyable and you won’t waste as much time.
#12 CLEAN YOUR ROOM
How your room/house looks is often a reflection of your life.
I don’t know about you, but cleaning my room somehow makes me feel better if I was in a bad mood.
If you have issues with negativity, it’s a good idea to keep your place organized or clean it on every Sunday before your week begins.
#13 LOVE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING OTHER THAN YOURSELF
Even if you have to buy a dog to take care of, do it.
I have lots of stuffed animals and I make sure they are cared for, loved and fed.
#14 GET SOME SUNLIGHT
You probably know that the amount of sunlight you get/don’t get has an effect on your overall mood.
If you don’t, the University of Chicago explains.
I go tanning in the Winter (Put SPF on your face) and I even bought this Happy Mood Sunlight.
(the sunlight doesn’t shoot out ANY bad UV-rays, it’s just all the good stuff!)
#15 SET ONE DAILY SMALL, SPECIFIC, ACHIEVABLE GOAL
People caught in negative self-defeating cycles often feel overwhelmed and feel like they aren’t making progress.
That’s often because they aren’t.
But even if they were – they wouldn’t know it.
In order to not be overwhelmed and make progress, you have to know where you are going.
Choose ONE thing you want to accomplish today.
Write it down.
Reward yourself when you get there.
For more information on how to structure and achieve your goals- looky here.
#16 STOP MULTITASKING
Multitasking is often another word for “disorganized”.
After living in 7 different cities, getting to know 1000’s of people, I think I’ve only met a handful that can ACTUALLY multitask and have significant accomplishments.
I’ve sure met a ton of people that thought they could.
Rather than accomplishing goals, they multitask.
I’m not suggesting that all multitaskers are negative people, I’m suggesting that you can accomplish more by focusing on ONE goal at a time. Accomplishing pre-determined goals (see above) is a big part of building a positive lifestyle.
If your goal is to BEAT NEGATIVITY, then don’t multitask it.
#17 START EXERCISING/STOP EXERCISING
Sorry for the generic suggestion but it’s true.
I don’t know if it’s causation, correlation or if I don’t know what I’m talking about – but most of the negative people I know don’t exercise.
Get in the gym (or go play outside) and get your brain to squirt out some natural morphine to make you feel better. You only need 20-25 minutes.
The less common flip-side is a minority of negative people that exercise WAY TOO MUCH.
These people, like myself in 2003-2005, are using the gym to avoid life.
It’s not a healthy release, it’s a form of denial.
In that case, refer to suggestion #14.
#18 HAVE AT LEAST ONE NEW EXPERIENCE EVERY 10 DAYS
Force yourself into the moment.
If you are reading this discuss, you probably can’t name 5 times in the past 5 months that you’ve had a lot of fun.
When you are in the middle of a negative cycle, you are inside your head.
When you are inside your head, you’re not in the moment.
In life – you are either INSIDE your head or OUTSIDE of your head and in the moment.
Having too much of a routine, especially if it’s one that you don’t really enjoy- doesn’t give you a chance get to give outside your head.
Schedule something new at least once every 7-10 days. Even if it’s walking into a new store and not buying anything, it’s better than being inside your head aboard the negative train.
Read more –
- “Take Good Looking Loser’s Life or Death Test”
(How to Be Productive But Still Have a Life)
#19 USE BOREDOM TO DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE
Boredom is an opportunity.
Rather than spending time on an activity to be “not bored,” invest yourself time into something productive.
Especially the young guys reading this-
When you grow up you won’t have time to be bored.
You’ll be working or doing something that will probably be worse than boredom.
You’ll wish you invested your time and not wasted it on doing mindless shit like writing comments on other people’s YouTube videos or browsing other people’s Facebook pictures. You have a chance to get ahead while everyone else is watching reruns of Family Guy.
I was good at this, the only reason this website exists is because I invested my time in all the subjects that I discuss.
I’m glad I did that rather than smoking pot.
#20 DO ANYTHING ELSE THAN BE NEGATIVE
While you are being negative, nothing happens and nobody cares.
Regardless of how much mental energy you devote to negative thought processes, it doesn’t really affect the world.
It’s a lot of effort with no reward.
The day will come when a negative cycle starts and you will either MAN UP and say “okay fuck this, I’m outta here,” or continue to sit there watching the movie of your life and trying to decide whether it should be called “My Struggle” or “FML”.
The day(s) will come where you will face that exact situation.
It’s how you handle it that will determine whether you are able to kill your negative thought patterns or remain the same person you have always been.
Go to the grocery store, walk around your block, play basketball, go shoot a gun, go do drugs, read a children’s book to a plant, go to sleep, go set bugs on fire, whatever- it’s time better spent than being in your head bitching yourself out.
Ideally, try to leave the house.
Ideally x 2, try to do something productive.
#21 EVERYTHING YOU DO SHOULD HAVE A PURPOSE THAT YOU CAN DEFINE
Nearly everything you do in life should have a purpose that you can translate to a single sentence.
This purpose should be obvious.
If you can’t find a purpose, you might want to eliminate the action/activity/behavior. It’s what we call a “time-waster”.
Your goal(s) will have obvious purpose, it’s random activities that need to be examined.
Outside of working on GoodLookingLoser.com, this is my breakdown of other things I did today and the meaning behind it-
4:30am – Woke up, took T3 (cytomel) and ate breakfast
purpose: I’m more productive when I get up super early.
5:00am – Checked my Fantasy Baseball league
purpose: This is one of my ONLY “acceptable time-wasters” because it doesn’t take much time and is entertaining to me
5:20am – Did PE exercises while watching ESPN
purpose: PE is not my main goal but it is a productive time for me.
7:00am – Researched Noni Juice and Posture Belts and Read a Story on the Boston Bombing
purpose: None of this was a complete waste of time, I got side tracked. (20 minutes)
11:30am – Looked through my wallet and took out old business cards I didn’t need
purpose: None, my wallet still had plenty of space. (2 minutes)
12:00pm – Watched a 1 minute YouTube video on the forum and wrote a 2 line response on the forum
purpose: Not a huge deal, but these types of things can get you sidetracked. (3 minutes)
2:30pm – Went to the Doctor’s and got my post-surgery stitches removed
purpose: Needed to, planned activity.
4:00pm – Drove to Chick-fil-a but decided not to eat there, went into Sports Authority after.
purpose: None, waste of time. (25 minutes)
6:00pm – Got caught up in a small talk conversation with my web-designer.
purpose: Waste of time. (5 minutes)
6:15pm – Watched the first 4 picks of the NFL Draft
purpose: Planned break from work. Allocated relax time.
All in all, not bad – maybe 55 minutes of wasted time.
Given purpose to your hours doesn’t mean you HAVE TO WORK the entire day.
It means that when you aren’t working, you are still being productive or enjoying designated time that you have set aside to “relax” periods.
This is similar to the Tom Hopkins principle of “I will do the most productive thing and every moment.”
I hope these were helpful.
If you noticed, I didn’t list –
“Look on the Bright Side, It’s not So Bad! Things Could Be Worse!”
Maybe that mentality is helpful for some people, it never helped me. I want my life and your life to be so much more than “… could be worse.”
It’s just not a very inspiring attitude. It is a mindset that encourages people to compare themselves to other people or similar. It’s often a defeatist attitude.
While it’s sometimes gratifying to realize that you are ahead of other people or not in the worst circumstances possible, it’s just a temporary distraction.
These are some of the things that I did to break my negative destructive cycles.
If you have suggestions (that you’ve ACTUALLY done), please share them below and tell us why they are effective.
Thank you for reading, I appreciate it!
Although not for a while, you’ll find that being negative is largely a choice once you break the cycle and thought patterns.
Maybe you can’t yet stop negative reactions, but you sure can try to prevent it from spiraling out of control – like it usually does.
12 Powerful Tips to Overcome Negative Thoughts (and Embrace Positive Thinking)
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
“Having a positive mental attitude is asking how something can be done rather than saying it can’t be done.”
“It’s better to be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist who is always right.”
It starts with just a thought or a feeling. Or maybe with a sentence spoken by someone else.
And then it starts to drag you down.
Into feeling sorry for yourself, worried or into thinking “what’s the point of taking any action at all?” as you walk around in a funk with your own personal rain cloud above your head.
Negativity that wells up inside of you or in the world around you can quickly become toxic and hold you back from living the life you want.
So in this week’s post I want to share 12 tips and habits that have helped me – and still help me – to prevent and to overcome my own negative thoughts but also the negativity that’s sometimes around me.
Bonus: Download a free step-by-step checklist that will show you how to overcome negative thinking (it’s easy to save as a PDF or print out for whenever you need it during your day or week).
1. When you’re in what seems like a negative situation, find what’s good or helpful.
If you’ve had a setback, stumbled or failed then things might look bleak and so negative thoughts may start to crop up and threaten to fill your view of this situation.
To counteract that ask yourself better questions.
Questions that will help you to feel better but also to learn so you can grow.
- What’s one good thing about this situation?
- What’s one thing I can do differently the next time to likely have a better outcome?
- What’s one thing I can learn from this?
- How would my best friend support and help me in this situation?
2. Reminder: people don’t care that much about what you say or do.
It’s easy to fall into negative thoughts when you think about what people may say or think if you do or do not do something.
And so you zap your personal power and may trap yourself in analysis paralysis.
Getting stuck in your head and in thoughts like that will drag you further away from what you want and from reality.
Because the truth is that people don’t have that much time, attention or energy to think or talk about what you do.
They have their hands and minds full with their kids, jobs, pets, hobbies and their own fears and worries (like for example what people may think of them).
This realization and reminder can help you to set yourself free from the constraints you may create in your own mind and help you to start taking small – or bigger steps – towards what you deep down want in your life.
3. Question the thought.
One thing I like to do when a negative thought taps me on the shoulder and tries to start growing in my mind is to simply to question that thought.
I ask myself:
Should I take you seriously?
This most often leads me to say: well, no, I honestly shouldn’t.
Because at that moment in time I’m tired. Or hungry. Or overworked and so negativity can try to cloud my mind.
Or I am getting too focused on one small mistake or one bad day. Instead of focusing on the other 95% of my life that tends to be positive.
Sometimes this question helps me to see that just because I did one small thing wrong doesn’t mean that I did poorly overall.
Or that this one negative thing doesn’t mean that things will get worse and stay like that for a long time. Not if I chose optimism and to take small steps forward.
Basically, this question gives me a reality check and grounds me to a level-headed perspective again.
4. Replace the negativity in your surroundings.
What you let into your mind in your everyday life will have big effect on you. So start questioning what you allow in.
What are the top 3 sources of negativity in my life?
It could be people, websites, magazines, podcasts, music and so on.
Then ask yourself:
What can I do to spend less time with these 3 sources this week?
If you can’t find ways to do that right now for all three of them then take a smaller step and focus on doing that with just one of these sources.
Then spend the time you’ve freed up this week on more positive sources and people that are already in your life or that you want to explore and perhaps make a new part of it.
5. Stop making mountains out of molehills.
To stop a small negative thought from becoming a big monster in your mind confront it early. You can do that by for example using tip #3 in this article.
Or you can zoom out. Do that by asking yourself a question like:
Will this matter in 5 years? Or even 5 weeks?
This answer is likely in most cases that it won’t and that you were only starting to make a mountain out of a molehill (or out of plain air).
6. Let it out and talk it over.
Keeping negative thoughts that are starting to cloud your whole mind bottled up won’t help.
So let them out. Talk the situation or your thoughts over with someone close to you.
Just venting for a few minutes can often help you to see the situation in new light.
Or if not then a conversation about it where the two of you find a more useful perspective and perhaps the start of an action-plan can be both relieving and recharging.
7. Live in and come back to this moment.
When you’re tapping into negative thinking then you’re often thinking about something that happened. Or something that may happen. Or both, all jumbled up as your mood and thoughts sink.
To snap out of that put your attention fully into this moment instead. Into what’s here right now.
Start making it a habit to spend more of your time in the present moment and you’ll, in my experience, naturally have less negative thoughts and be more open and constructive.
A couple of ways to bring yourself back to being mindful and this moment are:
Focus only on your breathing.
Take a 1-2 minute pause right now and take a little deeper breaths than you usually do. Make sure you’re breathing with your stomach and through your nose.
During this time focus only on the air going in and out and nothing else.
Take in the world around you.
Take a 1-2 minute break, get out of your head and put your attention on what’s around you right now. Nothing else.
Just focus on the people walking by outside your window, the muffled words and noises from the street, the smells around you and the sun shining in and warming your skin.
8. Go for a short workout.
I find that when I’m having trouble with thinking myself out of negativity then it often works well to change my headspace by using my body.
So I go for a 20-30 minute workout and lift some free weights.
This helps me to release inner tension and worries. And it makes my mind focused and constructive once again.
9. Don’t let the vague fears drag you down.
One common mistake people make when it comes to fears – and that I’ve made many times – is to become scared and run away from them instead of taking a closer look.
It’s of course natural to feel that impulse and to want to avoid it but when fears are vague they can become so much scarier than they need too.
So what can you do? One thing that has helped me is this question:
Realistically, what’s the worst that could happen in this situation?
When you start to ground a fear like that and begin to look at it with your feet firmly planted on the ground then you most often realize that the worst that could happen isn’t really that bad.
It’s often something you can make a plan to come back from it were to happen.
And you can also probably start listing and taking action on a few things that will reduce the likelihood of this worst case scenario happening.
By doing this you gain clarity about the situation and what you can do about it and so the fear does tend to become quite a bit smaller.
10. Bring positivity into someone else’s life.
If you get stuck in negative thoughts or victim thinking then one of the simplest ways to get out of your own head and the thoughts bouncing around in there is to focus outwards and on someone else.
By adding positivity to his or her life in some way you too can start to feel better and more optimistic again.
A few ways to add positivity to someone’s life is to:
- Be kind. Give him a genuine compliment, hold up the door or let him into your lane while driving your car.
- Help out. Give her some good advice that have helped you or help out with moving houses or planning and preparing for the party next weekend.
- Just be there. Listen for a few minutes in a focused way as he vents. Or talk his difficult situation over to help him to start finding his way out of it.
11. Be grateful for a few of the things you may often take for granted.
When we get negative it’s easy to forget the positive things in life. Especially the ones that are just a normal part of life that we may take for granted a bit too often.
A few such things that I like to put my attention on and feel grateful for during such negative times are:
- Three steady meals a day.
- A roof over my head during the cold nights and the rainy and windy days.
- As much clean water as I want.
- Kind and helpful family and friends.
12. Start tomorrow in a way that sets a positive tone for your day.
How you start your day often sets the tone for it.
A pessimistic or negative start makes it hard to turn things around. But a positive start makes it a lot easier to just keep going with that emotion and the optimistic way of thinking until it is bedtime again.
A couple of simple ways to get your day off to a positive start is:
A simple reminder that you see right after you wake up.
It could be one or a couple of quotes that inspire you. Or maybe the goal or dream that you’re most passionate about right now.
Write it down on a piece of paper and place it on your bedside table or on the fridge. Or type it in as a part of the lock screen on your smart phone.
Get some positive information or conversation flowing into your mind.
Listen to a podcast, read a new blog post or a chapter in a book that motivates you or makes you laugh.
Or have a fun or uplifting conversation with your partner, kids or a co-worker.
Here’s the next step…
Now, you may think to yourself:
“This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice and actually make a real change with the negative thinking in my life?”.
Well, I’ve got something special for you…
A free step-by-step checklist that includes all the steps in this article… save it or print it out so you have it for your daily life and for the next time when the negative thoughts start popping up.
Download it now by entering your email below.
11 Ways To Stop Negative Thought Patterns And Move Forward
Negative thinking is the easiest way to slow down your business and personal goals. But how do you get rid of negative thoughts? There are a number of ways to do it, and the one you choose is likely a personal decision.
We asked members of the Forbes Coaches Council for advice on how to banish negative thoughts so that their goals can be more easily met. The perspectives varied widely, but they all had one idea in common: You are in control. Our experts gave us their best tips, and this is what they had to say.
Members share their tips for stopping negative thought patterns.
All photos courtesy of Forbes Councils members.
1. Speak To The Negative Thought
Practice becoming aware of when these thoughts come up. Are you tired, hungry, disappointed, stressed or something else? When we try to ignore negative thoughts, they don’t go away, they continue to pop up. To counteract them, recognize them. Let your internal voice say, “I’m recognizing a negative thought; it’s a story I’m telling myself, and it’s not true.” This squashes negativity pretty fast. – Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC
2. Get Around Positive People
Do you want to catch a cold? Get around people with a cold. I am not sure that advice still stands, but it certainly means something to me when coaching others. I see a lot of people associating with like-minded and often negative people when they are trying to change something in their lives, like a job. Negative people are not optimistic. Get around positivity physically, through your ears and eyes. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
3. Don’t Expect Everything To Be Perfect
Expecting everything to be perfect can be debilitating and robs you of true happiness. Make sure your vision of success is steeped in reality. For example, if you are promoted next year — instead of this year, as expected — does one year really change anything in the long run? Striving for goals with a detachment to the end state having to be perfect can be a liberating way to live on your own terms. – Christie Lindor, The MECE Muse
4. Work With An Active Mindset
There are no substitutions for a bulletproof mindset. Finding a practice that works for you is key. When coaching different types of clientele (executives, millennials, entrepreneurs), each group works differently. The one thing I have found to be true and practical is that there is no standard practice. Your mindset practice is completely personalized and will evolve depending on what limiting beliefs you are trying to remove, as well as what positive traits are you trying to instill in your daily routine. The most important advice I can give is “stick with it.” Get into a routine, find what works, and don’t stop until you have mastered the program you choose. – Stephynie Malik, Chique Speak
5. Develop A Positive Morning Routine
Thinking starts early in the morning. When a leader controls their thinking, they control their life. Negative thinking can slow a leader down. Leaders must take every thought captive by replacing thoughts of fear with thoughts of hope and belief. One tool that many great thinking leaders use is to develop a morning routine where they read something encouraging and positive every morning. – Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience
6. Just Breathe
In order to stop negative thoughts, you need to slow everything down, and first learn to just notice them. Incorporating alarms, reminders and literal time blocks into your schedule to just breathe will bring you more ease and self-awareness. Then, when you start to notice how many negative thoughts you are having, simply breathe them away. The trick is not to judge yourself or get caught up in your negative thoughts. You will get stronger at this exercise with time, just like anything else. – Hanna Hermanson, Dream Life is Real Life
7. Become Intentional About Your Attitude
Assuming a positive attitude is an intentional action that starts as soon as you wake up in the morning. Become aware when you are focusing on the negative and make the decision to focus on the positive instead. Your attitude is a choice. You attract what you focus on, so let go of that which does not serve your goals. The more you practice positive mind-shifts, the easier it becomes. – Erin Urban, UPPSolutions, LLC
8. Try The Displacement Theory
Have you ever tried to stop thinking? Try it sometime, and see what happens. If you want to break negative thought patterns, you have to replace them with something else. No one can think about two things at the same time. So, pick something you would love to do and start working on it; let your pursuit of that dream displace the old thoughts. – Gary Harpst, Six Disciplines
9. Focus On The Promise, Not The Problem
No matter your talents or current work environment, there will always be reasons for negative thoughts if you let them exist. When you start to feel negative, just remember why you are there. Focus on where you are headed and why that is important to you. It really is about the end goal, not the unpleasant parts of the process. – Donald Hatter, Donald Hatter Inc.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
10. Tap Into The Root Problem
Most negative thinking stems from a problem that’s not visibly seen on the surface. I call it the “root problem.” These negative thought patterns are sometimes ingrained in us from early on and have become part of our programming. In order to overcome these negative thought patterns, you must identify the deeper-seeded reason why these patterns keep showing up. Then and only then will you be able to address the issue. – Kiki Ramsey, Kiki Ramsey International
11. Make A Conscious Choice
You can’t get rid of negative thought patterns unless you can surface what they are. Get to know your negative thinking and how it gets triggered. Only with that self-awareness can you begin to identify when it is happening and make a choice to shift your perspective in the moment. – Jenn Lofgren, Incito Executive & Leadership Development
Center for Healthy Minds
The latest neuroscience suggests we can change our brains by transforming our minds and behavior. Specific mental exercises, when practiced systematically over time, can lead to enduring changes in the structure and function of our brains and, as a result, alter different facets of our Emotional Style.
Center Founder Richard Davidson shares nine ways to stop being negative, whether it’s noticing the good in ourselves and others or noticing our environment and emotions.
1. Notice the Good
Write down one positive characteristic of yourself and one positive characteristic of someone you regularly interact with. Do this three times a day. Ideally, you’ll write down a different trait each time, but if you’re stuck on how “helpful” your office colleague is, that’s okay.
2. Express Gratitude Regularly
Pay attention to times you say “thank you.” When you do, look directly into the eyes of the person you are thanking and muster as much genuine gratitude as you can. Keep a journal and, at the end of each day, note the specific times you felt a genuine, even if brief, connection with another person during the act of expressing gratitude.
3. Compliment Other People Regularly
Keep an eye out for opportunities to do so, such as a job well done at work, a beautiful garden a neighbor created, or even a stranger’s gorgeous coat. Look directly into the eyes of the person you are complimenting. In your journal, note the specific times you felt a genuine connection with someone you complimented.
4. Notice Your Breath
Mindfulness can weaken the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback, and can produce emotional balance. Mindfulness of breathing is an excellent place to start, since it is easy to focus on your breath during daily activities and it provides a clear anchor or support for mindfulness. The basic idea is to sit in a chair, relaxed but sitting up straight, and focus on your breathing: notice the sensations it triggers throughout your body, such as your abdomen moving in and out or the air passing the tip of your nose. If you notice that you have become distracted, simply return your focus to your breathing. Try this 5 to 10 minutes a day, ideally twice a day.
5. Cultivate Compassion
Practice simple compassion meditation, which can help you be less negative. It can provide perspective by reminding you that others suffer, too, and by focusing on relieving suffering in others you may well experience a sense of spontaneous joy. The basics of compassion meditation are to visualize someone who is suffering (a relative, friend or a generic person such as a starving child) and, each time you inhale, imagine that you are taking in that person’s suffering. Imagine the person’s pain flowing from your airways into your lungs, and conjure an image of his or her anguish departing her body.
6. Bounce Back from Challenges
Try re-arranging your environment to speed recovery from adversity. Leave the situation where a setback occurred: if you had a fight with your spouse, leave the combat zone and walk outside, or at least into another room.
7. Work with Negative Emotions
To decrease negative emotions, try a variant of “exposure therapy,” which consists of progressively more direct exposure to cues that produce negative emotions but in a safe context and when you are relaxing. (You can use breathing exercises from hatha yoga to help you relax.) Then make a list of specific cues and behaviors that make you upset or produce negative emotions in a specific context. Then in a safe context, such as your home when you are relaxing on a weekend, gently and gradually bring to mind images associated with the events that produce negative emotions. Conjure up these images as vividly as possible. While imagining these events, perform the breathing exercise to help you relax. Continue to practice the breathing exercise until you feel comfortable and at ease despite imagining these negative events. Spend about 15 minutes several times per week on this.
8. Practice Mindfulness of the Body
This form of mindfulness meditation strengthens your awareness of sensations and trains you to observe them non-judgmentally. This component is important because when we judge our bodies as too tense we often add insult to injury and heap one negative emotion (“There must be something wrong with me if I can’t relax!”) on another. Mindfulness of the body can help break this negative chain of associations by training you to feel greater equanimity when observing your bodily signals of emotion and thereby reduce your negative emotions. To practice mindfulness of the body, sit upright and slowly move your attention systematically around your body, noticing the specific sensation in each such as tingling or pressure. Try this for 5 to 10 minutes, twice a day.
9. Explore Our Common Tendency to Be Happy and Avoid Suffering
Notice that many of our actions and those of others are intended to relieve suffering or bring happiness. (When you encounter a painful stimulus, you withdraw from it.) Recognizing that this is basic to all human beings provides a deep sense of interconnection with those around you and cultivates an appreciation that we all wish to be happy and to relieve suffering. Try becoming aware of this any time you feel displeasure or pain. Notice your natural tendency to move toward happiness and well-being. And remind yourself that everyone is built the same way.
A Practical Guide For Positive Thinking (Works Instantly!)
Shifting perspective sounds easy. But it’s not.
It takes practice.
This is why I want you to do this exercise right now. Once you do this exercise, your mind will remember it.
It will become part of your thinking process. Whenever you think of a negative thought, counter it with a positive one.
Nervous about giving a speech in public? Think of the positive impact you will make.
Lost money? Think of one thing you have remain.
Feeling jealous? Appreciate one thing about yourself.
Make it a habit. Give yourself a one day challenge to balance your thoughts.
The aim is to make this habit part of your subconscious. Once it has become part of your thinking process, you will shift your perspective like Tony Robbins does.
Tony says we live in either of the two mental states — A beautiful state or a suffering state.
A beautiful state is when you feel love, joy, gratitude, awe, playfulness, ease, creativity, drive, caring, growth, curiosity or appreciation.
A suffering state is when you feel stressed out, worried, frustrated, angry, depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, resentful or fearful.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Tony was not born optimistic. He practiced it. He put in the effort.
You can do the same.
Your thoughts are the roots of your destiny. Your next action results from your next thought. You owe it to yourself to improve the quality of your thoughts.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” — Lao Tzu
Do the exercise and give yourself a one day challenge to get started.
It takes a cue, routine and a reward to form a habit. The cue here is an automatic negative thought (ANT), the routine is a positive thought to balance it out, and the reward is how you feel.
Repeat until it becomes part of your thought process.
Success is a result of daily actions…
Design your daily checklist for high performance and success. your free copy.
Get Your FREE Cheatsheet
Originally Published at DesignEpicLife.com
As simple as it seems, taking the time to recognize the good stuff can have a huge positive impact on your relationships with colleagues, significant others, friends, and clients.
NOTE: This post originally ran back in 2013 on S2B.1 I’ve updated it to reflect some of the changes in my life since it was first written.
A while back, S2B was shut down so PN could concentrate its efforts on their other programs. So I’m moving this post to my own blog because A) the practices in this article have played a huge part of my transition from overworked and miserable to “feeling pretty balanced and happy”, and B) I have no idea if/when the S2B blog will be shut down.
Marisa and I in Barcelona.Credit:La Boutique de la Luz
We Take a Good Thing for Granted
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m kind of a shitty person by default.
With very few exceptions, nearly every part of my day goes off perfectly.
I wake up every morning without an alarm, next to a woman who makes me deeply happy. We playfully argue about whose turn it is to make coffee,2 cook breakfast and listen to Radiolab, and head to a local gym to get our day started.
My work schedule is flexible. The projects I work on are of my own choosing; I have the freedom to only take on tasks that are both extremely interesting and intensely satisfying.
Evenings are free to meet friends for drinks,3 or to have a slow dinner at some fantastic restaurant I read about somewhere.
Every so often I’m asked to speak at a conference, which means I get paid to travel to a cool city like Austin or San Francisco and share my ideas with people who love web design as much as I do.
I’m not telling you this to brag about how great my life is.
I’m trying to paint a picture of what an entitled asshole I can be.
Ask Me How My Day Was
With all the great things I’m lucky enough to do on a regular basis, you might expect that I wear a permanent grin on my face and pour out gratitude at Niagara-esque volumes.
But if you asked me how my day was back in 2013, you’d probably hear something like:
- “It’s okay, I guess.”
- “Super busy. I’m so tired.”
- “It’d be better if ________ would finally ________.”
What an ungrateful dick, right?
“Are You Actually Complaining Right Now?”
One of my long-term clients is a company called Precision Nutrition. It’s run by Dr. John Berardi and Phil Caravaggio, and employs a good number of truly brilliant people, including my long-time friend Nate Green.4
Left to right: JB, me, Phil, and Nate, back in 2011.
During a trip to Toronto for an all-hands PN meeting, JB, Phil, Nate, and I went out for dinner at a very cool Italian restaurant. We had an incredible family-style meal, and afterward we started talking about whatever was on our minds.
During the course of conversation, I made a couple negative comments about my life; essentially, I started complaining about my situation.
Phil looked me in the eye and asked, point blank, “Are you actually complaining right now?”
The question caught me off guard, because I was used to commiserating with other entrepreneurs about how “hard” our lives were and all the things we wished we could change.
Yet here was a fellow business owner staring at me like I just set the restaurant on fire.
“How many good things happened today?”
I started feeling foolish and fought the urge to start rambling in an attempt to backpedal. I decided the best thing I could do was try to steer into the skid.
“I guess I was, yeah.”
JB leaned in. “How many good things have happened to you today?”
My four-star hotel room and the day’s extremely successful meeting with PN flashed through my mind. I felt blood rushing to my cheeks.
How I imagine other people saw me when I complained about my awesome life.Credit:Dan Howell
“And how many bad things?”
I had to think pretty hard. I forgot toothpaste and had to call the front desk to get some. They sent peppermint, but I prefer spearmint. I had to wait in line for a taxi for, like, ten whole minutes.
I was acting like a colossal tool.
It’s easy to only focus on the negative things.
“We tend to forget all the good things that happen to us. I mean, why make a note of something that goes well?” Nate joined the conversation, and continued, “But if something goes wrong, that sticks out in our minds. So when we think about our days, just the negative stuff jumps out at us and we complain.”
JB smiled and said, “It’s a psychological default. We all do it.” He looked at Phil.
“Until we decide to stop doing it,” Phil continued.
JB swirled his wine and said, “This is going to feel silly, but list three good things about today. Out loud. Doesn’t matter what they are.”
I felt like a kid getting a lecture, but I knew they had all done this previously, so I played along.
The exact table at Gusto where I decided to start being more positive.Credit:Gusto 101
“My hotel has a great shower, our meeting today has really good implications for my business, and this is one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had.”
Phil beamed; he had picked the restaurant.
“It feels silly,” said JB, “but every time I find myself complaining, I immediately stop and list off three good things about my day.
“Over time I stopped complaining, partly because I felt silly having to stop mid-conversation to derail a complaint,” JB paused to make eye contact, “but mostly because I just don’t think of the negative stuff as often.”
Credit:La Boutique de la Luz
Reprogramming My Brain
In the weeks that followed, that conversation stuck with me.5 I was acutely aware of my negativity, and admonished myself publicly by stopping mid-complaint to apologize and list the day’s high points.
Most of our lives are full of creeping, incremental changes that we can’t really pinpoint; we start in one mindset, and over weeks or years we find that we’ve shifted, and now we have a different mindset, even though we didn’t notice the change.
This conversation was a hard, serious, overnight change. I can distinctly remember how I used to feel before taking this advice, and how I felt immediately after — it was like flipping a light switch that made me less of an ungrateful asshole, and more of a happy, fun-to-be-around person.
It didn’t take long for me to notice a significant drop in complaints. But that wasn’t the only thing that happened; I started to pay more attention to the positive things as well.
Don’t Let the Good Go Unnoticed
“I LOVE MY WHOLE HOUSE!”Credit:dmchatster
In my new effort to curb negativity, I started making “anti-complaints”.
- “I really like Dave. He’s such a happy guy.”
- “Our waitress was really excellent tonight.”
- “This project is going really smoothly.”
- “I’m so happy someone invented toast.”
These anti-complaints did more than realign my perception of the world, though; I started to see the people around me becoming more positive as well, which made for better experiences in both my professional and personal life.
Putting Positivity Into Practice
Being positive doesn’t stop at making you sound less whiny at dinner: a positive outlook can be the catalyst for huge improvements in all areas of your life.
How to stay positive at work.
In a healthy workplace, you’ll be asked for feedback on projects — it’s inevitable that some of that feedback will be negative.
By taking the time to point out the good things your colleagues are doing, the negative feedback is less jarring.
Chris Traeger is literally the best at positive feedback.Credit:Parks and Recreation
Imagine a situation where you turn in projects to your boss, and she never says anything. Every project is accepted silently without any feedback.
Then a project gets rejected: your boss tells you all the things that are wrong with the project and sends you on your way to try again.
It doesn’t matter that every project before this one was accepted; the only feedback you’ve received from her has been negative.
However, in the exact same situation, if every accepted project had been accompanied with positive feedback — “great job on the layout”; “I love this sentence here”; “I really appreciate you getting this in on time” — the negative feedback wouldn’t have felt so jarring.
It would have been feedback as usual, working with you toward a better final product.
It’s not weak or overly emotional to tell someone you appreciate them. In fact, sharing positive feedback makes both people feel great, and creates a strong foundation that helps weather any rough patches.
How to stay positive at home.
Marisa is the only person I’ve ever met who takes “don’t take life so seriously” as seriously as I do.Credit:paint with stars
I tell Marisa how much I like her probably a half-dozen times a day.
I try to remember to call out all the things I like about her, whether it’s her constant drive to improve herself, her unwillingness to accept that other people can do things she can’t, her ability to match my giant-bearded-toddler playfulness, or the fact that she can handle my so-coldly-logical-it’s-often-hurtful tendencies.6
As a result, we can share frustrations with each other without worrying that the relationship is falling apart. When we argue, it’s not about whether or not we like each other; it’s just that one of us was supposed to get ready to leave, and was still sans-pants three minutes before we’re supposed to be out the door.7
Even When It’s Bad, It’s Not That Bad
If your partner makes a decision you disagree with, or a colleague shows you a project that you think needs work, it’s extremely important to remember that very few things are a total failure.
Try to start by acknowledging the effort that was put in, and listing any positive aspects. Remember whose team you’re on, and that everything can be fixed if you’re working together.
Next time in you’re in this position, try this experiment: don’t look at the project as a failure with salvageable parts; see it as a solid effort with room for improvement.
It’s a subtle difference, but it reframes the situation from a botched outcome to an obstacle in an otherwise pleasant journey.
Positivity works best when it’s shared. The people around you can’t read minds, so even if you’re noticing all the things they do that you appreciate and admire, they’ll never know it unless you tell them.
Don’t hold back on the positive feedback.Credit:21 Jump Street
If you make a habit of sharing all the good things, you become someone that makes the people around you more positive. You become a bright spot in people’s days. You create a vacuum where negativity cannot survive, because you don’t give it the chance to feed and grow.
My efforts to become more positive were immediately met with more positivity from the people around me: I talked about what I liked, and that encouraged others to talk about what they liked, and that made all of us feel better — a welcome break from the circlejerk of commiseration that I’d grown accustomed to.
Life Is Exactly As Good (Or As Bad) As We Choose To Experience It
In the years since I’ve forced my brain to focus on — and share — the positive things in my life, I’ve seen a marked improvement in my relationships across the board. This has led to a better home life, a better workplace, and happier clientele.
All of these things have improved my happiness, made me more successful, and (I hope) made me more pleasant to spend time with.
I think it’s important to note that nothing else changed while these improvements were happening. I was living the same life, working the same job, spending my time with the same people.
The only thing that changed was the lens through which I chose to view my world.
Your Turn: List 3 Good Things That Happened Today
You can change your life too, starting today. Share your experiences in the comments and tell me 3 good things that happened today.
Why was I writing for a fitness blog? S2B was formerly a branch of Precision Nutrition’s coaching program, and Nate headed up marketing for it. In 2013, I had barely any readership, and Nate took pity on me by running this article.↩
The coffee is from a local roaster who cares more about coffee than some people care about their children.↩
Usually this happens at cocktail lounges employing bartenders that look at an old fashioned with the same air of professionalism as a surgeon about to perform a double bypass.↩
Update: Nate moved on from PN in early 2016.↩
It’s been years since that conversation, now, and I still find this to be one of my most effective tools for staying positive.↩
Relevant example: as I was updating this article, some of the edits involved an ex-girlfriend, and — like a robot — in one section I merely replaced my ex’s name with Marisa’s.
When I did this, I thought to myself, “Well, what I said about my ex then is now true about Marisa, so this is acceptable.”
When Marisa read that draft, she was (understandably) pissed. I didn’t understand. So she patiently explained that normal people — including her — have feelings, and that a find-and-replace to swap out one name for another was a good way to hurt those feelings.
So we argued, I apologized, she was grumpy with me for half a day, and I (hopefully) learned something. There was no yelling. No crying. No sulking silences or blistering attacks on each other’s character. We knew we were only fighting about this mistake I made, and not about anything else.↩
Yeah, that was my bad. I really hate pants.↩
The Four Keys to Overcoming Negative Thinking…for Good
Do you ever struggle with negative thinking? If you have a harsh inner critic or get caught in worry, stress, anxiety, depression or wrestle with low self-worth, then you know some of the symptoms first hand.
Negative (unhelpful) thinking patterns can have a strong and sometimes devastating impact on our relationships, our health, our work… our lives.
With the four keys listed below, and a little practice, I believe anyone can break free of negativity for good. Why do I believe that? Because if I can do it (and I have) from the dark place I used to be in, then I trust these tools will work for you too—no matter where you’re at.
INEFFECTIVE WAYS PEOPLE TRY TO STOP NEGATIVE THINKING
People often try many different ways to get rid of their negative thoughts, including distractions, diversions or ‘drowning their sorrows’ only to later mentally beat themselves up for being still stuck in their negativity. It can feel like a real internal battle. These are common strategies that attempt to stop the thoughts and numb the pain in the short term but they only make things worse in the long term. It doesn’t fix the problem at its core.
The research shows that struggling with, arguing with, trying to drown out or push away unhelpful thoughts only amplifies them and makes things worse (1).
If you are struggling with negative thinking, I can tell you from my own experience that it is possible to turn things around, cultivate inner peace, and live a rich, meaningful and fulfilling life. Read on to find out how. But first a little bit about my story.
I went from being a bulimic, self-hating and disillusioned person to ‘waking up’ out of the negativity that plagued me and into a sense of inner freedom, ease and wholeness I could never have imagined in my darkest days. It’s like the mind-prison that I was caged in has now become a warm, cosy and friendly home in which to dwell. My mind is a place of rest, comfort and ease.
I now spend my life teaching other people the skills and tools that turned my life around. They have worked for me and hundreds of others—and they can work for you too, if you will give it a try.
Once you understand what causes negative thinking and integrate the skills to work with your mind in new ways, you can transform your life from the inside out.
One thing before you read on: it’s important to note that if you’re looking for a quick fix this is not what I have to offer you here. This is going to take a little practice and persistence on your part, but I have a little toolkit of meditations and skills below to support and guide you along the way (and retreats if you’re ready to take the leap).
The Four Keys all work together to create mental resilience and a calm, clear mind.
KEY ONE: RECOGNISE & STEP BACK FROM NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
Negative thought patterns are repetitive, unhelpful thoughts. They directly cause what we could describe as ‘negative’ (unwanted or unpleasant) emotions like anxiety, depression, stress, fear, unworthiness, shame etc.
Once we learn to recognise and identify negative thought patterns as they occur, we can start to step back from them. This process of stepping back from thoughts is called ‘cognitive defusion.’ In cognitive defusion we learn to see the thoughts in our head as simply that—just thoughts. Not reality. You see when we are fused with our thoughts (cognitive fusion) we tend to take our thoughts very, very seriously. We believe them. We buy into them and we obey them. We play them out.
When we are not fused with our thoughts—when we can step back into cognitive defusion, then we do not take our thoughts too seriously. We hold them lightly. We only listen to them if we find them valuable or helpful. We certainly don’t take our thoughts to be ‘the truth’ and we don’t automatically obey them or play them out. We see our thoughts as simply bits of language that pass through the mind. Mental events if you will, that move through the mind all the time just like the weather passes through the sky. We have a choice in how we choose to respond to them.
The example I like to use often to illustrate the difference between cognitive fusion and cognitive defusion is this…imagine waking up one day and looking out the window and seeing rain. It’s possible that a thought might come into your head that says “what a dreadful day”. Now is it true that the day is dreadful? No, of course not, it is simply raining. However if you believe the thought “what a dreadful day”, in other words if you are stuck in cognitive fusion (literally fused with the thought) then guess what you will probably have? That’s right, you will probably have a dreadful day! In other words if you believe a thought like that, it can generate what we might call negativity.
Below I will teach you a simple and powerful tool to create cognitive defusion (untangling from thoughts) easily and quickly – but first of all, there is something that is important for you to know…
It’s completely normal to have negative thoughts! It’s part of our evolutionary history. There is nothing wrong with you. We all have minds that have evolved to be constantly on the lookout for problems and dangers, so most of us have minds prone to have many negative thoughts.
The problem is not that we have negative thoughts. The problem comes when we believe our thoughts are true. When you are no longer entangled in thoughts they lose their grip on you and lose their power to generate unpleasant emotions.
Let’s go back to the example above. Imagine you’re laying in bed in the morning, you look out the window and you see that it’s raining and once again the thought arises “what a dreadful day”. If you are not fused with the thought (you don’t buy into it) then your experience would be like this. You’re watching the rain falling, then you also watch the thought (as simply a mental event) “what a dreadful day” arise and fall away just like the rain is falling…and since you don’t take it seriously or believe it, it generates no negativity, passes by easily and you’re free to lay there relaxed and at ease, enjoying the pitter patter of the rain on the roof.
As you can see, the ability to recognise unhelpful thinking and step back from it is incredibly liberating! It can change the quality of your whole day and indeed your whole life. It has mine.
It’s important to be able to recognise the kinds of unhelpful thinking styles that can arise, so here are some other negative thinking patterns that are most common. Be on the lookout for them, and below, I’ll show you what to do when they arrive…
ANXIOUS THOUGHTS AND WORRY
“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened”. ~ Michel de Montaigne
Worry is when the mind projects into an imagined future and conjures up scenes and thoughts about what could go wrong. Here it often creates ‘what if’ scenarios.
Sometimes it takes the form of imagining or expecting that bad things will happen or that nothing good will ever happen for you. You might fret about your health deteriorating, your relationship going downhill, your car breaking down or your career being ruined—even though nothing has actually happened yet.
You might focus on the lack in your life and believe that nothing will ever get better for you. Stress related to your financial future, the welfare of your children or your partner leaving you fit into this category.
CRITICISM AND SELF-BEATING
Do you have a harsh inner critic? Are you always trying to whip yourself into shape, mentally beating yourself up for not being good enough yet? Are you on a perfection mission? Another pattern of negative thought is to constantly criticise and ‘self improve’ because you’re not good enough yet. You may be very harsh on yourself, focusing in on all of your weaknesses and perceived flaws.
Likewise, you may extend this habit of criticism to others in your life. This can be the cause of tremendous strain on relationships. Negative self-talk and self-criticism often results in low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
One way some people cope with low self-esteem is to compensate for these feelings by attaining status, achievements and recognition. Others may feel completely debilitated by feelings of unworthiness, becoming depressed or even suicidal.
There is nothing wrong with having goals and aiming to get fitter or healthier and the like—we can simply choose to do those because they are good for us or we want to stretch and grow. It’s a very different headspace to be doing those things because we don’t feel like we’re enough yet.
When the mind continuously hones in on what is wrong with yourself (and your life) and disassociates from what is going well and is good, we can become stuck in negativity.
REGRET AND GUILT
Ruminating on mistakes made in the past often creates feelings of shame, guilt and negativity. Feelings of worthlessness may arise when you play over and over in your mind, ‘bad’ choices or ‘wrong’ actions you feel you have made.
There is nothing ‘negative’ per se’ about simply reflecting on past experiences. This is how we can learn, grow and mature as people. Negativity arises when you dwell on a situation repeatedly with no real intention to learn and grow–but instead you are self-beating or wishing things were different instead of being accepting of things as they are.
Negative thoughts often revolve around what’s wrong with your life. Your attention becomes fixated on, and exaggerates the so called negative aspects of your life. Here your mind will often downplay what is going well.
For example, you may have a wonderful family, food to eat and shelter, but your car breaks down and it’s all you can think about and focus on all week long. You allow the situation with the car to dominate your thinking and negative emotions arise as a result.
All week you are frustrated, angry and depressed because of the car when your focus could be expanded to what is going well and what you’re grateful for.
The truth is that the car has a problem. It is no longer running and needs to be taken to the mechanic. That’s a simple fact. Ruminating continuously on the situation is not constructive at all and is another way we can get trapped in negativity.
If you have this habit of lamenting over your sorrows and problems you may constantly feel frustrated, anxious, depressed and apathetic. When you’re so absorbed in what’s wrong, you’re unable to notice what’s right.
Looking out for and recognising these common negative thinking patterns when they arise will help you be aware of when to use the tools below to work with them skillfully and break free from their grip.
GETTING UNSTUCK: THE ‘NAME IT TO TAME IT’ TECHNIQUE
People trapped in negative thinking often tell me they feel hopeless because they often wrestle or argue with the thoughts or push them away, but the research shows that trying to struggle with thoughts in these ways just amplifies them (1) as you may have noticed in your own life. What you resist persists.
So how do you move through life in a way that is practical, peaceful and authentic without getting stuck in negative thought patterns?
Here is the first step. It’s a very powerful, simple, tried and tested technique for untangling from thoughts without struggling with them. It’s called the ‘name it to tame it’ technique.
‘Name it to tame it’ is a phrase coined by author and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel. Here’s the basics of how ‘name it to tame it’ works:
When an unhelpful thought pattern (and the associated emotion) arises you simply mentally ‘label’ the story. You’ve probably noticed many of our thoughts are repetitive and involve the same story lines. For instance one of my stories often is, “Who am I to be putting myself ‘out there’ teaching mindfulness. Aren’t you supposed to be perfect first!? Have it all totally together?!” I find this story unhelpful so when thoughts come up along that storyline, I simply mentally note to myself, “Ahhhh the ‘who do you think you are’ story is here again” and then I let it go.
By ‘let it go’ I simply mean, I stop giving it all my attention and stop taking it so seriously. I realise it’s just a thought, not reality, then I open my awareness to the world around me again—the birds in the trees, the sounds, the breeze. I get out of my head and into my life (more on this in key two)
As soon as you name the mental story or pattern, you have now stepped back from being caught up in it. In other words you have initiated cognitive defusion. From a neuroscience perspective, when you name the thoughts you stop being hijacked by them from the negativity they create (2) because you bring the smartest part of your brain online (the frontal cortex). The frontal cortex is reflective and helps you step back and get a greater perspective. You can do the same thing with emotions, naming them to tame them like “ahhh anxiety is here” or “oh shame has arrived”.
When naming or labelling your thoughts or emotions, one important tip. Make sure when you mentally label, to do it in a soothing, kind tone of voice. This is important as it helps you to settle and invite compassion and soothing into that moment instead of aggression or struggle. We’re not going to battle with the mind here. We are gently training it into new neural pathways of peace and ease. At a biological level, when you ‘name it to tame it’ in a soothing voice you even get a squirt of soothing neurotransmitters in the brain! This brings feelings of calm and ease and comfort (3).
KEY TWO: COMING TO YOUR SENSES
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” ~ James Thurber
Notice that many negative thoughts mostly flow from two directions. The first is dwelling on the past—maybe you ruminate over mistakes, problems, guilt and anything in your life that’s did not go the way you believe it should have gone. The second is worrying about the future—fear of what may or may not happen for yourself, others or the planet.
This may take the form of stress over whether or not you will achieve certain goals or anxiety about the security of your finances or relationships. Or perhaps you may worry about getting old. Whatever your particular negative thoughts are, notice that in order to engage in negative thought patterns the mind needs to cast its focus mostly into past or future. Either that or we judge and mentally label things in the present moment to be ‘bad’.
When lost in negative thinking we tend to be so engrossed in thoughts that we completely lose touch with what is actually happening in the present moments of our lives. We miss the little pleasures of living each day. The sunlight on your skin, the taste of the food we’re eating, a real connection with someone we love while they are talking. When we’re lost on our heads we lose touch with the world around us….and we lose touch with ourselves.
To become more present, and able to step out of negative thinking, one powerful method is to ‘come to your senses’. To do this simply redirect your attention out of the thoughts in your head and bring your focus to your sense perceptions.
Whether you’re in your home, at the office, in the park or on a subway, notice everything around you. Use your senses to their fullest. Don’t get into a mental dialogue about the things you see, just be aware of what you’re experiencing in this moment.
Be aware of the sounds, the scents, the sensation of the air on your skin or the contact points with the seat beneath you. Be there fully in the moment. This is a form of mindfulness practice (more about this below).
Research from Prof. Mark Williams from Oxford University showed that when difficulties arise in life many of us tend to get caught up in excessive unhelpful thinking. Sometimes people try to stop constant unhelpful thinking but we don’t have to try to stop our thoughts. A more effective way to ease all that internal noise, Prof. Williams teaches, is to pay attention to our direct sensory experience. In this way there’s simply little to no room left in our attention for all that excessive thinking. Coming to our senses calms the mind and grounds us in the present moment.
Now, it’s not that we’re aiming to live completely immersed in our senses all the time. It’s appropriate to think when it’s useful of course. But we can use this awareness of our senses to ground and centre us in a greater awareness when when we find ourselves caught up in negative thinking.
It is actually almost impossible to be both deeply present in the moment in our senses and keep the negativity going! Try it out as an experiment and find out for yourself to see whether this is true.
KEY THREE: REGULAR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
At the core of each one of us is a space that knows deep peace. As we grow up, we tend to get more and more drawn into the mind – our problems, our goals, our hopes, our fears and desires. We tend to get so busy, caught up and lose touch with this deeper sense of self…this pure unconditioned awareness.
It becomes easy for us to get more drawn into negative thinking the more we lose touch with ourselves in this way and lose ourselves in the mind. In fact research from Harvard University shows that most people are ‘mind wandering’ 47% of their day and this is the root of what causes cognitive fusion (entanglement with thoughts) (4).
Imagine the ocean. Sometimes the surface waves can be tumultuous but the depths are unaffected, calm and peaceful. Our minds have the same nature. There is a perfect stillness in each of us. Just beneath our conditioning, thoughts and habits which can sometimes also be tumultuous, there is a quiet place inside and it is always available to us as a calm refuge.
Mindfulness is the practice of waking up to that wellspring of wholeness and peace. It’s waking up out of mind wandering (where we are lost in our heads, our old beliefs, habits, reactions and thinking patterns) so that we are able to live deliberately. Through mindfulness we build our capacity to live from that deeper awareness and tame the mind.
Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease stress, depression and anxiety as well as improving immune function. People who practice meditation report overall levels of satisfaction with life higher than others. In fact, researcher and psychologist Matt Killingsworth found that what makes people most happy is being fully present in the moment and that the more our minds wander the more unhappy we become (5). There is so much power in this simple practice.
By practicing daily mindfulness meditation you will gradually cultivate more awareness and be less caught up in your mind. I have provided a free meditation below that you can download and start practicing with but the best place to start is by the 7 Days of Mindfulness Course that you can take for free here.
Four Ways You’re Strengthening Your Mind When You Practice Meditation:
Each time your mind wanders in meditation, your task is to notice it and then detach from your thought stream and come back to your senses, in the moment. This is a practice of untangling from thoughts over and over again, a habit which translates in the rest of your life too. It becomes a habit to notice and let go with ease.
Each time you let go of the thought stream and come back into the present moment you tap into the stillness and wholeness at the heart of who you are. A sense of peace, lightness and joy arises more and more with each time you practice.
Each time you are kind and gentle with yourself when your mind wanders, instead of criticising yourself, you are strengthening your self-compassion for challenging moments in the rest of your daily life. You become more resilient to stress and cultivate a kinder mind.
Each time you observe the mind that is an opportunity for ‘insight’ into your mind’s habits and patterns so you grown in what we might call wisdom or self-awareness.
KEY FOUR: HELPFUL QUESTIONS FOR UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS
Some kinds of negative thinking patterns can be quite ‘sticky’. You may find that you try to ‘name it to tame it’ and come back to your senses but the thoughts continue to have a grip on you. If you find yourself in this position there are some further tools you can use to untangle from your thoughts and change your focus. These are called the helpful questions for unhelpful thoughts. These are drawn from ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).
You can use some of these questions to mentally question negative thoughts and use others to change your focus.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you untangle from the thought. You ask them and then you can answer them in your head. Usually you would just pick one of these at any given time.
- Is this thought in any way useful or helpful?
- Is it true? (Can I absolutely know that it’s true)
- Is this just an old story that my mind is playing out of habit?
- Does this thought help me take effective action?
- Is this though helpful or is my mind just babbling on?
Then you can (mentally) ask these questions below to create new focus and new possibilities. These questions will help you focus on constructive thoughts and actions and help you effectively face your day-to-day challenges and move towards living a more meaningful life. Again, you may only use of of these at a time but you could always try more than one too.
- What is the truth? My deepest truth?
- What do I really want to feel or create in the situation? How can I move towards that?
- How can I make the best of this situation?
- Who would I be without this negative thought?
- What new story or thought can I focus on now?
- How can I see this in a different or new way?
- What can I be grateful for in this moment?
With these powerful questions you can change your focus from being stuck in negativity to being focused on what’s going well. They will also help you take constructive action and move towards living a more meaningful life.
Constructive thinking allows you to be happy when things are going good, and puts problems in perspective when times get tough so you can stay calm and clear headed and deal with them in a practical efficient way.
PRACTICING THE FOUR KEYS
As mentioned above, the four keys are not a ‘quick fix’ method for creating permanent change of long standing patterns. True change takes time but I promise you with a bit of patience and practice these four keys have the capacity to truly change your world from the inside out.
Now at the same time as I say these are not a quick permanent fix, you will find that in any given moment of negativity, these tools (especially ‘name it to tame it’ and the helpful questions) can assist you to immediately untangle and change your mindset.
The more you practice these tools, the more they will become like second nature to you. It’s like building a muscle—the more you use them, you become mentally fitter and stronger. In time the old habits are worn away and rather than being preoccupied with negativity, you’ll become more calm, centred and self-aware, leading to better relationships, greater overall happiness and a sense that your life is being fully lived.
As time goes on you’ll become more and more like those ocean depths, less affected by the ripples on the surface and more connected to the peace and wholeness at the heart of who you are.
I hope this blog is helpful to you. If you have any questions or need clarification of any point here please jot them down in the comments section below. I’m always happy to help you.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post you may also find the post on How to Use Mindfulness to Overcome Negative Emotions helpful or The Mindful Way Through Loss and Heartbreak. A 4-Step Process and Free Meditation.
P.P.S. Here is a meditation you can use for overcoming negative thinking that incorporates some of the keys above. This is one of many meditations I have recorded for the Meditation Studio app (my favourite meditation app) – you can find more of their high quality meditations available here.
5 Ways You Don’t Realize You’re Being Negative
My client Justin was looking at new career avenues after the dust of his once-exciting post-grad life had settled. The career path he’d initially chosen had lost its luster, and it was time to move on. We were brainstorming ideas—and I quickly realized that he was putting the kibosh on each idea before I could even get a complete thought out.
“I can’t do that because…”
“That doesn’t make sense because…”
“I don’t have the skills for that, so that will never work…”
After 30 minutes, I was exhausted. His negative feedback and reluctance to engage openly with new ideas was wearing—and that doesn’t even touch on the effect it was having on Justin. As we went on, he started feeling more and more dejected about the possibly of discovering new career options.
Negativity like Justin’s can be a curse. Not only does it hamper your ability to get results, but studies also show negative thoughts transmit stress-producing hormones. One psychologist described it as “second hand smoke!”
But while sometimes your negative thoughts are as blatant and obvious as Justin’s, other times negativity may creep in in such subtle ways, you may not even see the havoc they create. Here are five of the most common ways you may not realize you’re being negative. See which of these you might be able to work on this week to reduce the undesirable vibes—and your stress level—at work.
1. Negative Inferences
“Sure, I get great performance reviews, but I don’t make anywhere near the money I should.”
The first half of this sentence is a perfectly good positive statement—but the end is wrapped up in a negative wet blanket. That downer ending completely negates any positive energy and depletes all enthusiasm for your thought or idea.
Instead, when you’re tempted to turn down a negative road, check yourself and stay in the positive accomplishment. Focus on the desired outcome, rather than the gap—for example, “I get great performance reviews. I want to get better at quantifying my accomplishments so I can more effectively negotiate my salary in the future.”
2. Inability to Accept a Compliment
“Oh, I’m glad the conference went well, but really I didn’t do that much. Anybody could have done it. I just got really lucky.”
Negating your abilities or not taking credit for your work doesn’t serve your confidence or competence. And it makes it hard for others to believe in you, to boot.
So when you hear yourself starting to refute a compliment with an excuse, stop! Change up your thinking so you can humbly and graciously accept the kind words. Remember, “thank you” is a complete sentence!
3. “Yeah, But…”
Co-worker: “We should reduce the price to generate more sales.”
You: “Yeah, but the client will never go for it.”
When you start any statement with “yeah, but…” you diminish your ability to communicate effectively because “but” is a blocker. It dismisses anything positive that came before it and, overall, makes it hard to collaborate with others.
I heard a lot of “yeah, buts” from Justin. Too many of those, and listeners lose interest in hearing what you have to say. Instead, validate ideas that could work or offer an alternative solution—in a positive way.
4. Reacting Instead of Responding
“I can’t believe you said that during the meeting. We’ll be paying for that for weeks!”
Stephen Covey talked about this in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Reacting is knee-jerk, quick, and often happens without much thought. It’s emotionally charged. Reaction without thoughtfulness can lead to gross negativity.
Responding, on the other hand, requires you to take a pause, form a thoughtful reply, and focus on inquiry over accusation. It allows you to carefully examine an issue and its resolution, rather than explode with the negative force of calling it out. For example:
“Josh, the comment you made in that meeting might have been perceived differently than you intended it. Help me understand your thought process so we can clear up any confusion.”
Can you hear the difference, and see how the latter can mitigate the negative vibes?
5. Feeling Better at Someone Else’s Expense
“I heard Marta got a real talking to about the Acme project. That’ll probably take her ego down a few pegs!”
When you focus your conversations on making someone else feel diminished, you’ve taken negative thinking to a new low. These kinds of gossip-ridden statements are a sign of your own insecurity and your desire to feel better about yourself. How much more negative can you get?
To combat this, consider what motivates you to try to feel better at another’s expense. Are you insecure about your own performance and another’s misfortune makes you feel better? Do you envy the other’s abilities and feel better when he or she is reprimanded? Do you have a bad habit around gossip that needs to change? There’s probably some work to be done on your end.
You may not run around with a giant billboard that says “I’m negative!” over your head. But these small, tactical messages, however, can insinuate a lot of negativity into your day. Watch out for them, turn them around, and release yourself from the stress of negative thinking.