Changing Negative Thinking

Do you work with colleagues who typically react negatively to situations? You know the ones – those that see everything as bad in the world; they want to punish all perceived wrongdoers; they reject all solutions to problems; they believe that good people do not exist; and so on.

To evaluate negative thinking, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at the impact of worry on performance. The study found that those who reported worrying at least 50 percent of the time or more were significantly less able to perform a simple exercise involving sorting of objects. The researchers discovered that this was a result of increased levels of negative thoughts.

When the brain is faced with complex tasks, negative thinking hurts your ability to process information and think clearly.

Think about a time when you were angry. Recall how your anger (negative emotion) impacted your ability to reason and be productive. In fact, thinking negatively about problems makes it harder to think of a helpful solution (if indeed any solution at all!).

Another impact of negative thinking is that it changes your brain chemistry. Prolonged negative experiences prevent us from distinguishing between real and perceived threats and cause us to over-react. Those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder may have this characteristic.

Negative thinking may also result in symptoms of stress such as rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and a heightened arousal (“fight or flight”). Imagine sitting quietly and then suddenly experiencing fear in the form of a panic attack. The body responds with an increased heart rate, increased breathing, perspiration, and elevated blood pressure. Negative thoughts affect our brain through this same stress response.

If you are a negative thinker, here are some things you can do to turn those negative thoughts into positives:

  1. Give yourself permission to have the negative thoughts. By giving yourself permission, you don’t beat yourself up and you are free to re-direct that energy into work that is worthwhile. Do you have a project that needs to be completed? Do you need to respond to emails? It’s like the devil versus angel on your shoulder – everyone is allowed to have negative thoughts once in a while, but if it becomes a daily constant practice, then give yourself permission to break the cycle.
  2. Turn your negative self-talk into questions rather than accusations. Instead of your inner critic maligning your thoughts, ask, “How can I make this a good situation?” or “Am I willing to do what it takes?” When you ask questions, you allow yourself to explore scenarios and your negative thoughts are turned into curiosities and observations instead of fear.
  3. Don’t strive for perfection right away. Focus on progress – the “baby steps” – that will take you from negative to positive thinking. Positive affirmations may help, but if you’re using them, you need to truly believe them; otherwise, they may backfire. For example, instead of saying, “I am the best thing on planet earth,” say, “I can be the best thing on planet earth if I . . . ” and then identify the steps you will take to meet your affirmation.

Also, consider the Law of Attraction to help you overcome your negative thoughts. The Law of Attraction says that by focusing on negative or positive thoughts, we bring into our life the negative or positive energy that we exude. Therefore, if you want more positive things to happen to you, then thinking positive thoughts is the way to go.

Here’s to positive thinking and to a productive future!