Here are a few ways to turn your negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen the destruction following negative thoughts can cause. Negative thoughts can lead us to make poor decisions, fail in our most important goals, and lose any sense of trust or belief in ourselves.
We all have negative thoughts. Even the happiest people in the world have negative thoughts now and again. Completely removing all negative thoughts from life would be a tremendous task that would likely require all our focus for decades. The more effective task for most people would be to attempt to limit their negative thoughts where they can and stop following the negative thoughts they do have. Here are a few practices to begin you on your journey:
Reinforce Positive Thoughts
Life often has a compounding effect. The more you think about, contemplate, and focus on one thing, the more likely you are to focus on the same thing in the future. The same principle works for positive and negative thoughts. You can think of them as habits if you’d like.
The more time we spend debating and complaining about the negative parts of our life, the more willing we become to perpetuate our circumstances. We learn to see life events solely from this negative perspective and we might forget that we have some power to control what is happening. We create a sense of learned helplessness, instead of taking the steps we can to improve where we’re at.
If we want to avoid falling into this trap of negativity, one of the most effective things we can do is consistently reinforcing our positive thoughts. If you have an important meeting or interview, take some time to look past any worries you might feel and remind yourself why you would be good for the job. What skills do you have that others don’t? What ideas do you believe that will make a difference in your morale and productivity? Reinforce these strengths. When you walk into that interview you will probably be nervous but you will also remember you are there because you know you can do a great job.
The same strategy can be very useful when looking at past events. Our brains are wired more for negativity. When given a positive and a negative event, we’re more likely to focus on the negative one. By trying a little harder to focus on the positive moments that occur along our journey, we can find the fun moments that emerge during difficult times and the kind actions of others during our bad days.
Write About Your Thoughts and Experiences
Writing about or recording events often forces us to see events from a few different angles. We get a clearer picture of what happened when we do this. The greatest power of positive thinking might be its ability to overcome our predisposition for negativity and allow us to see an event neutrally.
Sometimes, a bit of negativity can be good. Our fears can keep us safe, our worries can cause us to do a better job on an exam or presentation. Negativity is not always a bad thing. Unfortunately, our fears and worries often grow much bigger than we need them to be. We take the fear of heights that tells us to stay away from the edge of a cliff and we use it as an excuse to not get on a plane, which is a statistically safe decision. Fear becomes a barrier to progress.
Writing about our thoughts and experiences can allow us to see things more clearly. I often write in my journal about an event that I thought went horribly, but as I write, I start to see some of the good things I overlooked. I’ll realize that I enjoyed 45 minutes of a dinner I had with someone and it was only the last 15 minutes that felt awkward. I’ll notice that I knew most of the material on a test, and even though I got flustered on the last question, I did pretty well overall. Writing can help us see and learn from these alternate perspectives because our brains tend to classify events as either good or bad when it’s rarely that simple.
Seeing events clearly and recognizing the positive things that occur can be difficult. Sometimes, we’re required to move past our initial emotional reaction. This is where meditation can be helpful. Meditation is a practice focused on seeing things the way that they are and cultivating more of the emotions we want to feel.
Matthieu Ricard has been a Buddhist Monk for multiple decades. Over that time, he has spent tens of thousands of hours meditating. When he and other monks (all with more than 10,000 hours of meditation) went to the University of Wisconsin to participate in a study on compassion and meditation, researchers discovered that their levels of happiness and compassion surpassed those of non-meditators. They concluded that emotions and mental attitudes could be practiced and learned the same as an instrument or sport. The monks had learned how to have more positive thoughts and less negative ones. Out of the participants, Ricard was perhaps the most amazing. He was found to have the greatest ratio of positive to negative thoughts leading to the moniker the happiest man on earth.
As this study suggests, emotions such as happiness, compassion, and positivity can be learned and implemented. Meditation seems to be one of the best ways to achieve this growth. As these positive elements become a greater part of your life, the negative thoughts and behaviors will gradually decline.
Set Aside Time to Consider Fears and Worries
A great strategy for handling nearly any problem is creating a small time block during your day to focus fully on the issue. If negative thoughts, fears, and worries are the biggest problems you face from day-to-day, setting aside ten to fifteen minutes a day to consider them may prove helpful.
Ten to fifteen minutes of complete mental focus is all you need. During this time you could journal about what your feeling, try to establish some triggers that put you into one of these states of mind, or you could create a plan to make small steps toward overcoming them. Giving yourself a set time to do this will allow you to focus completely on the issue because most days we’re too busy to take a break and analyze when we feel these emotions.
Consume Positive Material
Another way to take a step away from negativity is by consuming more positive information. Whether you’re listening to a friend, reading something online, or watching a movie, you have some control over how positive or negative the information is. This doesn’t mean you have to only listen to podcasts or watch videos about the law of attraction. It may do some good, however, to avoid a complaining coworker or media arguing that humanity is on the decline. These people tend to spread their problems to the people around them.
You have the opportunity to consume information that discusses the good in yourself and others. You can read about someone creating a positive environmental movement or take a look at your heroes and how they grew as a person throughout their life. You get to decide whether the information you take in is mostly positive or mostly negative. If you want to live a more positive life, you should make a few small changes toward consuming more positive material. The information that you consume will create a foundation for the beliefs that you create in the future.
Dealing with and overcoming negative thoughts can be one of the most challenging parts of life. We are hardwired for negativity which often shapes our perspective. There are, however, some tactics we can follow to balance out this bias toward negativity. We can reinforce the positive parts of life and look for different perspectives on an event. We can meditate to curb our initial emotional reaction and we can create plans for overcoming the challenges negativity poses for us. Negative thoughts are an obstacle we will face on most days but we have the opportunity to overcome this obstacle with a little bit of work.
When you create some distance between yourself and negative thoughts, you will be more capable of seeing the amazing things around you every day.