Why do we think negatively when we know better?
Because thinking negatively, expecting “the worst,” seeing the downside of positive situations, and even downright expecting failure, all convey a kind of backwards-thinking, emotional insurance policy.
Our desire to want to be right is another common reason we subconsciously choose negative thinking. Sometimes, as foolish as it sounds, we would rather be right about our negative predictions than have a positive outcome prove us wrong. And since negative thinking leads to negative actions, or no action at all in many cases, by thinking negatively we create a self-fulfilling protective prediction for ourselves.
In other words, we think negatively, predict a negative outcome, act negatively, and then receive a negative outcome that fulfills our prediction.
Of course, none of this is what we truly want or need in our lives.
Are you hung up with being right? Stamp out these negative thinking traps with four ideas from Marc and Angel:
a) Start focusing on the grey area between the extremes.
Life simply isn’t black or white – 100% of this or 100% of that – all or nothing.
Thinking in extremes like this is a fast way to misery, because negative thinking tends to view any situation that’s less than perfect as being extremely bad.
- Rather than the rainstorm merely slowing down my commute home from work, instead “it wasted my whole evening and ruined my night!”
- Rather than accepting the nervousness of meeting a new group of people, “I know these people are not going to like me.”
Since 99.9% of all situations in life are less than perfect, black and white thinking tends to make us focus on the negative – the drama, the failures, and the worst case scenarios. Sure catastrophes occur on occasion, but contrary to what you many see on the evening news, most of life occurs in a grey area between the extremes of bliss and devastation.
If you struggle with seeing the grey area of a situation, sit down with a pen and paper, write down the best-case outcome, the worst-case outcome, and at least one realistic outcome that falls between the two extremes. For example, say you’ve been worrying about a new intimate relationship, write down:
- Worst-case outcome (unlikely extreme): “The relationship is a total disaster that ends with two broken hearts.”
- Best-case outcome (unlikely extreme): “The relationship is total bliss with zero arguments until the end of time.”
- Realistic-case outcome (highly likely): “There will be great times, good times, and not so good times, but we will work together, respect each other, and give our relationship a fair chance before drawing any conclusions.”
Make the realistic-case outcome as detailed and long as you like, or list more than one realistic-case outcome.
Giving your mind more options to consider will help reduce extreme emotions and allow you to think more clearly and realistically.
b) Stop looking for negative signs from others.
Too often we jump to conclusions, only to cause ourselves and others unnecessary worry, hurt, and anger. If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else. If they say nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation.
Thinking negatively will inevitably lead you to interpret everything another person does as being negative, especially when you are uncertain about what the other person is thinking. For instance, “He hasn’t called, so he must not want to talk to me,” or, “She only said that to be nice, but she doesn’t really mean it.”
Assigning meaning to a situation before you have the whole story makes you more likely to believe that the uncertainty you feel (based on lack of knowing) is a negative sign.
********On the flip-side, holding off on assigning meaning to an incomplete story is a primary key to overcoming negative thinking. ********
When you think more positively, or simply more clearly about the facts, you’ll be able to evaluate all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones. In other words, you’ll be doing more of: “I don’t know why he hasn’t called, but maybe…”
- “…he’s extremely busy at work.”
- “…his phone battery is dead.”
- “…he’s simply waiting for me to call him.”
You get the get the idea. None of these circumstances are negative and all are as plausible as any other possible explanation.
Next time you feel uncertain and insecure, and you catch yourself stressing about a problem that doesn’t exist, stop yourself and take a deep breath. Then tell yourself, “This problem I’m concerned with only exists in my mind.”
If you do this, you very often can avoid disappointment. Eliminate expectations, and stop yourself inventing rules on how life should be, how then could you be disappointed? Counteract every negative thought with a realistic, positive thought, that is free of expectations, ridiculous rules, and skewed interpretations. Assign meaning to a situation or experience, way way down the track, if you must, at least that way, you might have more information to base it on, rather than just your initial knee-jerk reaction that is based on premises that life should be perfect.
Being able to distinguish between what you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a positive life.
Thoughts to ponder over, more strategies to come…..
To be continued…..