The way you think heavily affects the way you feel and how you perceive the world around you. Your mindset can determine how well you handle difficult situations and overcome adversity. When your default thinking mode is pessimistic, you’re likely to interpret the things that happen to you more negatively and experience bad moods more frequently. But you can reduce the pessimism in your thinking and even remove some negative thoughts entirely through a number of different techniques.
It’s hard—and probably near impossible—to just decide you’re going to start thinking more positively and then do it when you normally think negatively, so small steps will be important for you. Start by just trying to become aware of your thoughts and identify when your thinking is pessimistic. Recognizing exactly where the problems lie is the first step toward fixing them. Louise Hay, and international best-selling self-help author, says: “If you want to clean a room thoroughly, you will pick up and examine everything in it. […] It’s the same thing when we clean our mental house.” Without finding the thoughts that are problematic for us, we can’t sort them out.
As you recognize negative thoughts come up, try labelling them as such. For example, if you’re working and get stuck with a problem, your first thought might be “I’m so stupid.” Catch yourself in the thought and say to yourself, “I’m having a thought that says I’m stupid.” The first statement sounds like fact, but the new one acknowledges that the first thought is only that—a thought. It’s puts it in perspective and changes an inherently negative statement into a neutral one. This opens up the possibility for a bigger change in thought and is a great place to start.
Questioning the negative thoughts is also a great early step, but can involve some deep contemplation, so be prepared to learn about yourself. When pessimism is your natural state, negative thoughts come up and go by without being stopped or considered; they’re just part of your view. By consciously noticing your thoughts as they come and giving them some consideration, you’re reaching beyond your conscious mind and into your subconscious where there’s stored information—ingrained beliefs—that have formed your worldview. Ask yourself if the thought is true and where it came from. When you think, “I can’t do this,” ask yourself “Why do I think I can’t? Is there some proof that I can’t? Did someone once tell me that I can’t? Why did I believe them?” These kinds of questions challenge your stored beliefs and start to put cracks in them. When you can break them down, your natural mindset can start changing toward one that’s more positive.
As you break old beliefs that cause you to think negatively, replace them with positive ones. Whenever something self-criticizing comes up, remember how you challenged that belief and then choose a thought that is more positive, like “I’m capable of doing whatever I need to do.” Even if it’s a bit exaggerated or seems over-confident, it’ll put you into an optimistic mindset and make you feel good about yourself, which is what you need to be doing in this process. If you have a thought about how much you’re dreading going to work, choose to think that work will be fine and you’ll get through the day successfully. Every time you switch out a negative thought for a positive one, you start to shift your thought process in a different direction and teach your mind to react in a different way. It begins forming a habit of thinking positively that drowns out negative thinking.
It sounds simple, and it kind of is; but it’s not easy. If you’ve been thinking negatively for a long time, it’s a pattern that your mind has become used to and has reaffirmed the validity of day after day. In order to overcome the negative thoughts so that you can form new, positive ones, it can be useful to use a variety of approaches to overcome the negative thoughts as you introduce new ones.
Most people who naturally have a negative mindset have a similarly negative view of themselves. Questioning the critical thoughts as they show up might reveal memories of where these kinds of thoughts started, but actually letting go and replacing them can be really difficult when you’ve come to believe your harsh opinions of yourself are true. Remind yourself frequently of this: no one is perfect, and everyone has flaws. Your flaws don’t change your worth as a person, though; they’re just a part of you and help make you unique. If you have flaws that really, truly bother you and you feel get in the way, know that you can change. But for many things that you feel bad about, other people probably don’t notice or just don’t care. You’re far more critical of yourself than anyone else is of you. Let go of the self-judgement, learn to accept the flaws you can’t change. Focus on finding what you do like about you and you’ll start to see yourself in a positive light.
Starting your morning on a high note can make it easier for you to chase out negative thoughts throughout the day. If negative thinking is what you’re used to, you might jump right into that frame of mind the second your alarm goes off; doing your best to begin your day by getting into a happy mood is not only beneficial in the moment, but from there your mind will be more cooperative as you work to switch your usual negative thoughts into more positive ones through the afternoon and evening. Switch your alarm to an upbeat song or plan to have a breakfast you love. There are lots of ways to wake up and slip right into a good mood. [For more ideas, check out our video about waking up early feeling good.] Find what works for you and it’ll help you along your journey of shrugging off negative thoughts.
Your external environment is significant when trying to change your internal environment, so do your best to create a positive space for yourself. A big part of this is the kind of people you surround yourself with; if you spend more time with people who are upbeat, optimistic, and generally cheerful, their behaviour and perspective can create a space that encourages the changes you want to make. Their persona rubs off on you; listening to them talk about the things they love and what they’re looking forward to will have you thinking about what you love and things you want to do. You start to adopt a similar mindset and the negative thoughts take a back seat.
Inevitably, you’ll hit bumps in the road throughout the course of your day. You may not be able to change what’s happening, but you can change how you see it. Recognize your negative thought about the situation and switch over to a new one. Actively look for something positive in the situation. For example, you might be upset when your friend cancels on you, and it’s okay to be let down as long as you don’t linger in that feeling for long. Move on from the disappointment and think about how you now have some free time to relax on your own or to get through some tasks you’ve been putting off but would like to finish. Change your thoughts as you have them and you’ll soon be able to let go of the negativity more quickly and find the silver lining on just about anything.
And remember to keep things in perspective. Let’s say you’re headed to school and you miss the bus; negative thoughts can pop up, like “I’m going to be in so much trouble” or “it’s only early and my day is already ruined.” But how bad is the situation really? People with pessimistic mindsets are more likely to make mountains out of molehills. Sure, you might be late, but if you explain that you missed the bus and apologize, it’ll probably be okay. And your day isn’t actually ruined; it had a rocky start, but the rest of the day is unwritten and there’s time left for it to pick up. Chase out the negative thoughts with reason; catastrophic negative thoughts are rarely accurate, so take a deep breath and try to think about the situation realistically.
Negative thoughts don’t disappear overnight; it took time for you to get stuck in a pessimistic mindset and it’ll take time for you to form an optimistic one. With some practice, you can re-train your brain so that the negative perspective you’re used to is diminished and some of the specific negative thoughts that plague you are out of your head. Just take it one day at a time and stick with it.