Its that time of year again when you hear a lot of folks saying “I feel rubbish, it’s the time of year.” But realistically is it the time of year, because other folks are only too keen to make a fresh start and go so far as setting goals and resolutions in embracing a new beginning. So what’s the common denominator here? It’s how folks are thinking about it — that’s all. Ever been out and about on a beautiful sunny day and feeling really good, only to bump into someone or take a phone call giving you bad news? You no longer feel good. Your mood would likely change after hearing the bad news, even though the sun’s still out! Why? Because your thinking has changed!
The negative thinking style is an unhelpful way of thinking. It’s a little more than just a few negative thoughts here and there, we all have those from time to time. It’s the person’s whole outlook on life, their belief system. A belief system is just a set of personal viewpoints, which provide us with fundamental principles and rules we store and organise all experiences by. This is to help us make sense of the world. Remember beliefs are not facts, they’re just what we believe, just a bunch of thoughts, and thoughts are very easy to change. According to Martin Seligman, “habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”
So what other characteristics is there of the negative thinking style?
- Do you rarely take time to be in the moment, appreciating the simple niceties in life?
- Do the negatives of situations always jump out at you?
- Do you always feel just this side of the fence of depression and it’s a fight to remain there?
- Is the glass always half-empty and you tell yourself “I’m a realist”?
- Is dreaming and fantasising about a better, improved life just not how you roll?
- When you predict the worst and it comes true, is there a small part of you that’s secretly pleased because you were right?
- Do you prefer to stay in your comfort zone, not trying new ideas and experiences because you’re convinced something negative will cause it to fail?
While having a negative outlook on life may feel safe and your way of staying in control, a number of evidence shows that continuously exposing yourself to a negative belief system, will have an impact on your overall health and well-being. Research done by Goodhart, Gil et al, and Peden et al all show negative people don’t tend to have the same success, levels of happiness or gratitude as people with a positive outlook do. One study in particular, carried out by Danner et al, looked back at the expressions of emotion in 180 essays, written by nuns in their early 20’s, when joining the Catholic church. Sixty years after the letters were written, Danner found that around 50% of the nuns who scored on his scale as not very positive had died, but only 20% of the nuns who were higher on the positive scale had died. So according to this study, if you have a positive outlook on life overall and generate positive emotions, you are two and a half times more likely to live longer.
The good thing is it’s not hard to change. It just requires some persistent and continuous effort on your part to make new thinking patterns in the brain and keep them strengthened. This is just about building new “positive thinking” neural pathways and allowing the old “negative thinking” neural pathways to fade and disappear. When our brain thinks a thought, we build new neural connections, as we repeat the thought, we develop solid patterns. This change takes about two weeks to achieve.
Here’s how to start on the right path.
- Pay attention to the language you use in your head to yourself and out loud. Negative words will lower your mood and positive words will increase your mood. It’s as simple as that. It may take some practise, getting in the way of catching your inner and outer speech content but it is worth working on.
- Challenge yourself to minimise negatives and find positives in every situation. All experience is just about what we process. So if you process even the worst of experiences in a helpful way, by focusing on the positives, what you’ve learned and can take forward, your mood will improve and you’ll feel better.
- Live in the moment. Instead of living inside of your head so much, start looking at your surroundings: What’s happening around you? What’s positive about your environment? The landscape? The people? Nature?
- Find at least five things to be grateful for everyday. To remind yourself, buy some small colourful stickers and put them on things you use a lot, like your phone, wallet, diary, computer, toothbrush. Just somewhere you’ll see them. When you see them think of something you’re grateful for.
If you like these tips why not book a free consultation over Skype? The Thrive Programme is based on the latest research, is packed with actions and exercises to get you living your life to the full. Because it’s based on positive psychology, the programme isn’t about going over the past or analysing problems, its about learning a whole bunch of skills to make practical changes you’ll have for life. As well as learning these skills, it also teaches you what’s behind your unhelpful thinking and what makes you tick. That’s a very empowering place to be. Negative thinking style is just one piece of the Thrive jigsaw puzzle, there are many more. Curious? Buy the book here. Or click through to my website to get in touch.
Michelle Winter is a full-time Thrive Programme Consultant. Thrive is a 6-8 week programme teaching people skills about locus of control, self-esteem, social anxiety, unhelpful thinking styles, to make positive changes in their lives. Prior to being a Thrive Consultant, Michelle was a mental health nurse in the NHS working in various settings. After finding Thrive to overcome some physical and mental health problems, changing her life, she was keen to share the programme with others. Michelle is on Twitter @ and you can read more about her services on her website.