How and what we think can affect the way we feel. If your thoughts become negative, your emotional well-being might be affected. However, with some self-awareness of the way you’re thinking and the use of helpful tips and tools, you can work on improving your mindset. Positive feelings are within your reach.
- 1 The Pros of Positive Thinking:
- 2 Identify Negative Thinking:
- 3 Steps to Challenge Your Negative Thoughts and Form a More Positive Outlook:
The Pros of Positive Thinking:
Positive thinking can be a preventative measure for safeguarding your physical and mental health.
Research shows that the health benefits of positive thinking may include:
- Increased life span.
- Better physical health.
- Better mental health.
- Improved cardiovascular health.
- Lower rates of depression and distress.
- Greater immunity to colds.
- A more optimistic outlook, flexibility, and adaptability in the face of changes and challenges.
If you would like to learn more about strengthening your mental health or if you have any mental health concerns, please reach out for the support of a licensed mental health professional.
Identify Negative Thinking:
Identifying your negative thoughts is a good first step on the journey to more positive thinking. Some common types of negative self-talk and cognitive distortions (viewing reality inaccurately and often negatively) include:
Seeing the negative of a situation and “filtering out” the positive. For example, you might focus only on what you did wrong without acknowledging anything you did right.
Automatically imagining the worst-case scenario. For example, you might assume that because someone is late, they’ve been in a terrible accident.
Seeing everything as either good or bad, with no middle ground. For example, you might think in extreme or all-or-nothing terms. A thought like “I’m so lazy. I can never do anything right” is an example of polarized thinking.
When something negative happens and you automatically blame yourself or you assume that everything that happens is a reaction to you, you are personalizing situations. However, there can be many causes for negative moments in life, most of which are not your fault or caused by you. For example, you might think that it’s all your fault if a friend has a bad experience, but it might have little or nothing to do with you.
Applying, with little evidence, thought about one situation to all others. “I failed the test. I’m horrible at everything” is an example of overgeneralizing.
Believing that you know what others are thinking based on their behavior. For example, you might think that if you don’t hear from a friend for a while, it’s a sign that they don’t like you. In reality, though, there are numerous reasons why they might have lost touch.
Thinking of yourself as more or less in control of a situation than you really are. For example, you might feel you’re responsible for cheering someone up when in reality, you can do your best to help others feel happy, but ultimately you cannot control their feelings.
Letting feelings guide our thoughts and beliefs without real evidence. For example, you might reason that you are a failure simply because you feel like a failure, despite reality.
Steps to Challenge Your Negative Thoughts and Form a More Positive Outlook:
If you change the way you think about events, people—including yourself—and circumstances, you may be able to reframe negative thoughts in more accurate and positive ways, which can in turn help you manage your feelings. Steps to try include:
Identifying negative thoughts and the circumstances surrounding when and why they usually occur can help you catch negative thinking and consider more positive alternatives.
Questioning your assumptions:
Ask yourself questions to determine how realistic your negative thoughts actually are. Questions include: “Is this based on emotion or facts?” “Is there evidence that this thought is and is not accurate?” “What is the worst that could happen?” “How else could this thought or information be interpreted?” “Am I viewing this in extremes or as all bad, or is there some middle ground here?”
Look at facts about the thought. Try labeling the type of negative thought you’re having and then listing facts supporting why it’s accurate and why it’s not.
Consider the alternatives:
Come up with rational and positive alternatives for negative thoughts. Remember, there can be many reasons why things happen in life.
Identifying and changing your negative thought patterns can have many benefits. You may be able to lower stress and anxiety, develop a more optimistic outlook, and better cope with life’s challenges. Licensed mental health professionals can help you learn to change negative thinking and offer support for mental health concerns—please seek help if you or a loved one is in need.