Many of us have an affinity towards negative thoughts and overall pessimism.
Seeing doomsday scenarios everywhere, always assuming the worst might happen, blaming ourselves for things that we have no control over and so on.
This way of thinking is actually quite common.
Studies show that we, as humans, have a certain bias towards negative emotions.
To put it simply, our brain is built to remember and focus more on negative experiences than positive ones.
Many years ago this bias was advantageous and helped our ancestors avoid danger and keep themselves safe.
It allows us to learn from past mistakes more effectively and make sure to avoid them in the future.
It was and is a useful tool, but in many cases it can do us more harm than good.
Negative thinking patterns are wired to your brain
Not everyone is affected by their negativity bias in the same way.
Our subjective thoughts and views can affect the way that our brain interprets the information that our senses feed it.
For many different reasons and just as many different causes, some people are less inclined towards negativity than others.
In fact, some people have practically no negativity bias whatsoever, with older adults demonstrating a particularly low inclination towards negative thinking.
For many other people, however, their negativity bias can be all-consuming.
A lot of that has to do with our brain’s ability to change over the course of our lives.
This ability is known as neuroplasticity, and with it you can train your brain to react to certain situations in different ways.
For example, if you react poorly to stress you are reinforcing this kind of reaction in your brain, making it more reactive and anxious.
Alternatively, by finding ways to relax and handle stress better your brain will be less likely to react in a negative way when under difficult circumstances.
The way that we act shapes our thoughts, and some of the negative thinking patterns that we tend to fall into can be quite self-destructing.
10 Common negative thinking patterns
Negative thinking patterns can cause unnecessary anxiety and can lead to a pessimistic outlook on life.
In order to avoid them you need to be able to recognize them first, so here are ten of the most common negative thinking patterns:
- Ignoring praise – Being unable to receive praise, often disregarding it
For example: “I’m good at painting, but there are so many people that are better than me. My talent is nothing special”
- Black and White Thinking – Thinking in extremes; either it’s perfect or it’s a failure
For example: “I failed this task, I’m such a failure”
- Guessing what other people think – Always assuming that other people are thinking the worst about you
For example: “They probably think that I’m boring”
- Blaming ourselves – Assuming that you have done something wrong
For example: “Our group project failed, I must’ve done something wrong.”
- Catastrophising – Turning minor, or even nonexistent, problems into major issues
For example: “I sent them a text half an hour ago and they didn’t respond – Do they hate me?!”
- Name Calling – Calling yourself names
For example: “I’m such an idiot”
- Guessing the future – Assuming that every situation will turn out for the worst
Example: “I have this job interview, but I’m probably not good enough”
- Filtering – Ignoring the positive side of any situation, focusing only on the negatives
Example: “I’m really fit and healthy, but my right arm is disproportionately more muscular than my left – This is horrible!”
- Perfectionism – Having unrealistic expectations of yourself, practically setting yourself up for failure
Example: “I must be a perfect student, anything less than straight As is a failure
- Using the word “Should” – Including the word “should” in your thinking can generate and frustration guilt whenever we fail to follow through
Example: “I should exercise more”
Needless to say, these patterns of thinking are harmful and dangerous.
The question is, how do you get rid of them?
How to overcome negative thinking patterns
At the most basic level, neuroplasticity is created by our habits.
We make being a perfectionist a habit, and soon enough we become obsessive with perfection.
We make it a habit to worry and fuss over every little thing, and we end up becoming reactive and anxious without ever meaning to.
The good news is that it’s completely possible for us to turn this type of thinking around.
We can do this by challenging our existing thoughts and by adopting new habits that will affect us in more positive ways.
1) Become aware of your negative thought patterns
The first step in overcoming a problem is recognizing it first.
In this case, without knowing what your thoughts are you can’t really change them.
The first thing that you should do is to try to “catch” yourself in the act.
You might not be able to prevent random thoughts from popping inside your head, but you should certainly be able to notice them while they are there.
Being self-conscious, not of yourself but of your own thinking, is a good thing in this particular case.
One way to accomplish that is to write your thoughts down in a journal.
By doing so you will be able to notice changes in your way of thinking over time, making it easier for you to recognize a pattern in your way of thinking.
Another great method for becoming more aware of your own thoughts is mindfulness.
Mindfulness will allow you to actively view your own thoughts from the outside by letting your mind wander in a controlled manner.
It really couldn’t be any more simple:
- Find yourself a comfortable place to sit
- Close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breathing
- Whenever your mind wanders elsewhere start focusing on your breathing again
With this systematic approach, you will be able to recognize and even redirect negative thoughts as they appear much more easily.
2) Know your triggers
Certain people react to certain situations in specific ways.
For example, some people have a tendency to compare themselves to other people that they know.
If the comparison is unfavorable, for example if they earn less or are less “successful”, they tend to see themselves as failures.
Comparing yourself to other people can be a good thing, it can motivate you to do better, but in some cases it can also completely ruin your mood and spiral you into a self-deprecating series of thoughts.
Different people have different triggers, so it’s important to learn to recognize exactly what things can make you upset or derail your thinking.
Triggers can be difficult to spot due to the sudden emotional change that they cause, reducing your ability to logically asses your own state of mind.
This sort of behavior is best noticed in hindsight.
Much like before, I highly recommend using a journal to help yourself figure out what exactly these triggers are.
3) Challenge your inner critic
Negative thinking patterns stem from emotional reasoning.
On the most rational level they really hold no ground.
How can you be a failure if you have successes to your name, even minor ones such as having a job, a family, or even being able to pay rent?
Why must you be a straight-A student or an unrivaled employee? What are you hoping to accomplish? What’s so wrong with getting a B here and there?
The examples go on and on, but the point here is that negative thinking doesn’t make any sense, it’s an inherently emotional issue.
So now that you are aware of your negative thoughts, why not challenge them?
Keep asking yourself questions every time you are feeling bad, never settle for unreasonable answers – your inner critic makes plenty of baseless accusations.
- Why am I feeling this way?
- How likely is this to happen?
- What can I do to improve this situation?
- In what way am I a failure?
- Why should anyone hate me?
- In what ways am I stupid?
The point here is to keep challenging your own thoughts without slowing down and to do your best to ignore your emotional biases.
Over time you will be able to challenge your own thoughts as though it was a natural thing to do – you will become your inner critic’s own critic, and be much better for it.
4) Make changes in your lifestyle.
The change that you are hoping for is to stop having these negative thoughts, but the way leading to that change is long and can be difficult.
You can make it much easier by applying changes in your daily life.
Set yourself a sleeping schedule, try exercising, spend more time with your family, go on a vacation and so on.
Our actions can shape our thoughts, and one of the reasons that you are so negative has to do with the way that you’ve been acting so far.
If you are truly serious about this problem then I would recommend checking out the “Destroy Depression” Program
In it, you will find all of the necessary lifestyle changes to help you start thinking in a more positive way.
If you have any further questions you can get in touch with me by either sending an email or asking your questions in the comment section below.
I look forward to hearing from you!