By Rebecca Sanderson – Director – The Mindset Clinic
12 February 2016
Negative thinking influences the way we feel
Firstly, it’s completely natural to have negative thoughts. However, when they dominate your thinking it can become problematic. Understanding this is crucial to developing a happier, healthier mind-set.
Our moods naturally wax and wane. Being able to control where your thoughts lead and how you react to them is key to finding happiness. When you start to feel unhappy the natural inclination is to try and figure a way out of the problem by finding a solution. The process can dredge up past regrets and create future worries and you start to feel worse. Taking this approach can create a downward spiral of negative emotions and before long your inner critic starts to confirm how lousy you have been at trying to sort out your problem by joining in with name calling and hurling insults. This in turn makes you feel worse and this cyclical approach draws us deeper into a negative state.
Memory connects our state of mind
Our state of mind is connected with memory. Our minds constantly trawl the sea of memories looking for ones that echo our current emotional state. For example if you feel sad the mind will offer up other memories from previous times where you have felt sad or down. Believe it or not it’s actually our brains way of trying to help us to find similarities to previous experiences in order that we can learn from them and move on. But if we get stuck in the trawling stage and don’t move on to the learning stage we find that we are left stranded, out of our depth. This is when the harsh critical inner voice that lives inside us all kicks in and we start to doubt our ability to solve our problems. We find ourselves asking ‘What’s wrong with me?’, ‘Why am I so useless?’, ‘what will happen when everyone realises how pathetic and useless I really am?’ When we turn on ourselves and start these self-attacking thoughts they can gather speed and momentum and before you know it you are left wondering ‘why am I in such a bad mood?’ or ‘why am I so tired today?’
Stop the spiral of negative thoughts
The good news is that it is possible to stop the downward spiral of negative thoughts. Mindfulness can help catch the damaging thoughts as they occur. There has been much research conducted on the benefits of mindfulness particularly for anxiety and depression. As you learn to become aware of the negative thoughts as they appear, acknowledge that they are there and then soon you will begin to observe that they dissipate, like balloons popping or clouds passing. Find out more about Mindfulness.
Modify your thoughts
Another technique is to change the way that the negative thought presents itself. By playing with the way the thought looks or sounds you can reduce the impact of how powerful/threatening/upsetting etc. it is. By modifying the thought in this way you change the memory. By changing the memory you change how your brain associates with the emotions connected with memory. For example if you have a memory of a time where you feel threatened you could try adding a comedic sound track, you could adjust the brightness of the memory by turning it down. You could try changing it from colour to black and white, or speed up the way the memory plays in your mind so it looks like it is a movie on fast forward or rewind.
Change the way you speak to yourself
Changing the sound of your inner critical voice can also be extremely helpful. Our inner critics can be incredibly harsh, judgmental and downright mean. If you were to speak to a friend or a small child who was experiencing the same problem or issue as yourself you would be shocked at how cruel you sound with your reprimanding tone. So try adapting the sound of your inner voice. Be kinder to yourself and imagine you are talking to a 6 year old child and show yourself compassion, love and understanding. Perfectionists find this particularly difficult but it is well worth practicing being kinder to yourself.
By trying these techniques you’ll take yourself off that hair trigger like response and it will allow you to catch the negative thought pattern in its tracks. By changing our perception of the problem we weaken the negative associations and strengthen our ability to see things from a new perspective. By using these techniques your brain will gain the space and distance that it needs to process the “problem” organically and naturally and you may just surprise yourself how liberating this can feel. Tiny changes like this can have a huge impact on the way you live your life and open it up to more joy and happiness.
If you would like help teaching your brain how to catch negative thoughts and stop them in their tracks contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We love helping people to learn how to live happier and healthier lives.