Negative thought patterns have a tremendous impact on our lives. What happens in our heads (our thoughts) is the difference between leading a life that feels satisfying and one that feels unmanageable. A negative perspective will almost always lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Why is it so hard to make healthy choices when you’re feeling down? Here is the connection in simple terms:
THOUGHTS —> EMOTIONS —> ACTIONS
Thoughts essentially drive our feelings. Our feelings then drive our actions, behaviours and choices (ABC’S). Decisions emerge from emotions defined by a particular perspective. When our perspective is one that is filtered through negative thoughts, these create unpleasant emotions. These unpleasant emotions then lead us to make unhealthy choices. Simply put: thoughts drive feelings; then feelings drive choices.
Here is an example:
I don’t go to the gym anymore (ABC—action, behavior, choice) because…I feel overwhelmed (EMOTION)
I feel overwhelmed (EMOTION)…because I think life will never get better (THOUGHT)
The root of the problem is the perspective (life will never get better) one holds. How do we change negative perspectives and develop a positive perspective?
IDENTIFY NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
Step 1: List all ABC’s (Actions, Choices, Behaviours) you want to change
Step 2: List all unpleasant emotions experienced on a regular basis
Step 3: Identify negative thoughts using the following formula:
I feel ____________because I think _________________________________
CHANGE NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS
A positive perspective can be adopted by following these guidelines:
1. Practice Self Compassion
Negative thoughts are characterized by criticism and judgment. “I am such a failure”. Challenge negative thoughts by practicing compassion and kindness towards yourself. You will be amazed by the calming effects of gentle self-talk.
2. Tell the Truth
Negative thoughts are most often untrue. They are lies that we have told ourselves so often that we actually begin to believe them to be true. “I’m not good at anything”. Clearly that statement is not true. Challenge negative thoughts by telling yourself the truth. The truth really does set us free!
3. Be Specific
Negative thoughts are characterized over-generalizations and are rarely specific. “I am NEVER going to get ANYTHING right”. Again, not only is this thought untrue, but it is clearly an over-generalization. Challenge negative thoughts by being more specific. Be clear on what your strengths are as well as your growth areas.
4. Focus on what you can Change/Control
Negative thoughts are characterized by a focus on what we cannot change or control. “I want this job so badly, but I’m sure I won’t get it”. We can’t control outcomes (getting a particular job), but we can control our effort. Focus your attention on your thoughts and your actions so that you can influence positive outcomes to the best of your ability.
5. Accept what you can’t Change/Control
Negative thoughts are characterized by ruminating on what we cannot change or control. “My boss is so insensitive”. We cannot control other people, their thoughts or their feelings. Be the best version of yourself, set appropriate boundaries and accept the outcome. Free yourself from trying to manage others reactions and focus on your own.
Changing negative thoughts and adopting a healthy perspective takes time. The more you practice challenging the toxic thoughts that enter your mind throughout the day, the more natural a positive perspective will become. Be patient. You are worth the time and effort!