Have you ever had the thought, "If I expect the worst, I'll never be quite as disappointed" ?
Thinking negatively, expecting “the worst,” seeing the downside of positive situations, and even downright expecting failure, all convey a kind of backwards thinking, an emotional insurance policy. It happens subconsciously and it goes something like, “If I expect a catastrophe, then I won’t be quite as disappointed when it takes place and won't have to feel badly."
A beautiful scene, a piece of art or person might be right in front of you. It’s sophisticated, artistic, perhaps the result of deep love and devotion. The colors, patterns and characteristics are like no other—they shine brightly and leap towards you. And yet, maybe you choose to fixate your eyes on the tiny, dark bug that has landed on the edge of this masterpiece, or the one thing that annoys you about this person.
People who are habitually negative thinkers are often proud to describe themselves as “realists.”
The “being realistic” pronouncement is a favorite among cynics everywhere. And, in a way, they are correct. But only because negative thinking causes the human mind to give up on everything—to not even try, or to give a disorganized, half hearted effort—so the negativity itself influences the end result. In this way, self-fulfilling predictions like this really do happen.
What makes all of this even more alarming is that negative thoughts can plague us even when life is going relatively well. For instance, have you ever had the thought “This is much too good to last!”?
This can quickly wreak havoc on a positive situation. It’s as if there’s a special mental block filtering out all the positives and only letting in data that confirms the negative biases we have.
To change our thinking, it helps to have a better understanding of what we’re thinking in the first place. When a troubling (negative) thought arises in your mind, instead of ignoring it, pay closer attention and then record it. For example, if you’re sitting at your desk and you catch yourself ruminating about something negative, pause and write it down immediately. Get that raw thought out of your head and down on paper—just a short sentence or two that honestly depicts the specific thought that’s presently troubling you:
“I’m not good enough for the job I’m applying for because I don’t have enough experience.”
Then, identify what triggered the thought. Again, be brief and specific:
“I’m new to the company, and therefore I’m feeling out of my comfort zone.”
At the very least, this process of evaluating negative thoughts and their underlying triggers helps bring a healthy, objective awareness to the sources of negativity or anxiety, which ultimately allows you to shift your mindset and take the next positive step forward. Encourage yourself to see all the in-between places of a situation. Thinking in extremes, as I have learned over and over, is a fast way to misery, because it basically views any situation that’s less than perfect as being extremely bad. Most of life occurs in a grey area-- between the extremes of bliss and total devastation. Traffic that has slowed down the commute back home from work can turn into “it wasted my whole evening and ruined the night!”
What if we could remind ourselves that we just need more practice. We have to find a happy medium of accepting ourselves as we are, and then committing to personal growth. If I think I am absolutely “perfect” already, I will not make any positive efforts to grow. But, constantly criticizing myself is just as counterproductive as doing nothing, because I will never be able to build new positive changes into my life when I am obsessively focused on my flaws.
What if we changed our internal conversation from, “I have to be better,” to, “I will do my absolute best today.” The second statement is far more effective, because it actually prompts us to take positive action at any given moment while simultaneously accepting the reality that every effort may not be perfect.
So, do your very best to catch yourself today and quiet the negative voice. :)
Love for the journey,