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Why do your negative thoughts always pop up out of nowhere?
Have you ever had a pleasant day at work and suddenly, one co-worker stated his/her opinion and it quite bothered you?
No matter how great the day went, you still fixate on that one negative opinion, despite being praised by other people.
The good news is that it’s very common and you’re not a pessimist. As it turns out, criticisms often have greater impact than compliments.
Turns out, bad is stronger than good, as shown in this psychological study.
Experts call it the “negativity bias.”
Not being able to control negativity or always giving in to it can have a detrimental effect on your behavior, your decisions, and even your relationships.
Having negative thoughts can ruin a somewhat perfect day. It can invalidate the efforts of your loved ones and yourself.
It can make you think you’re inadequate. No matter how great your performance is at work or in other aspects of your life, you would think otherwise.
Why do you have negative thoughts?
Ever heard the phrase “first impressions last”?
It has a lot to do with negativity bias.
Specifically, negative first impressions last, and, in most interactions, we notice the negative things first before the positive ones.
We tend to vividly remember the negative impressions. And there’s more:
- We recall traumatic events more easily than happy ones
- We tend to dwell on insults rather than praise
- Our brains react more to negative stimuli
- Our reactions affects our mood and negative thoughts
The main reason why humans pay attention to negative events dates back to our evolution.
In ancient times, it was a matter of survival. Those who pay attention to danger were more likely to survive. It’s the brain’s way of keeping us safe, a fight-or-flight response.
But here’s the thing: even when you’re not in danger, your brain thinks that you are, similar to a person with an anxiety disorder.
How do you trick your brain into knowing you’re okay?
What happens inside your brain when it receives negative stimuli?
According to studies, negative information weighs more heavily on the brain.
Experts recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and it showed the brain’s response to different stimuli when the person was showed positive, negative, and neutral pictures.
Results showed that the brain’s response was stronger on negative neural images compared to positive images, despite both images being extreme.
How can you control your negative thoughts?
1. Know your thought distortions. You need to know these four (4) thought patterns in order to challenge them.
These false thoughts reinforce negative thinking. The amygdala is the non-rational part of the brain and when it believes what you think is true, your entire body will follow.
Yes, you will challenge them to prove them wrong (“them” meaning your own thoughts). Stick with me for a bit and it will make sense.
- Splitting or all-or-nothing thinking. Seeing things in extremes. Things are either all bad or all good with nothing in-between.
- Personalizing. Blaming yourself for every instance, like if someone didn’t answer your call or messages. You would think you did something to upset the person when in reality that person was just busy and may reply to you in a few hours.
- Mental Filter. Focusing only on the negative aspects and filtering out all of the positive ones.
- Catastrophizing. Assuming the worst possible scenario.
2. Confront your negative thoughts (this is where it will make total sense)
Whenever you catch yourself having thought distortion, (refer to item number 1) you should evaluate them if it is accurate. Ask yourself:
“Is it logical for me to think I’ve done something wrong because my bestie didn’t reply? It was just 5 minutes ago. Okay, it’s just my negative thoughts.”
Validate these thoughts.
3. Stop right there
Stop your negative thoughts whenever they begin and avoid fixating on the things you can’t change, like past mistakes.
Train your brain to see the good in everything, everyone, every situation.
I’m not saying you should ignore the facts, but don’t entertain the negative thoughts that do not reflect reality.
For example, let’s say that you are running late for a show and you took a personal leave day to participate. Stop fixating on the fact that you were late and you may not be able to make it. Instead, think about how you can make your day awesome despite not making it to the show. For example, go to the spa or buy something nice for yourself instead of blaming yourself the entire night for being late and not making it to the show.
4. Be grateful
This is the easiest one of all the steps because gratefulness has a huge impact on your happiness and your way of thinking.
Make a list of the things you’re grateful for daily, even the smallest things. Read them from time to time or when negative thoughts pop up.
5. You are strong-focus on that
Write a journal listing your strengths, your good, and endearing qualities. Remind yourself every day how special you are, that you are loved, that you are important.
The transition to thinking positively will be smooth sailing if you start focusing on what you’re good at, your strengths.
Whenever you have negative thoughts, take a deep breath, take a moment, and think about what you like about yourself.
Top photo credit: Tiko Giorgadze, Unsplash