I got a call from a client today who was worrying and obsessing over a problem. Her mind was racing with the worst possible scenarios. She called me so I could replace the bad thoughts with good ones and she would feel better. I typed her name into my computer, found her file and hit enter. Instantly her thoughts changed from bad to good.
Seriously, I wish it were that simple!! We all have thoughts that we wish would vanish forever. But the truth is that negative thoughts have an important job. Sometimes they do positive things for us.
If we thought positive all the time, we would be absent from reality. While it’s nice to look at the bright side, it is crucial to recognize and prepare for the obstacles too.
Studies have shown that a little dose of negative thinking is good for us.
Negative thoughts can motivate us to take action. For example, if the doctor said to lose 50lbs or die of a heart attack, you would probably get to work right away. When you think you are at a healthy weight when you are not, you are less motivated to take action to save your life.
Negative thoughts can help us become aware of a problem and then inspire us to change. If we live like an ostrich, with our head in the sand, we will never face reality. We need to know where we are now to get to where we want to be.
If we constantly reject a negative thought, it can become more intense. What we resist can persist. If I tell you, “Don’t think about a polar bear,” you will immediately think about a polar bear. If you constantly tell yourself not to think of something, you will.
The answer is not to prevent the negative thoughts from entering our minds, but to control how long they stay there. We can train our brains to process the thoughts differently so the thoughts have less power over us.
Training your brain is just like training your body. When you work a muscle consistently, it becomes stronger. When you work your brain consistently, your positive thoughts become stronger. Soon the positive outweighs the negative and you will find yourself thinking differently.
There are negative thoughts that motivate us and negative thoughts that disempower us. The following exercises are for the disempowering thoughts such as fear, self-doubt, worry, anger and perfectionism. When these unwanted thoughts pop into your mind, follow these steps:
1. Catch yourself doing it. In order to change something, you need to bring awareness to it. Ask yourself, “Are my thoughts making me feel better or worse right now?”
2. Change the negative thought into a positive one. Your mind can only think one thought at a time, so find something positive and focus on it. One of the most common disempowering thoughts is “What if ___________?”
When we obsess about what could go wrong, it creates anxiety and worry. Know the potential outcomes, make a plan and take action. Then focus on the outcome you want.
Picture the thought in your mind. Then erase what could go wrong and then picture what could go right.
3. Make yourself laugh. We are way too serious when we are stressed out. When my son was in the hospital awaiting his cancer surgery, I made it a point to make everyone laugh. Humor releases feel good chemicals in the brain and eases the pressure of the situation.
4. Write the negative thought down on a piece of paper and throw it away. Then write an empowering thought down on another piece of paper and keep it with you. (This is one of my favorites!)
5. Create 4-5 positive statements your can say to yourself regularly. When you say optimistic things to yourself, you will start believing it. Studies show optimistic people are healthier, happier and live longer.
Always remind yourself that what you are thinking is only a thought. It is not the absolute truth. It has no power over you unless you allow it.
Upgrade your thinking and uplift your life!