You might think that negative thinking isn’t anything to be concerned about. But when you’re angry, upset, or thinking negatively, you’re a step closer to the thing you’re worrying about, or angry about, or upset about. When you think “I can’t do this!”, you’re a step closer to not doing it than doing it. When you think “I’m a terrible partner”, you’re a step closer to being a terrible partner. But when we turn that around, when we think positively, we’re a step closer to being in a good situation. When we say “I can do it!”, we’re on the way to doing it.
This is because our thinking affects our actions. Our body is heavily influenced by our mind, and so if we think negatively—if we think we can’t do something—then we can’t do it. By thinking negatively, we stop ourselves from achieving because we don’t think we can achieve. This in turn affects our self-confidence, as we’ll see in more depth in the next chapter.
On a large scale, negative thinking can lead us to feel permanently helpless. One bad situation can cause us to doubt our entire lives. One argument to doubt our whole relationship. One mistake at work to thinking we’re incompetent. If we listen to all of our negative thoughts, we may even become depressed. We certainly won’t have a good self-image.
What’s more, when we view a situation negatively, we become nervous about it. We don’t want to be in that situation, and we might avoid it and then miss out on an opportunity. But when we view it positively, we become excited, we want to be in that situation. We start to see it as an opportunity, a challenge. So when you’re starting something new, don’t be nervous—be excited.
When you think positively, you embrace new situations as a challenge to overcome and learn from. You’ll feel happier, and you’ll get more done. You’ll see the good in other things and other people, and yourself. You’ll be grateful for what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have. And you’ll make the most of every opportunity that’s offered to you.
The effects of negativity on others
It’s not just the effect on ourselves—but our negative thinking can have an effect on other people too. Firstly, our negative thinking can actually cause negative situations. For example, you think you’re a terrible partner, and you start to worry that your wife will leave you. Your negative thinking might cause your actions to be cold and unloving towards her. Your relationship suffers, and your negative thinking has made the situation worse. If you think positively, you can address the issues before they have a negative effect.
Negative thinking can affect your relationships. If you think negatively, the likelihood is that what you say reflects this. And if you’re always talking negatively to your friends and family, you start to become a drain on other people, because they constantly have to reassure you, or try to talk you out of the negativity. The harsh reality is that negative people are no fun to be around for any length of time, so you’ll notice over time that you lose friends, people don’t want to spend time with you, and your loved ones lose their patience with you.
What’s more, it can even affect those who don’t know you. Imagine you’ve got a job interview and it’s been you and another person. You go into the interview thinking negatively—“Why would they choose me? I’m sure the other person is better. They won’t choose me. I never get chosen for anything.”
Whether you know it or not, your internal negative thoughts are on display through your body language, your tone of voice, your facial expressions. In job interviews, 55% of the interviewer’s decision is subconsciously based on your body language, and 38% on your tone. Without realising it, you give off negative vibes. So even if you’re perfect for the job, the interviewers pick up on the negativity and they consciously or subconsciously don’t choose you.
On the other hand, your competing candidate has a positive attitude and went in to the interview with positive thoughts like “I can get this job! I’m qualified for it and I’d be great for them. I know I can pass this interview!” As a result, they come across as bubbly, cheerful, and smiley. Unsurprisingly, they get the job—even if they weren’t as qualified as you.
This doesn’t just affect you at work, but when you’re trying to attract friends or a partner. When you give off negative vibes, you don’t attract the right type of person. You attract people who want to put you down to make themselves feel better. Or other negative people, who want to keep you at the same level as them. Or you attract nobody at all.
On the contrary, when you have positive thoughts and a positive attitude, you give off positive vibes. You motivate and inspire the people around you. You make friends easily, and attract the right sort of people—positive, confident people. Other people want to spend time around you, and help you when you need help. You’ll find that more opportunities are offered to you.
Why do we have negative thinking?
Don’t berate yourself for having negative thoughts, as they are actually automatic responses from our brain. This might sound strange, but it’s our mind’s way of trying to protect us from a situation that might be dangerous. If our mind makes us think negatively, we might not get involved in the situation, and we’ll avoid getting physically hurt, or mentally hurt. In other words, our brain is just trying to ensure our survival. Negative thoughts are a survival method. In some cases, this is actually vital, as it protects us from doing particularly reckless things that might kill us.
But that doesn’t mean that all of our negative thoughts are useful or even appropriate for the circumstances. On the contrary, negative thinking becomes a fall-back habit, and before we give ourselves the chance to explore new options, our negative thinking often kicks in. The trouble is that because these thoughts come from our minds, we naturally assume that these negative thoughts are correct: If my mind is telling me I can’t do this, then I can’t do it.
In many occasions, your mind is like an overprotective parent. Of course, there is an element of risk in the situation and you may be hurt in some way, but the negative thought is nothing more than an extreme protection mechanism. There are countless dangers in the world, but it doesn’t mean that we should hide indoors for our entire lives and never risk anything. So, the first thing you need to realise is that your negative thoughts are not always a realistic, appropriate assessment of the circumstances. Sometimes they are just our mind’s “worst case scenario” version of events.
How to stop negative thinking
To stop negative thinking, you need to do the following:
- Really think about the situation and try to assess the source of the thought. Is it a false alarm from your mind? Is it an over-exaggeration of the dangers? Are you trying to protect yourself from something?
- Identify where the underlying belief comes from. For example, is it an incorrect assessment of your own abilities? Is it a negative self-belief?
- Sometimes, talking it through with someone else will shine a light on it. Maybe writing it down will help you explore your thoughts.
- Reframe the negative thought as a potential risk, but not a catastrophic danger that will stop you from trying to achieve your goals. Be aware of the risk and take the chance.
- Consider how you can practically solve the problem and move on.
Don’t worry if it takes a long time for you to get out of the habit of negative thinking. If you’ve ever tried to quit a habit, you’ll know how difficult it can be. But persevere. Work your work way through the steps until you can quickly identify these unhelpful negative thoughts.
Overcoming unexplained moodiness
Negative thoughts can sometimes happen because we “wake up on the wrong side of the bed”. We all know this feeling, when for no apparent reason, you wake up feeling strange and moody. You have niggling worries and doubts about money or time—same old, same old. When this happens, you’re probably not actually worrying about time or money, but your mind needs to attach an explanation to the way you feel, because the mind always needs a reason.
Don’t worry, we all feel this way sometimes. On these occasions, I recommend a morning meditation. There’s a common misconception that meditators or spiritual people don’t struggle with these problems, but I assure you that everyone else does! Meditation doesn’t magically take away all the bad bits of your character or your life. It won’t turn you into a pleasant or calm person overnight, or even forever. But it will help you on your journey. Meditation helps you understand that it’s a long road. For me, it helps me feel okay with the imperfect and unsatisfactory truth of being a human.
Meditation and mindfulness teach us to remain present in awkward moments, without needing to change them. Being able to sit still when you’re experiencing pain or discomfort is incredibly liberating when you realise that it won’t kill you. The stillness of meditation creates distance between you and your thoughts, diminishing their power over you.
It will also help you overcome negative thoughts, so why not try it? If you don’t know how to start, try focusing on a single object, such as a candle flame, an affirmation, or your breathing. It will be difficult at first and you will get distracted, but try to stay in the moment and just focus on that one thing. Over time, it will get easier.
Here are a few things I say to myself when I’m feeling unexplainably moody that might help you:
- Everything arises and passes. If you can just learn to be still and handle whatever is happening, it will pass. Every time.
- Nothing happens without a reason. Setbacks and obstacles exist for a reason. They are meant to be there. They are there to see who wants it most. How bad do you want it? When you encounter an obstacle, take the mess and turn it into the message. Take the test and make it a testimony. Obstacles are there to see how we respond. Ask any successful person and they will tell you that obstacles are there to be turned into opportunities.
- I don’t need to know why this is happening right now. I just need to deal with it. You almost never understand why something is happening while it’s happening. Later, when you’ve come out the other side, it will become visible, and you’ll have the chance to gain perspective and see whether changes need to be made.
- It’s all perfect the way it is. This can be a tough one to swallow, but if you can embrace this idea, then you’re well on the way to a happier life. Everything about you and your life today is the culmination of everything that’s ever happened—how could it possibly be any other way?
Importantly, this is not about trying to change how you feel at the moment, as you can’t force yourself to feel better. It’s about planting seeds and giving your mind the chance to step back from itself. Remember, successful people do not give up when they fail. They feed on failure as motivation to work harder, to focus on getting better results. The strongest people are not always the people who won at first, but the people who didn’t give up when they lost.
Take your destiny into your hands and commit to reaching your destination—to becoming the champion of your own life. You can take charge and shape your reality.