Contrary to what you may have heard, positive thinking alone will not enable you to amass millions. It also won’t bring you the perfect spouse or incredible health. Finding and attaining these things requires much more than simply thinking more positively. Persistence, resilience and interpersonal skills are essential, along with many other variables.
My good friend who’s a counselor once told me the story of an undersized boy at a school where he worked. The boy was a good foot shorter than the other kids in his class, and probably 30 pounds lighter. To make matters worse, he had a habit of wearing old-fashioned tube socks pulled up over his knees. No surprise – school was very difficult for him, and he was picked on constantly.
One day, the boy’s physical education class was playing a game of basketball. With seconds left on the clock, it was one of those viral-video moments: the boy heaved the basketball at the goal with all his might and it swished perfectly through the net.
The other kids erupted, capturing the energy of the moment by hoisting the boy on their shoulders and carrying him around the gym. It was one of those magical instants when the walls break down. The boy was ecstatic.
My friend approached the boy to give him a high five and the boy exclaimed, “This is the second best day of my life!” Curious, my friend asked what his best day was, to which the boy responded that he didn’t know, because it hadn’t happened yet.
I can’t help but smile every time I share that story. What an attitude! I mean, that’s how I want to live – always believing the next day could be my best day ever.
There’s something magnetic about positive emotions. They make us feel good, and they attract others to us as well. Not only that, they’re also proven to help us to live longer and healthier lives.
Positivity is the foundation of wonderful relationships and greater degrees of professional success. Intuitively, we all know this, but studies show that most of us spend 75% of our days mired in negative thinking. How can that be, and what can we do about it?
The human brain plays a cruel trick on us: It gives more attention to negative experiences than positive ones. Why? Because negative events contain the possibility of danger, and so, by default, the brain is automatically on alert for potential threats by keeping those thoughts more present. Thinking positive, therefore, takes a lot more deliberate effort.
The great news is that there are scientifically-proven strategies for removing the negative thoughts that infiltrate our minds. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists are working with patients to focus their attention on managing their thoughts, and not just for incremental improvement, but to actually alter how their brains function forever.
Check out these 5 techniques for how to stop negative thinking:
1. Assert control by labeling the problem
Leading researchers have learned that one of the most important steps in changing our thinking is developing an acute awareness that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are electro-chemical impulses that drive emotion and activity in our lives. We can and should choose the nature of those thoughts.
In his classic work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, philosopher Adam Smith referred to the “well-informed impartial spectator;” in other words, our ability to monitor our thoughts in an objective manner, and to choose which are destructive and then label them as such. This simple act puts the thought in your control. No longer are you controlled by your thoughts – they are entities that can be managed and manipulated to your benefit.
2. Let yourself get angry
Motivation is important in everything we do, and changing our thinking requires intense effort. Knowing this, it’s incredibly important to recognize and quantify the destructive nature of the negative thought. Get a little upset at what feeling sorry for yourself is doing to your relationships. Get ticked off at how your cravings for sugar leave you feeling bad and devoid of the energy you need throughout the day!
With that little ball of anger as your fuel, move forward and create a new value system, in which you decide that no food tastes as good as feeling good feels, and that no amount of self-pity is worth sabotaging the relationships you truly value. This fiery motivation will help your brain make the healthy future more valuable than the momentary tendency to succumb to temptation and indulge choices that will lead to more negativity.
3. Improve your effectiveness by narrowing your focus
We all have a limited amount of focus and willpower, and our minds can only think one thought at a time. Perhaps the number one adversary of accomplished goals are the other goals that divert our attention and dilute our efforts to be effective.
Come up with a list of all the negative thoughts you want to rid yourself of, but prioritize and focus on them one at a time. Modern research is showing that just two weeks of focused attention on one negative thought structure can potentially rid you of those thoughts forever. Knock one out and move on to the next. Each day you’ll get better – you’ll improve the substance of your thoughts, and the world around you will reciprocate with greater joy, meaning and success in your life.
4. Create new neural pathways with thought replacement
When you try to simply use willpower to block a negative thought, it’s often unsuccessful. As they say, that which you resist persists, and that which you fight strengthens. The key is to find a competing thought or activity, one that creates positive thinking and constructive behavior in your life.
For example, when you have the compulsion to eat sugar, go for a walk or engage in a healthier alternate activity. You might replace the impulsive thought in your mind with a mantra that says, “food is medicine for the body.”
The key is to replace the negative thought with something more productive and favorable to put your attention on. Modern brain research shows us that this is how we create new neural pathways to replace the negative tendencies with better and more empowering thinking.
5. Recognize your wins
They say, ‘only that which we measure improves.’ Cognitive therapists work with patients to quantify the strength, duration and frequency of negative thoughts. So, for example, people suffering from depression will rank the strength of their sad thought on a scale from 1 to 100. Each day, they monitor their thinking, and at night they document the frequency and duration of the thoughts and rate their intensity.
This process is critical for two reasons. First of all, it keeps our efforts top of mind so we can maintain the vigilance we need to continue growing in a positive way. More importantly, it allows us to view our progress.
There is no instant gratification with thoughts. It can be very easy not to recognize progress, and this lack of perceived progress can easily become the death of your motivation and efforts. So the last critical step of changing negative thinking is keeping score and recognizing that, just by taking action, you’re winning the game.
I love the poem The Victor by C. W. Longenecker, especially the last four lines, which read:
“Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.”
All we really have in life are the moments. In each moment, we’re either feeling good or bad, experiencing negative or positive thinking. The only way to truly enrich your life is to maximize the moments you spend in positivity, so try the scientifically-proven strategies above and see what a difference they can make on your mindsets!