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How To Stop Thinking Negatively

Learn how to change your attitude by following these tips.

Your alarm goes off and it’s time to get up, but you are dreading your day. Perhaps your to-do list is a mile long, you have a test or meeting you’ve been dreading, or it’s just a regular day — but you are feeling uninspired and unmotivated. Your head is filled with negative and self-critical thoughts. Maybe it’s time for an attitude adjustment.

One of the most powerful tools you have to turn your day around is your ability to choose how you respond to whatever it is you are facing — whether that’s a stressful conversation, feeling unmotivated, or a mental health issue. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. We can either choose to focus on the negative and assume the worst will happen, or we can take a more realistic or positive approach. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a realistic and positive approach any chance I can get.

The first step in giving yourself an attitude adjustment is recognizing when you are falling into worrying, ruminating, and negative thinking. We all get stuck in negative thinking ruts. Growing in self-awareness can help you more quickly identify your negative thinking patterns and pull yourself out of that rut more quickly. 

There are several common negative thinking patterns:

  • All or nothing thinking: it’s all good or all bad with no room for nuance;
  • Personalization: everything is your fault, even those things outside of your control;
  • Overgeneralizing: giving more weight or significance to the negative aspect of something (even if other positive or neutral things happened), or categorizing yourself with a negative label;
  • Jumping to conclusions: assuming the worst will happen.
  • (Check out Harvard University’s Stress and Development Lab for a full list.) 

These negative thinking patterns lock you into a negative viewpoint of the situation and your experience, instead of empowering you to choose what perspective you want to take and how you will respond to it. Cultivating self-awareness is key to shifting your attitude. Once you’ve started building up your ability to recognize all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, personalizing, jumping conclusions, etc., you can use one of the three strategies below to change your attitude.

Reframe

Negative thinking patterns, such as worst-case scenario thinking, assume the worst will happen. For example, thinking, “I’m going to fail this test;” or, “I’m going to bomb this presentation;” or, “No one will ever want to go out with me” all assume that nothing good will happen. 

Reframing these thoughts to focus on a more realistic approach, or a more empowering one, can help shift your attitude from one of discouragement to confidence. For example, if you are nervous about your test, try reframing your thought to something like, “I’ve prepared as best I can for this test. If I feel nervous during the exam, I’m going to remember to pause for some deep breaths and remind myself that I have prepared for this test.” Or you might reframe your thoughts about your interview or presentation to say, “I know this material and my goal is just to communicate what I know. If I lose my train of thought, it’s okay to pause and regroup.” And finally, if you are feeling discouraged about dating, you could reframe your thought by telling yourself, “I choose to believe that I will find the right person for me. Just because I haven’t found that person yet doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.” 

Refocus

This strategy changes the focus from what’s wrong about the situation to what’s positive or “right” about it. For example, if you can only focus on that one typo you made, or one awkward conversation you’ve had with someone, the refocus strategy can help you to zoom out and see either what did go well or how you’d like to respond going forward. 

One typo doesn’t mean that you are a horrible person. We all make mistakes from time to time, and that’s all a typo is — a tiny mistake. Or if you find yourself ruminating over an awkward conversation, it might be helpful to refocus on all of the comfortable conversations you’ve had with that person, or you might refocus on how you want to address that awkward conversation with that person. Refocusing on the positive or what you can do (instead of what you can’t address, or what went wrong) is a much more empowering approach to the situation. 

Challenge

Finally, challenging your negative thinking can be a very powerful strategy. Negative thinking can be tricky — we often assume that because we thought it, it must be true. The reality is that this is usually not the case. In fact, there is almost always a way to disprove that your negative thought is 100-percent true. 

For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I’m a failure. Everyone else has life figured out except for me,” you can challenge that thought by identifying times that you’ve either been successful, times when you’ve risen to the challenge, or when you’ve set and achieved a goal for yourself. Challenging your negative thoughts is an extremely effective strategy because all you need is just one example to disprove your negative thought. If you can identify just one time where you haven’t been a failure (and I guarantee you will), you can’t accurately call yourself a failure any more.

Changing your attitude takes time and practice, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Imagine being able to wake up in the morning not dreading your day but instead feeling empowered to face whatever is in store for you — whether it’s a day full of things you enjoy or a day full of challenges. 

Remember: you can choose how you think about literally anything you approach in life. Intentionally choosing the attitude you bring to the table today will be a game-changer.

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