Positivity or negativity is nothing but a frame of mind.
That said, no matter how hard you try, there are times when you just can’t help but feel downright negative about everything in your life. And once you embark on this journey of negative thinking, it can hold you captive and run wild in your mind.
The classic response to get rid of these thoughts is to suppress and push them out of your mind. Unfortunately, contrary to the popular belief, considerable psychological research has shown that suppressing thoughts does not work.
In fact, trying to get rid of these thoughts may actually make them stronger. The more you try to push away intrusive thoughts, the more they will return with a vengeance. What you focus on is generally what you attract.
Furthermore, negative thinking can cause health problems. Dwelling or ruminating on negative thoughts can lead to depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, there are a few simple tips and tricks to debunk negative thoughts and replace them with healthy and beneficial thoughts.
1. Label your thoughts. Monitor your thoughts objectively and become aware of the negative thoughts and label them. Whether it’s anger, frustration or irritation, labeling your thoughts will help you identify exactly what kind of emotion are you experiencing. This puts you in control of your thoughts. If you struggle with identifying your emotions, use an emotions wheel or a worksheet that identifies feelings by pictures. (1)
2. Journal your negative thoughts. Often, it can be difficult to identify the real source of your negative thoughts. Anger and other emotions can get all muddled up in your mind.
Translate your thoughts and emotions into words. Make it a habit of writing down your negative thoughts on a daily basis. Don’t worry about how you are writing it, and whether or not it seems logical. Just write, it will help you express yourself. After some time, you can go back and review your journal to identify triggers or patterns of negative thoughts.
3. Manage your expectations. When you set unrealistic expectations, it leads to disappointment and fosters negative thinking. Be realistic about what you expect in any given situation. Anticipate a good outcome, but be ready to accept whatever the outcome is.
4. Stop thinking in extremes. Those who are prone to negative thinking tend to think in extremes. When there’s a problem, you tend to imagine the worst case scenario. This stops you from looking at the positive side of any situation. Instead, envision both positive and negative possibilities for any situation or scenario. This gives you an alternative to extreme negative thoughts.
5. Don’t jump to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions or attempting to read other people’s minds fosters negativity. You may have a tendency to predict events in your mind and give meaning to them without any real facts. Do not jump to conclusions mindlessly. Relax and contemplate all the logical possibilities and reasoning.
For instance: If a friend did not reply quickly to your email, it could be because he or she is busy, has internet connection issues, was dealing with an emergency or may simply have been sleeping. When you consider all realistic explanations, you curb your tendency to assume negative outcomes and react negatively.
6. Be around positive people. Spend time with positive people who encourage and motivate you, instead of aggravating your situation and making you feel down. Focusing on negative thoughts and emotions is a contagious habit. Emotional vampires drain you of your energy. These are people or situations that beat you up with harsh words or a depressing viewpoint. Frequent discussion of negative thoughts or emotions can exacerbate the level of distress. So, avoid such a company as much as you can. If you find yourself around such people, make a conscious effort not to let it rub off on you.
7. Start your day on a positive note. This is one of the easiest ways to harness positivity. When you get up in the morning, think about something you are grateful for like your family and friends or something positive you hope to accomplish during the day. Focus on positive affirmations like “I am happy,” “I am healthy,” or “I am blessed.” It helps you start your day positively, and keeps you motivated and happy throughout the day.
8. Meditate. Meditation is an effective technique to ward off negative thoughts or feelings. It will shift your attention away from negativity while you focus on your breathing. Meditation does not need to take a lot of time. You can do it anywhere for any short period of time. It helps improve your sense of well-being and can help you to combat stress and anxiety.
To meditate, all you need is an open mind and a quiet place. Mornings are considered to be the best time, as your mind is calmer and more at ease in the morning than any other time of the day.
9. Follow a consistent sleep cycle. Lack of proper sleep or an irregular sleeping cycle can cause depression and tiredness, which is a common reason behind negative thinking. Commit yourself to develop a healthy sleep cycle over a prolonged period of time.
10. Savor positive emotions. The more time you spend thinking about something that made you or makes you happy, the more you are likely to continue feeling happy. Recap your day and find positive emotions to reflect on and take inspiration from to steer your mind toward more positive thinking.
11. Celebrate your wins. Negative thinking clouds your judgment and can prevent you from seeing the positives in any situation. For instance: Say you get promoted at work, but your raise is lower than your colleague received. Usually, you tend to dwell on the negative side of any situation. Instead of focusing on your colleague’s raise, focus on the hike in your salary and the honor of being promoted as a result of your hard work.
12. Smile and laugh. Laugh out loud for no reason. You don’t always need funny prompts to make you smile and laugh. Kids do it all the time, and their laughter is so infectious. Don’t think about looking stupid. Giggle, snort, chuckle – in short, laugh your heart out. Laughter decreases your body’s levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which in turn leads to stress reduction. It is extremely difficult to be negative when you are smiling from ear to ear. Smile at work, when you are with your friends or family, or to complete strangers. If this seems difficult to do, read your favorite comic strip or revisit that video clip that always makes you laugh or smile.
13. Make a list of the things for which you are grateful. When was the last time you stopped and thought about things you are grateful for? Expressing gratitude can increase your overall well-being. Lists are a great way of highlighting the things you are thankful for. At the end of every day, make it a habit of listing the things you are happy and grateful for on that day. Your list can include anything – your achievements, your family and friends, moments you are proud of, etc. Making a list of positive things will help you focus more on the positives in your life, thereby attracting more positivity.
14. Post positive statements where you will see them often. Another method to get rid of your tendency toward negative thinking is writing a positive statement on a sticky note and strategically placing it where you will see it often. Positive affirmations – “I choose happiness, success, and abundance in my life.” or “I believe in myself and my abilities.” – can help motivate and push you toward your goals.
15. Fake it until you make it. After focusing on the negative for so long, your brain has become wired to scout for negative things. However, your mind is very powerful, and you can train it to believe whatever you want. If you feed your mind positive thoughts, it will start believing them and will attract more positivity into your life. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, think of the positive outcome. For instance: Say you missed your bus, and all you can think about is the fact that you will be late to work. Instead, let your boss know that you will be in a little late, then tune in to your iPod and sing along while walking to work.
When in stressful situations, make use of positive affirmations to ease your stress and minimize negative thinking. Recite affirmations like “I am strong,” “I am fearless,” “I am wise” or anything that will motivate you. When alone, say them out loud, or when you’re around people, close your eyes and say them to yourself in your mind, getting in touch with your soul. This might take some practice.
Research has shown that it takes about 5 positive statements for very negative thought. It also shows that the brain learns new patterns through repetition. That is why practice is so important. (2)
16. Be creative. When you find yourself engulfed with negative thoughts, use your creativity to harness the power of positive thinking. Read a few lines of poetry. Draw or paint, even if you can only get your hands on a pack of crayons or sing out loud.
Find a creative outlet for your negative thoughts. Imagine putting those negative thoughts on a leaf and sending it floating down a stream, away from you. Create a collage of positive thoughts. Gather words, pictures or items that inspire positivity. Frame the collage and hang it where you will see it often. It will be a reminder of things that make you happy and may inspire you.
17. Focus on a challenging activity. When you get involved in a challenging activity, your brain goes into learning or problem-solving mode, attentive and alert. A busy brain doesn’t have time for negative thoughts. Do not choose something that is second nature to you. For instance: If you are a good cook, your mind is bound to wander when you are cooking because you are used to doing it, and your brain doesn’t need to focus intently on it. On the contrary, if knitting is something you find challenging, then you are forcing your brain to focus hard and concentrate on it. (3)
18. Find inspiration from nature and your surroundings. Being amidst nature clears your mind and relaxes your body. When you find yourself thinking negatively, spend some time outdoors. Enjoy the scent of the flowers, focus on the humming of the bees, watch the beauty of the sunset or just take a walk in a park. Most of the time, your mind is busy dealing with fear, self-doubt, regret, and guilt – with no time left to enjoy your surroundings.
Slow down and look around you to find inspiration from the people and places you are closely related to. Take time out to visit an art exhibit or attend a musical concert that will take your mind off all the negativity. When you start finding beauty and inspiration in your day-to-day life, negative thoughts will gradually start fading away.
19. Exit the room. If you are not in a position to go outside, simply passing through a doorway or exiting a room can help you get rid of negative thinking. By doing this, you give your brain a cue to leave behind the negative thoughts and move on to something else.
20. Say positive thoughts out loud. When you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts, think of something you can say that will counter or replace your negative thoughts. It might be: “Negative thoughts, go away and don’t come back,” “I am capable of doing this,” or “I am a go-getter.” Say them out loud.
21. Substitute negative thoughts with positive thoughts. When you find yourself rehashing a past instance or going over a negative experience, try to think of a positive experience that you know will make you feel good.
For instance: Think of your last vacation or the party you enjoyed last week. Make sure your positive thought is engaging and pleasurable enough to win the battle over the negative thought.
22. Start saying ‘yet’ instead of ‘but.’ Adding a ‘but’ in a statement changes a positive statement into a negative one. For instance: If you say, “I like playing basketball, but I wish I could be better at it,” you are automatically changing the positive statement into a negative one. Instead, try adding ‘yet’ to a statement. Say, “I am not as good at playing basketball as I would like, yet I know I am improving.” When you add ‘yet,’ you are telling your subconscious mind to prepare for doing whatever it takes to reach your goal.
23. Ask yourself positive questions. Ask yourself positive questions, such as“What is the best thing that can happen to me?” When you do this, your mind will start looking for all the good things that can happen, which will automatically put you into a positive-thinking mode.
24. Flush away your thoughts. This may sound silly, but the doers say writing down your negative thoughts and flushing them down the drain will help get them out of your mind. When you physically discard a representation of your thoughts, you mentally discard them as well.
25. Take responsibility for your actions. Do you tend to blame others when the going gets rough? Whether you like it or not, you are responsible for how you think, act and feel in response to events – be it deliberate or unintentional. Stop being a perpetual victim. Stop blaming others for your actions. Catch yourself the next time you want to point fingers at others.
When you stop blaming others and take responsibility for your actions, you are acknowledging both your weaknesses and strengths. This shows you are completely aware of yourself. When you take responsibility, focus on what went right rather than on what went wrong. This will make you better able to handle stress and challenges.
26. Embrace negativity when useful. Embracing negative thoughts once in a while and using them to your advantage can be healthy. It is okay to ruminate and accept negativity if your focus is to better your situation and grow in your life. At times, negative thoughts are good if they help you move forward.
27. Be kind to yourself. If you’ve been used to negative thinking all your life, it maybe difficult for you to shift to positive thinking. Be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t berate or judge yourself. Judging yourself is again enforcing negative thinking.
1. Willcox G. The Feeling Wheel: A Tool for Expanding Awareness of Emotions and Increasing Spontaneity and Intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/036215378201200411?journalCode=taxb. Published December 28, 2017.
2. Zenger J, Folkman J. The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism. Published June 27, 2017.
3. Grill-Spector K, Henson R, Martin A. Repetition and the brain: neural models of stimulus-specific effects. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16321563. Published January 2006.