You have somewhere around 45,000 negative thoughts a day.
Not just you — everyone does.
That’s about 80% of all of your thoughts. The vast majority of our thoughts are unpleasant, stressful, or self-sabotaging. Our brains are like a network news channel, only reporting the bad stuff with a sprinkling of good news to keep us from throwing ourselves off a cliff.
I’m sorry if this information just added to your negative thoughts, but hopefully the awareness of how steeped we are in negative thinking will give you pause.
Negative thinking is almost always focused on two areas — the past and the future. You ruminate and relive painful, frustrating, or shameful past events, or you fret about some anticipated event or encounter that hasn’t happened.
Either way, you’re tethered to an illusion. The past is gone. The future doesn’t exist. But somehow you’re able to create a tremendous amount of discomfort over these non-existent scenarios. Your thoughts run rampant in your brain, creating all sorts of havoc without anyone stopping them. It’s like having a toddler in the house whose parents implement no rules or restrictions.
Your thoughts produce powerful emotions, and it’s these emotions that can make your life miserable and difficult. But I’m here to be your mental “Super Nanny” and tell you it’s time to get control of your toddler thoughts and become the boss of your brain. Once you learn to control your thoughts, you can build a positive mental attitude that fosters peace of mind, confidence, happiness, and self-awareness.
Ready to start? Here are 10 ways to create a positive mental attitude:
1. Create awareness.
Put a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder to notice your thoughts. When you look at the rubber band, take note of your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you can catch yourself in the middle of a rumination or worry.
Other times you might notice you feel anxious, irritated, or sad, but you aren’t immediately sure why. When this happens, ask yourself what the thoughts are that have produced these feelings. By paying attention this way, you’ll see how often you get caught up in negative thinking.
2. Break the spell.
After you’ve spent two or three days noticing your thoughts and feelings, it’s time to do something about them. Keep the rubber band on your wrist, and every time you notice negative thinking, gently pop the rubber band or move it to the other wrist. You want a physical pattern interrupt to break up the mental looping of negative thoughts.
Then mentally identify and label what you were doing. “Oh, there’s that negative thinking again. There are those thoughts and feelings popping up again.” You want to dis-identify with the thoughts — they are separate from YOU as a person. It’s important to recognize your thoughts as random products of consciousness instead of seeing them as reality.
3. Fill in the blank.
Once you interrupt the negative thought and identify it, you need to switch gears entirely. You can’t leave a mental void, or you’ll go directly back to negative thinking, which is an entrenched habit that’s become natural for your brain. You must retrain your brain to think differently. So after you pop the rubber band, redirect your thoughts or actions.
One way to do this is by reframing your thought to disprove it or make it positive. For example, if you’re thinking, “I’ll never get this project finished on time,” then say to yourself, “No, that’s not true. I can and will get it done on time. I always have in the past, and I will again.” Even if you don’t believe this totally, say it out loud or to yourself. Acknowledge any solid evidence you have that counters your negative thought.
Be rigorous in your efforts at redirecting your thoughts, just as you’d continue to put a toddler back in a time-out chair when they keep getting up. Eventually your mind will know you mean business. You can also use positive action to replace negative thinking. If you find yourself ruminating over something unpleasant, get up and do something that will occupy your mind and distract you from your thoughts.
4. Practice daily gratitude.
With all of our negative thinking, sometimes it’s hard to see how much is truly wonderful about our lives. To appreciate how great life really is, you must be intentional about it. I’d suggest keeping a gratitude journal, as writing tends to reinforce thinking. It’s good to write in this journal at night before you go to bed, as you will fill your mind with positivity before you drift into sleep.
You may be in the midst of a crisis or worry, but that doesn’t negate all of your many, many blessings. Write down each one in your journal, and as you write, really focus on the gratitude item and flood your mind with feelings of gratefulness.
Do this every day, even if you’re repeating the same items over and over. This will help you keep gratitude at the forefront of your mind rather than in the dark recesses.
5. Stop reacting.
Small negative events during your day can trigger a cascade of pessimistic or angry thoughts and feelings. Someone says something rude to you. You comment back to them. They say something else. You go brood about it for hours. Traffic is bumper to bumper, and you’re in a hurry. You honk your horn and feel your blood pressure rising. It takes you hours to calm down.
Every day life presents us with a multitude of dirty little tricks to goad us into negativity. But as the CEO of your mind, you can chose how you want to react. Sure, you can get pissed off, hurt, or frustrated — but you’ll lose hours of your day that could be joyful. Instead, mindfully choose how you want to react. You know difficult things will happen on occasion, so mentally prepare. Teach yourself to take some deep, calming breaths.
Decide on a better way to respond that minimizes negativity. Acknowledge your knee-jerk reactions, but consciously decide not to follow them. If possible, try to find humor in the inanities and frustrations of life, as they are part of the human condition.
6. Find positive people.
We tend to absorb and reflect the emotions and attitudes of those we spend time with. If you’re hanging around negative people who complain and worry much of the time, then you are bound to catch their ailment.
You may need to make some hard decisions about who you spend time with, but if someone had a contagious disease, you’d have no trouble creating a boundary between you and them. Negativity is a contagious disease. Find people who uplift you and who are positive, happy, and confident. Do your best to spend less time with people who pull you down.
7. Have more fun.
We get so caught up in the serious business of life that we forget to simply have fun. When was the last time you played a game, rode a bike, flew a kite, or did anything carefree and non-competitive? We need daily fun to balance the stresses and demands of our complicated lives.
If you can’t remember what feels fun to you, go back to your childhood and think about fun activities. I have a friend who swings on her children’s swing set for relaxation and pleasure. Be vigilant in making fun part of your life.
8. Turn off the news.
Every time I watch the news, I feel worried and sad. A reporter might cover a story on a new health scare, and of course, I worry about that for myself. The never-ending coverage on terrorism, shootings, politics, and natural disasters makes us feel anxious and threatened.
Yes, there is plenty of bad news, and we need to stay informed. But there’s plenty of good news as well. There are plenty of positive, happy, uplifting things going on in the world. So make a choice to limit the amount of news you watch, and instead find programs, podcasts, blogs, books, and articles that inspire and motivate you. Seek out positive information to fill your mind.
9. Simplify your life.
The busier and more complicated your life is, the more difficult it will be to remain positive. When you have too many demands and obligations, with little time for fun, reflection, relationships, or exercise, the more stressed and unhappy you are bound to feel.
We often resort to buying things to soothe our feelings, but all of these material things create stress as well, as you must store them, take care of them, and pay for them. Too much stuff drains your psychic energy. Simply the act of simplifying — dropping things from your to-do list and getting rid of stuff — will make you feel lighter and more positive.
Schedule a few days to streamline your life, giving yourself plenty of time and space for your most important life values and activities.
10. Spend time with friends and family.
Quality time spent with the people we love and cherish most is the best way to develop a positive mental attitude. People on their deathbeds report their biggest regret is not spending more time with friends and family.
Be proactive in making time for those you love. Initiate more family events, as well as one-on-one time with your spouse or partner, your children, and your friends. Create rituals and traditions that are meaningful and happy.
Mindfully choose to avoid family drama or conflict and speak words of love, affirmation, and healing to serve as an example and inspiration to others in your sphere.
Having a positive mental attitude involves making mind shifts and recognizing how much control you have over your thoughts. As you work toward managing and changing your thoughts, and choose positive behaviors and actions that are healthy and uplifting, over time you’ll see that positivity is your fallback position. Even during difficult times, you’ll have the inner resources to turn yourself around and regain your happy state of mind.
photo credit: Hadock