When negative thinking gets you nowhere
One of the most common challenges that many of us seem to face in life is the ongoing struggle with self doubt. Some of you have been speaking to me about this a lot. Doubt in our abilities, in our intelligence, in our potential, in our worth and in our likelihood for success. Doubt in how lovable we are, how funny we are, how sexy we are, and how worthy we are of the last lettuce in the produce section of our supermarket (seriously?!). As an only child, a small town country girl, a past victim of tireless bullying, a business owner and a passion-chaser, self doubt has become an all-too-familiar acquaintance of mine.
When self doubt finds us it can bring even the strongest momentum to a standstill, and if left unattended it has the potential to manifest into something bigger than the ocean floor. At the root of our self doubt lies its greatest contributor and feeder: negative thinking and negative self-talk.
Negative thoughts exist – and pretending they aren’t there will not make them go away.
I recently heard a speaker suggest to a room of business women that the single most effective way to eliminate negative thinking was to divert your attention elsewhere by focusing on a nearby object (in her example, a hairbrush). I’m not going to lie, I was really saddened by this. Yes, we can use our energy to momentarily shift our thinking, but in doing this we miss the opportunity to morph it into something that will actually help us.
Negative thoughts can appear so automatically that we don’t realise they are there until they have set up camp and invited all their ‘negative thought friends’ along for the soul-destroying ride. But there is good news: while negative thoughts are inevitable at times, we have the power to choose whether or not we let them remain in our mind.
The thing about negative thoughts that we tend to overlook is that they are just that: thoughts. They are not necessarily true. With the right tools you can become an expert in challenging your thinking while at the same time increasing your confidence and gaining courage to continue striving lovingly towards your beautiful goals – all by familiarising yourself with these few questions:
1. What is your negative thought?
Writing down the negative thought word-for-word as it appears in your mind will help you stay focused during this process.
2. What is the situation that causes or precedes your thought?
If you can recognise the situation or event that initiates your thought, you can make an effort to be more aware of who or what it is that triggers this thinking, and also be more alert when these times or interactions are coming up.
3. How does the thought make you feel?
There is undoubtedly a strong relationship between how we think and how we feel. Recognising the impact of your thought on your wellbeing is so valuable in understanding why challenging it is important, and how you may suffer if you don’t.
4. What evidence is there to suggest your thought is true?
List as many things as you can which suggest that the thought is true, focusing only on the facts. For example, if your negative thought is “I’m not good enough to do that work”, the evidence in support of this thought might include:
- I have never done that work before therefore I don’t know that I can.
5. What evidence is there to suggest your thought is not true?
Now list as many things as you can to suggest why the thought is not true. In our example, this may include:
- I have proven myself wrong before, especially when it comes to my abilities.
6. Would you speak to a friend or loved one in this way?
If you would not speak to a friend or a partner this way, why should we treat ourselves so poorly?
7. Does the thought help or hinder the life you want to live?
At the end of the day, the truth of the thought does not matter. What matters is if the thought is getting in the way of us reaching our goals and being the best and truest version of ourselves. If the thought doesn’t make you feel good or act in a way that contributes to your ideal life, why should you accept it and allow it to reside in your mind? Knowing that a thought is not helpful is reason alone to strive towards replacing it.
8. What is a more balanced thought to replace the negative one?
If you can come up with a more balanced and helpful thought to replace the negative one, based solely on the evidence you have identified, when that nasty thought next arises you can acknowledge it, and then promptly challenge it with your new, balanced equivalent. If your new thought is surrounded by evidence it is likely to hold much greater weight in your mind than its mean ‘ol counterpart.
Challenging negative thoughts takes practice. But with a little time and effort, you can kick them to the curb. Whatever the doubting, wherever the arena, the things we truly want may be a mere hop, step and determined jump over our own inner-critic away.