Updated: Nov 3, 2021
We all have an inner dialog. Unfortunately, even highly successful people tend to have a predominantly negative inner dialog. We tend to receive this negativity as beneficial; accepting it as a protective and proactive force that keeps us from making undesirable or destructive choices. However, while these negative thoughts might have served a protective role at one point, they are more likely to block us from making productive changes, growing out of our comfort zones, finding creative solutions to the knottiest problems, and are the primary source of our debilitating anxiety and stress. In short, overcoming negative thoughts is crucial for our personal development and our physical wellbeing.
The 4 Keys to Overcoming Negative Thoughts
Changing our inner dialog from negative to curious and open isn’t as hard as you might think. It begins with awareness. You must be vigilantly attentive to three things:
1. What are you feeling? If it is stress, anxiety, doubt, outright fear, or frustration, then you are already deep into a negative thought train. Oh, it feels inevitable and all-too-real, but in reality, it is all in your mind. So, make note of your feelings. They are your alarm bells, signaling a negative thought pattern.
2. What is your negative thinking telling you? Is it saying “This person is making life difficult for me!” or is it saying, “If I don’t do something fast, there’s going to be a horrible outcome!” or, is it one of the famous, “I can’t” statements?
3. Is your negative thought true? When you catch yourself thinking negatively you are also hypnotized by the negative thoughts. You become convinced they are true. And they might be. But they are also equally likely to be 100% false. When you brace yourself for the worst, you shut down the possibility of the best outcome. Consider how you can be so sure about the negative result, and not about the positive one. When you are willing to ask yourself the challenging question: Is this true? You open the door to creative solutions and key learning the situation can provide you.
4. How is your current fulfillment? Many people are very successful externally even with a constant stream of negative thoughts. I certainly was. However, before you defend your negativity and convince yourself it is the source of your success, ask yourself this: If you lost all the trapping of success, would you still be happy? Are you satisfied with where you are, and afraid (key word – afraid) that to be happy here and now would shut down your motivation to continue growing? If this sounds like you, keep reading.
Negative Thought Busting Activities
1. Adjust the tone of your voice, both inner and outer. When you find that you’re speaking or thinking tone is judgmental, anxious and negative, change it to a respectful, kind and curious tone. Ask open-ended questions.
2. Meditation. Finding some time for yourself to meditate or just relax and restore your energy levels can do wonders for your outlook. If you are convinced you are unable to meditate, try just sitting upright, eyes closed, paying focused attention to your breathing for five minutes each morning. That alone has altered my daily mood.
3. Smile. The best way to diffuse a negative situation is to smile – really smile, with your eyes and your entire face and demeanor. It can lift a mood almost instantaneously and help to relieve stress too. Our thinking is wildly impacted by our physical actions. Let your body lead for a change.
4. Help someone else. When we provide service, guidance, and support to others it is impossible to dwell on our own problems. Our perspective changes. Also, we anchor our own learning and awareness when we serve. Being of service does not have to be a mega time commitment. Send an email to someone that says, “Hi. Thinking of you.” That is support and connection. Everything matters.
5. Keep a gratitude journal. Those who have had to overcome great obstacles in their lives say they kept and still do keep a gratitude journal and wrote a few things in it every day that they were grateful for. If you feel this is too airy-fairy, then write out a few intentions for your day. Focus on how you will be, rather than what you will do.
6. Change your language. Our language not only is a clue to our real thoughts, it also impacts the thoughts of others around us. Try some simple word swaps that shift your thinking from negative to positive in a snap. Examples are replacing the word “but” with “and”. It doesn’t change your point, and it changes how you arrive at it. Another word swap is “opportunity” for the “problem”. Again, it invites creativity instead of resignation.
The options for shifting your inner dialog and focus are endless. Some people exercise. Others have affirmations and mantras. A great book I am reading right now, after hearing one of my fellow leadership coaches discuss it, is Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. If this topic interests you, I invite you to explore it further.
I am certain any change you experience as a result will be… positive!