Learn about how much negativity there is in your life and why. Read about techniques you can implement to limit your negative and self-destructive habits that are preventing you from experiencing success and true happiness.
Imagine this: you’re sitting at your desk. There are some tasks you have to do, but you keep postponing them. While you procrastinate, you see something on the internet. You find a video of a random guy talking about his life. He shares his story about how he started following his dream. Maybe he’s a full-time traveler or an entrepreneur. Or maybe he is just a very charismatic public speaker. You listen to him and you think: “Wow! This guy is so lucky! He gets to do what he loves every day and make a lot of money doing it! If only I had that chance. I would love to follow my dream too! Oh, if only…”
And then you start thinking about your dream. You fantasize about what you would do if everything was in your favour. You feel excited and you can almost see yourself living that dream. You close your eyes and you see it unfolding in your mind just like a movie.
And then? What happens next? Let me guess! You hear a negative, critical voice that says: “Yes, that guy is amazing! But come on, he’s lucky! You could never do that. I mean, think about it: do you really think you can do it? You don’t even have the skills you need. You don’t have the money. You have to go to this job you hate. You can’t quit and follow your dreams. That’s just bullshit! Stop dreaming!”
And this voice in your head keeps going on and on. It keeps telling you why you will never be successful. It tells you about all the things that can go wrong. It reminds you of your failures. It brings up your flaws. It keeps criticizing, complaining and chipping away at your soul.
And hearing all those negative thoughts is soul-crushing. This makes you hurt. It may even make you feel physically bad. You may get a headache or a stomachache. It forces you “wake up” and come back on the ground. The only problem is that it washes away all your dreams, your enthusiasm and your hope. It takes away the pleasure and the meaning of your life.
But do you know what the worst part of this is? It’s that this nasty voice seems to be your voice. It seems to be you! And you cannot help but listen to that voice, you jump off of cloud nine and crash onto the ground. And you just lay there for a while. You feel exhausted and can’t move. Eventually you will get up. And you will crawl through this thing you call life.
Have you ever felt like that? Maybe your experience was a bit different. Maybe the intensity of the experience was different. Maybe the voices in your head said something else. But I have experienced that. And any person that struggles with negativity and depression can relate to this story. But why does this happen to us? Why are we so negative? Why are those voices so mean to us? That’s what I will try to explain in this article. And I will also share what you can do to start fighting those negative thoughts. Once you do, you will become more positive, more grateful and happier. But first…
Are we really negative?
Yes, we are. Recently I started wondering if I was the only one fighting my negative, evil self. I have suffered so much because of my negativity that I decide to finally do something about it. So I started reading a lot about negativity. And I found out that most people experience a certain degree of negativity. And it all starts in our minds.
So let’s talk about our mind first. I think we can all agree that our brains are amazing! They work non-stop for as long as we live. And they have to perform multiple complex tasks at the same time. If you are now alive, know that you owe that to your brain. Anything that you do from breathing to creating a masterpiece like Mona Lisa is done by the brain or through the brain. Anything that ever existed was possible because of our incredible brain.
If you want to know how hard the brain is working, just consider this: in one day, we have between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts! Can you imagine that? And this happens every day. However, some researchers believe that 90% of our thoughts are repeats. They could be thoughts like “I need to get up. I have to drink some water. I’m hungry.” These are thought that we’ve had before.
But let me tell you something shocking. It’s something I’ve learnt from the book How To Stop Negative Thoughts: What My Near Death Experience Taught Me About Mind Loops, Neuroscience, and Happiness by Barbara Ireland.
It turns out that approximately 70% of our thoughts are negative! And this happens to most people every single day. So our magnificent brains are not that perfect…or maybe they are, but they seem to have a flaw. The only problem is that this flaw is responsible for much of the pain, misery and struggle that people experience everywhere.
What makes us negative?
One of the reasons why so many of our thoughts are negative is that we have a negativity bias. In other words, negative words, events and interactions have a stronger impact on us than neutral or positive ones. We are more likely to remember a time when somebody criticized or hurt us. And it will be harder for us to recall a pleasant memory such as a moment when somebody praised us or treated us with great respect and admiration.
This is the reason why we complain when we have a bad experience at a restaurant/cinema or any other place. When a person from the staff treats us badly, everybody will hear about it: our parents, our friends and possibly everybody on facebook. But we may not say anything about a restaurant that had good service and quality food. Even if our dining experience was absolutely perfect, we may not recommend that restaurant to any of our friends or family.
If you have ever wondered why the news is always negative, this is probably the reason. If you have ever wondered why so many people criticize other people often, this is probably the reason. We are drawn to whatever is negative without understanding why. Moreover, we are not even aware of this.
If you think about it, we seem to be pretty terrible people. We complain more than we praise, we criticize more than we encourage, we remember the bad more than the good. But I would still argue that we are not that bad. We are more flawed than bad. Here’s how I think about it. Our brains are like computers. They process data, they perform operations and they store information. The only problem is that our computers have been corrupted by a virus which is our negativity. The computers still work, but they also do some damage. They corrupt the way our programs work and our data. Therefore, our perceptions and experiences are often distorted. But why does this happen? How did it start?
Why are we negative?
Let me try to explain this through an imagination exercise. Let’s imagine that a modern man gets to talk to a primitive man about negativity. After all, our tendency to focus on the negative has probably been passed down from generation to generation. So maybe an ancestor might help us better understand why we are so negative.
Unfortunately, this is the truth. We evolved this way because we had to. We had to be prepared to run away just to make sure we survive. We had to be ready to fight any creature to stay alive. And in that world, you could never be too cautious. After all, you never know what could be hiding behind a tree or a bush – a beautiful flower, some delicious fruits or an animal that is trying to haunt you down. So people were always on the lookout. They were possibly scared all the time as well. But that’s how they survived. The fight or flight response is one of the mechanisms that ensured our survival.
You can imagine that these circumstances left little time for relaxation, gratitude and goal-setting. I think we can assume that the goals of a primate man sounded like this: find some food, eat some food, try to stay alive.
People did not take long walks in forests just to “reconnect with nature”. They did not just stop, contemplate the beauty of their surroundings and think about how grateful they were. Had they done that, they might have ended up being eaten by some creature they had failed to notice.
People were created or evolved in a way that would ensure their survival, but not their happiness. They learned how to stay alive when danger was all around them all the time. However, this probably made it hard for them to be happy. You can imagine how hard it is to be grateful and cheerful while fearing for your life all the time.
Given all these facts, I think that it’s very important for us to understand that men were built to survive, not thrive. And it seems to me that happiness and fulfillment are a luxury that only modern men can afford. Since now we live longer, we are healthier, we are smarter, it is easier for us to take care of our basic needs. Most people can easily find food and a place to live. Most people do not have to fear for their lives on a daily basis. And this makes it possible for us to fill our minds and lives with something other than survival.
Now we understand why we are negative and why this is actually good for us. But at the same time, we know that too much negativity can destroy our happiness, our health and even our lives. Since this is an inherent mechanism we have, we know that trying to eliminate it is pointless. We will never be 100% positive all the time. I don’t even think that we should be like that.
What I believe is that we can limit our negativity to make sure that it does not paralyze us or hold us back from what we want to pursue. If we can eliminate 5% or 10% of the negative thoughts we have every day, we will feel much happier and fulfilled. Actually, we will experience a better life even if we only change ONE negative thought that is holding us back. So what can we do to control our negativity? Here are a few steps you can start with.1.
1.Accept that you have a negative side
Now that you understand a little bit more about our negativity, you can accept it. It is one of the things that makes us human. It keeps us alive. It may not be a tendency that always helps you get what you want, but it is life-saving!
Accept that we all have some negative thoughts. We all feel the need to complain. We all say bad things to ourselves sometimes. Do not put yourself down because of this. Accept it and try to improve as much as you can.
2.Become aware of your thoughts
If you have many self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back, you should try to change some of these. However, to do that you first need to identify those thoughts. Some people have an easier time identifying what they think and feel. Some people may need a little bit more time and practice to do this.
If you are not aware of the voice in your head, you first need to start tuning in to your mind. Here are some tips to gradually achieve that:
- Spend some time writing down what you are thinking about in that moment. Do this for a few minutes to learn how to listen to your inner voice. You can do this every day or once a week until you feel that you can listen to your thoughts easier.
- Pay attention to what you are thinking about in certain circumstances: while you are talking to someone, while you are waiting in line or while you are having an unpleasant experience. You will probably notice a few of your thoughts if you pay attention.
- Analyze what happens when you experience some negative feelings (such as sadness, disappointment or anger). Try to identify what made you feel that way. Maybe you can only pinpoint the cause or the event that triggered this feeling. But also try to remember what you were thinking before you started to experience sadness or anger. Try to identify the thoughts that lead to that negative feeling.
If you have never paid attention to your thoughts on purpose, doing this may be a bit hard in the beginning. But you have the ability to do this – you just need practice and time. Sometimes you may be shocked or upset by the things you tell yourself. That’s normal. Try to do these exercises even if you feel uncomfortable. Remember that you can only learn how to control your mind if you actually listen to it.
Now you will notice that some thoughts are more destructive than others. Or some negative thoughts are recurring. If there is a critical or self-defeating remark that you keep hearing again and again, try to focus on that one. For example, if you often tell yourself “Give up! Give up! Give up!”, this is one of the thoughts you should try to control. Other thoughts may only come to your mind once a day or once a week therefore causing less damage. Some thoughts are like the first little domino piece that sets in motion a terrible cascade of negative thoughts. When this happens, do not just acknowledge this. Take action and distract yourself!
If you hear the same phrase over and over, it is probably rooted so deeply in your subconscious mind that you cannot just “pluck” it out. The best thing you can do is to stop this pattern before it catches momentum. When you detect that first negative thought which normally leads to many others, interrupt it. You just have to do something that will require some of your focus. And the moment you take your mind off this thoughts, they will go away. Here are some activities you can try:
- do the dishes or some other chore around the house
- take a walk in a new place or a place you really love
- call a friend or relative that can distract you
- watch a TED talk
- read a few pages from a good book
- go for a run
These are just a few examples of the activities you can try. The truth is that it does not matter what you do. You simply have to choose an activity that is good for you and that will make you focus. Think about the activities that normally make you feel happy, relaxed or inspired and do those.
4.Challenge your thoughts
Now that you know how to identify those negative thoughts and you can stop them from breaking loose, you can take one more step. You already noticed that some of those thoughts seem to be not only negative, but also false. And you wonder why you keep saying those things to yourself. Well, it may be because a part of you believes them. But once you understand that they are not even true, you are one step closer to breaking free from them. Whenever you hear a thought that does not reflect who you are, challenge it.
For example, you may say to yourself “I’m such a loser! I never get anything right.”. When that happens, take a deep breath and start fighting. Acknowledge that what you were thinking is not real. And to convince yourself of that, seek evidence to support your claim. Do exactly what you would do in the court of law. Come up with proof that you are not a loser. Think about all the achievements you are proud of. Think about your good grades or your performance at work. Think about the challenges you have overcome so far. And do this as often as that thought arises.
It may seem pointless at first, but it works. Remember that you may have said this to yourself thousands of times in the past. You said it so often that a part of you started to accept it as true. If you want to reverse this, you will have to keep saying and proving that the opposite is true. After a while, your mind will give in. And it will start to believe the positive thought. You will start to say to yourself “I am not a loser. I have achieved a lot in my life. And I can achieve more!”.
This is something you can do with all the negative thoughts in your mind. However, do not try to change them all at once. It does not work like that. I suggest trying to challenge that negative thought which seems to be the most devastating. Start with the one that hurts you the most. Some days you will be able to control it. Some day you won’t be able to fight with that negative belief. It’s ok. Remember that this is a process. It’s like learning to walk after you’ve been crawling your whole life. But once you see how you can control your mind, you will feel powerful and worthy of a happier and better life. And you will never choose to simply accept the bullshit that the negative voice is telling you again. And you shouldn’t.
5.Actively focus on the good in your life
If you only focus on the negative side, you will also encourage it to grow. So remember to also make time to look for all the good you experience. After all, once you remove some pesky negative thoughts, you will need positive ones to replace them.
You may have a difficult time right now. You may be suffering because you are depressed or sad most of the time. You may struggle with money. Maybe you cannot find any real friends or a good job. Whatever is missing from your life, try to look past it. The more you focus on what is beautiful, positive and good, the more they will flow into your life.
If you are at the other pole and love your life, you should still do this. If you are happy with yourself and the way you spend your days, do not take it for granted. You should still take time and make sure you appreciate all that you have. The more grateful you are for your life, the better your life will get.
How can you do this? There are many ways you can reflect on your life and look for the best. Here are some suggestions:
- Practice gratitude. You can start a gratitude jar or a gratitude journal. Or you can take daily pictures of something you like. Choose the habit that you like the most. The important thing is the habit itself. Get used to spending a few minutes reflecting in your day. Write down the events, the things or the people that you liked most. Write down anything that you are grateful for from a good coffee to a good life. If you do this every day, your brain will slowly be rewired. Soon it will start looking for the good even without having to do this on purpose.
- Keep a journal. Besides focusing on the reasons you are grateful for, you can do this too. You can start keeping a journal to record the thoughts that cross your mind, the insights you have, the things you learn. You can write down a quote that inspires you, an idea that you are dreaming about or a future plan. Fill it with all the things that make you feel positive, inspired and driven.
- Write down the compliments you receive. If you want to be more confident, this is an exercise that can help. Whenever somebody pays you a compliment, record it in a notebook. Whenever you feel insecure or hopeless, read a few of those compliments. This will remind you of the qualities you have. It will also take your mind of the negative and restore some of you confidence.
These are just a few examples of the activities you can implement. However, choose the ones that fit you best. Or create your own habits! Experiment and see what activities make you feel happy and grateful. After all, this is a process that you should enjoy as well. And even though these might seem simple and small steps, they will lead you in the right direction.
I’ll be honest with you. If you struggle with negativity, the path that lies before you is not an easy one. I know because I’m walking it too. Our negativity is a silent companion that follows us everywhere. But just because we are negative, this does not mean that we have to surrender to it. If we want to, we can learn how to control it. With practice, effort and perseverance, we can become more positive, more grateful and more fulfilled. And the more we do, the sweeter life will seem.
You deserve to overcome your limiting beliefs. You deserve to silence the inner critic. You deserve to be confident, bold and happy. You deserve to stand in the Sun and shine your light!
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