Overcoming Negative Thinking

           Thinking negatively is way too easy.  It takes no effort at all.  However, it will also destroy you.  Some people are naturally positive, but it seems that most—myself included—have more of a negative bent.  Given this reality, it’s so important to be intentional about redirecting our thoughts.  Otherwise we’ll find ourselves mad at the world and not even know why; meanwhile, our stress and anxiety will devour us.  So I thought I’d share some steps that I’m taking to win this ongoing battle against negative thinking:

* Spend more time with positive people.  Recently I had appointments on back-to-back days with people who are very encouraging, positive, and hopeful.  Unfortunately that’s a very rare experience for me.  In this case, it set a positive spin on my whole week!  Get these people in your life, and make it a priority to spend time with them.  (By the way, you can also make it a priority to be this kind of positive person in someone else’s life!  Trust me—there’s a definite shortage out there.  Oh wait, that was negative.  Sorry.)

* Spend less time with negative people.  This is the other side of the more-time-with-positive-people coin.  There are enough voices in my head beating me down with criticism and doubt—the last thing I need is to be surrounded by people who make it their personal mission to verbalize the same discouraging and defeating thoughts.  (Once again—make sure that you are not the negative force in someone else’s life!)

* Don’t hang out with gossips and critics.  This one seems so obvious I almost left it off the list, but it’s so important that it deserves mention.  If you have coworkers, friends, or neighbors who constantly tear down other people, get the heck out of Dodge.  These conversations spiral out of control until verbal poop has splattered over everyone you know.  Flee!  By the way, sometimes a thorough negative rap session can instill an artificial sense of bonding.  Don’t be deceived—these people are not your friends.  The moment you leave the room, your name is venomously spewed from their lips.

* Block posts by negative Facebook friends from showing up in your feed.  There are some folks I love dearly but who constantly post negative stuff on Facebook.  Some of them post quite frequently, which means I have a steady stream of negativity flowing across my screen.  I’m not talking about those who periodically vent frustration about an experience at the doctor’s office or crack a cynical joke.  I’m talking about those who, when you see their name show up on your news feed, you know they’re griping about a certain political party, lamenting the outrageous signs of decay in our world, or whining about how they need a drink to solve all their problems.  (Not that none of those things are not valid [except for the last one!]; but if negative thinking is a struggle for you, these FB posters will trip you up constantly.  And yes, I realize I used a triple negative in that last sentence.  But this is a post about being negative, after all.)  You don’t have to unfriend these people and blow up your real-life relationships with them.  Just go to your personal page, click on “Friends,” find the negative posters on your list, hold your cursor over the checked Friend icon, and when the box pops up, make sure that “Show in News Feed” is not checked.  Avoid negative posters, and refuse to be one.  IMPORTANT CONFESSIONAL NOTE: Yes, I am totally guilty of often being this person.  Certain things set me off, and I use Facebook as an outlet to vent.  However, from this point, I’m asking you to please do me a favor: If you catch me being a negative FB poster, please call me out on it—publicly!

* Identify recurring situations in which you fall prey to negative thinking, and intentionally fill your mind with something positive during those times.  Periods of silence are good—we have too few of them.  However, they can also turn against us if being left alone to our thoughts becomes an opportunity to stew.  I’ve identified some of these situations in my own life so this is how I handle them: In the morning when I’m alone in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for my daughter, I crank up some uplifting praise and worship music.  When I’m in the shower, I pray and memorize Bible verses.  When I’m driving, I listen to sermons by my favorite preachers.  Identify the times you tend to wallow in negative thinking, and fill those silent periods with something positive instead.

* Spend as little time as you possibly can watching, reading, and listening to the news.  NEWS stands for Negative Energy Worldwide Simulcast.  Their primary aim is not to provide you with important information.  Rather, they want to get you riled up so you’ll continue to tune in and their advertisers will fill their bank accounts.  If that sounds cynical to you, just go check the website for one of the major news outlets.  I’d be shocked if you didn’t see something there about a toddler who was murdered in grisly fashion, parents who were arrested for finding innovative ways to abuse their children, the latest outrageous example of government waste or corruption, and a report on some dictator who slaughtered half a million of his own countrymen—complete with photos of mounds of body bags.  Don’t spend too much time in the news.  And please, for the sake of everything you hold dear, NEVER NEVER NEVER read the comments people post in response to these articles!  You will instantly lose any hope for the future of the human race.

* When confronted with something that really gets under your skin, address it immediately.  There have been times when I received a voicemail or text message that immediately set off a heated argument in my mind.  I would try to focus on reading or spending time with my family or whatever I had been doing, but found myself so distracted that I was present physically but not mentally or emotionally.  As a result, my agitated thoughts consumed me for hours.  However, I’ve discovered a simple solution: Instead of harboring those thoughts, go ahead and take the time to respond appropriately.  If it’s an email that’s set you off, then go ahead and send out a thought-out reply that is gracious but direct.  If you need to make a phone call, send a message online, or whatever medium you might use, take care of it right away.  When I have done so, I then found it much easier to put the matter out of mind and focus on doing what I needed to be doing.

* Ask God for help.  Seems so obvious, but I often forget this most helpful step.  When was the last time you asked God to help you combat negative thinking?

* Read things that are uplifting.  If you’re ticked off about the government shutdown, that book about conspiracy theories regarding the JFK assassination might have to wait ‘til another time.  A biography about someone whose life has made a valuable difference, or a novel that gets you lost in another world, or—best of all—the Bible or a devotional book might be the way to go.

* Pray for people that bug the crap out of you.  No, I don’t mean pray that they’ll get struck by lightning.  And don’t pray that fake prayer that God will save that person’s soul, meanwhile relishing in your assurance that God agrees with your assessment that such a scoundrel is beyond the reaches of divine grace, but you have self-righteously done your duty to pray for your enemies.  Uh, not that I’ve ever done that.  At least not today.  I don’t think.  Instead, pray that God would change that person’s heart, and change your heart toward that person.  Who knows, your worst critic might become your strongest supporter.  Or at least they might get off your back.

* Get over yourself.  Try to see life from a broader perspective.  Often we turn negative because of an affront—real or imagined—to ourselves.  Maybe things aren’t done the way we just know they should be done.  Maybe we’re offended because someone made a comment and we’re pretty sure their tone carried a deeper, sinister meaning.  Or maybe things simply aren’t going our way.  When we focus too much on ourselves, negative thinking will overtake us because the universe is not being ruled according to our personal preferences and desires, and our opinions have not been codified as law.  It will help tremendously if we learn to open our eyes to see from the perspective of the other several billion individuals with whom we share a planet.

* Practice thankfulness.  To employ a couple clichés, an attitude of gratitude trumps stinkin’ thinkin’.  When I take inventory of all my blessings, it’s really, really hard to stay negative for too long.  One reason we often wallow in negativity is because we don’t feel appreciated.  But when was the last time you expressed genuine appreciation, both to God and to other people?  Gratefulness drives away negativity like a Mother’s Cantina entrée drives away hunger.

* Finally, have someone hold you accountable.  In other words, talk with someone close to you and give them permission to call you out when you start hauling butt down the highway of negativity.  And when they pull you over on that road and issue you a citation, don’t get defensive.  Don’t make excuses.  Don’t get huffy.  Instead, thank them and make a U-turn toward the land of positive thinking.

That’s all I’ve got.  Any other suggestions for approaches you’ve used to fight against negative thinking?

Published in: on October 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm  Comments (2)