I wish it were as easy as pressing a mind button and having negative thoughts blown away, right? It would be a fabulous way of being able to live calmly and in harmony with oneself and with the environment … But it seems that it is not always that easy … or could it be?
It may happen to you more often than you would like: you are so calm doing your life, when suddenly and out of nowhere, a negative thought appears that destabilizes your inner peace . After that first thought comes the domino effect and you may end up repeating conversations in your mind about those negative thoughts. Your inner peace has just been broken.
What follows is a paralyzing chain reaction that, along with each resulting negative thought, sets your mind on a deeper downward spiral into emotional combustion, leaving you paralyzed. It’s like you’ve managed to blow up your entire world in an instant, and all within the limits of your own mind.
The natural negative bias of the brain
Our brain has evolved to survive and has a bias towards threat detection. Along with this constant search for threats, we are designed to use negative information much more than positive information to inform our world.
When you think about this in the context of evolution, it makes sense. Survival depends more on detecting danger than enjoying the warmth of a cozy fire in a cave. Negative thoughts are more powerful in our brain processing than positive ones. We require more positive messages (at least five) for every negative message to keep things on a stimulating trajectory.
The flaw in our operating system
It has become a more maladaptive function as we have developed and advanced more technologically. We can’t make things better, so our fight and flight systems can make us respond poorly to each other.
It is like a community failure in our collective existence. We lack compassion and view strangers as enemies rather than relatives. We believe that the planet is vaster and more omnipotent than it is, an illusion that will be shattered if we are not thoughtful and wise. It is a vicious cycle too.
Basically, the brain is trained to seek and recognize the threat early, both internally and externally, leading to greater attention to negative thoughts, reinforcing them and making them more frequent. Like a car engine running in neutral, the brain’s default mode network runs an operating system that generates more negative thoughts and memories , spinning and slowing down brain functions that could disrupt that loop.
The impact of negative thoughts
The ramifications of this negative thought cloud can be detrimental. Obsessing over a negative thought can become such a focus that it can be difficult to commit to what happens in life.
This can lead people to withdraw from who they are with and what they are doing … withdraw from people. It can be more difficult to enjoy things because you are more in tune with what could go wrong; it can create friction with other people and create even more stress.
Why are some people more prone to negative thoughts?
Having negative experiences in childhood, as well as in adulthood, can strengthen, confirm, and / or create unrealistic expectations that the world is a negative place. Such expectations can arise as negative thoughts, which are defenses against disappointment and other reactions, as well as simply adjusting to the way the world really seems to be.
So, for example, someone with a negative thinking parent may internalize those ways of seeing the world and oneself. However, another person in the same situation could respond adaptively by adopting a more positive way of evaluating things. From a biological point of view, less resistant people are more likely to worry and get caught up in negative thinking.
How to stop negative thoughts
The good news is that you don’t have to be stuck in a negative spiral. You can consciously work to change that mindset. Start by acknowledging your negative ways of thinking.
- Imagine a STOP sign literally. This can help curb negative thinking as it appears. This kind of visualization, literally fun, can help divert your attention from negative thoughts. You can also try to distract yourself: listen to music, go for a walk, imagine a positive memory, call a friend. Switching to another task where you can absorb yourself into something more effective helps build self-esteem and give yourself a realistic positive feedback.
- Be curious but not self-critical. This is one way to be kind to yourself when uncomfortable thoughts arise. Giving yourself a compassionate pause can serve as a distraction, an interruption, and a way to change the activity of your brain networks. Over time, compassion-based practices, such as affirming yourself positively like “I’m doing the best I can” or “I’m being very hard on myself,” can go a long way in changing the way the brain responds to negativity by reducing self-critical thinking and anxiety .
- Pay attention to the thought itself. Have you ever noticed that the more you try not to think about something, the more you think about it? When people try to push away negative emotions, they involuntarily grow stronger. Being mindful by honoring and accepting the thought and trying to resolve it constructively can help resolve underlying issues. Practice being aware of the thought without jumping to judgment. Try to understand why thinking this way is problematic. Say things like, “Is this thought correct ? Is this thought helpful? Taking a cognitive perspective can help you cultivate more accurate and useful ways of thinking and feeling.
Understand why you can have negative thoughts, it will help you understand your thought process and above all, to be able to stop it when necessary and continue your life in the most harmonious way possible.