There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.
?W. Clement Stone
Why do we think negatively when we know better?
Because thinking negatively, expecting “the worst,” seeing the downside of positive situations, and even downright expecting failure, all convey a kind of backwards-thinking, emotional insurance policy. It goes something like, “If I expect a tragedy, then I won’t be disappointed when it takes place.”
Our desire to want to be right is another common reason we subconsciously choose negative thinking. Sometimes, as foolish as it sounds, we would rather be right about our negative predictions than have a positive outcome prove us wrong. And since negative thinking leads to negative actions, or no action at all in many cases, by thinking negatively we create a self-fulfilling prediction for ourselves. In other words, we think negatively, predict a negative outcome, act negatively, and then receive a negative outcome that fulfills our prediction.
Of course, none of this is what we truly want or need in our lives. So how can we stop talking ourselves into these thinking traps? Let’s take a look at four powerful ways to quiet the negative, inner voice that leads us astray:
1. Start focusing on the grey area between the extremes.
Life simply isn’t black or white – 100% of this or 100% of that – all or nothing. Thinking in extremes like this is a fast way to misery, because negative thinking tends to view any situation that’s less than perfect as being extremely bad. For example:
- Rather than the rainstorm slowing down my commute home from work, instead “it wasted my whole evening and ruined my night!”
- Instead of my business venture taking a while to gain traction, “it’s never going to work, and it’s going to completely ruin my financial future.”
- Rather than just accepting the nervousness of meeting a new group of people, “I know these people are not going to like me.”
Since 99.9% of all situations in life are less than perfect, black and white thinking tends to make us focus on the negative – the drama, the failures, and the worst case scenarios. Sure catastrophes occur on occasion, but contrary to what you many see on the evening news, most of life occurs in a grey area between the extremes of bliss and devastation.
If you struggle with seeing the grey area of a situation, sit down with a pen and paper, write down the best-case outcome, the worst-case outcome, and at least one realistic outcome that falls between the two extremes. For example, say you’ve been worrying about a new intimate relationship, write down:
- Worst-case outcome (unlikely extreme): “The relationship is a total disaster that ends with two broken hearts.”
- Best-case outcome (unlikely extreme): “The relationship is total bliss with zero arguments until the end of time.”
- Realistic-case outcome (highly likely): “There will be great times, good times, and not so good times, but we will work together, respect each other, and give our relationship a fair chance before drawing any conclusions.”
Make the realistic-case outcome as detailed and long as you like, or list more than one realistic-case outcome. Giving your mind more options to consider will help reduce extreme emotions and allow you to think more clearly and realistically. (Read The Happiness Advantage.)
2. Stop looking for negative signs from others.
Too often we jump to conclusions, only to cause ourselves and others unnecessary worry, hurt, and anger. If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else. If they say nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation.
Thinking negatively will inevitably lead you to interpret everything another person does as being negative, especially when you are uncertain about what the other person is thinking. For instance, “He hasn’t called, so he must not want to talk to me,” or, “She only said that to be nice, but she doesn’t really mean it.”
Assigning meaning to a situation before you have the whole story makes you more likely to believe that the uncertainty you feel (based on lack of knowing) is a negative sign. On the flip-side, holding off on assigning meaning to an incomplete story is a primary key to overcoming negative thinking. When you think more positively, or simply more clearly about the facts, you’ll be able to evaluate all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones. In other words, you’ll be doing more of: “I don’t know why he hasn’t called, but maybe…”
- “…he’s extremely busy at work.”
- “…his phone battery is dead.”
- “…he’s simply waiting for me to call him.”
You get the get the idea. None of these circumstances are negative and all are as plausible as any other possible explanation.
Next time you feel uncertain and insecure, and you catch yourself stressing about a problem that doesn’t exist, stop yourself and take a deep breath. Then tell yourself, “This problem I’m concerned with only exists in my mind.” Being able to distinguish between what you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a positive life.
3. Evaluate and eliminate unreasonable rules and expectations.
You must deal with the world the way it is, not the way you expect it to be. Life is under no obligation to give you exactly what you expect. In fact, whatever it is you’re seeking will rarely ever come in the form you’re expecting, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful.
Stop forcing your own misconstrued expectations and rules on life…
- “He was late, so he must not care about me.” – Or perhaps he just got caught in traffic.
- “If I can’t do this correctly, then I must not be smart enough.” – Or perhaps you just need more practice.
- “I haven’t heard back from my doctor, so the test results must be bad.” – Or perhaps the lab is just really busy and your results aren’t available yet.
Inventing rules like these about how life must be, based on your own stubborn expectations, is a great way to keep your mind stuck in the gutter. This isn’t to say that you should never expect anything at all from yourself and others (diligence, honesty, ambition, etc.), but rather that the rules that govern your expectations should not steer you toward unreasonably negative conclusions.
If you feel dissatisfied or let down by an outcome, then you must have been expecting something different. Rather than get upset, ask yourself, “Were my expectations too narrow?” and “What new truths have I learned?”
The bottom line is that you must see and accept things as they are instead of as you hoped, wished, or expected them to be. Just because it didn’t turn out like you had envisioned, doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly what you need to get to where you ultimately want to go. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
4. Embrace rejection and use it to find the right opportunities.
As soon as someone critiques and criticizes you, as soon as you are rejected, you might find yourself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am not worthy.” What you need to realize is, these other people are NOT worthy of YOU and your particular journey. Rejection is necessary medicine; it teaches you how to reject opportunities that aren’t going to work, so can quickly find new ones that will.
Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough; it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer. It means you have more time to improve your thing – to build upon your ideas, to perfect your craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves you.
“Will you be bitter for a moment? Absolutely. Hurt? Of course, you’re human. There isn’t a soul on this planet that doesn’t feel a small fraction of their heart break at the realization of rejection. For a short time afterwards you ask yourself every question you can think of…
- “What did I do wrong?”
- “Why didn’t they like me?”
- “How come?”
But then you have to let your emotions fuel you! This is the important part. Let your feelings of rejection drive you, feed you, and inspire one heck of a powerful opening to the next chapter of your journey.
As you look back on your life, you will often realize that many of the times you thought you were being rejected from something good, you were in fact being redirected to something better. You can’t control everything. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen the way it’s supposed to. Because sometimes the outcomes you can’t change, end up changing you and helping you grow far beyond your wildest dreams. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.”)
Think positive. Life is good. Too many people miss the silver lining because they’re expecting pure gold. Positive thinking isn’t about expecting the best to always happen, but accepting that whatever happens is the best for the moment. So keep smiling and keep staying true to your heart. Someday, the negative voice inside you will have nothing left to say.
The floor is yours…
What negative thoughts do you often struggle with? How do you cope? Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us.
Photo by: Jon McGovern
Awesome article once again.
Great salute to you both..
I’m currently struggling with my sense of purpose and self worth. For as long as I remember, people have told me I’ve been really good at many things and was very talented but I never believed them. Dealing with compliments was a weird source of stress because I never knew how to deal with them. I think my self esteem needs a lot of work because usually I have no motivation. There are things I like to do but I don’t like them enough to chase them with enthusiasm.
Earlier this year, I was in a relationship with, who I considered, the most amazing person I’ve ever met, it was the first time I was head over heel in love with someone. He became my purpose and motivation and I was slowly able to make some hard decisions and improvements thanks to him. But when the relationship came to an end.
The effect was devastating. I even thought about killing myself due to the intense pain and despair that I had never experienced before from losing what seemed to be the only reason I had to be alive. It’s funny because I used to say people overreacting to losing a lover one way or another and should do their best to move on and be happy but I felt first hand how difficult that truly was and how ignorant I was. In the months to follow, I realized how dependent I’ve been on others my whole life because it was the only thing fighting the antagonistic thoughts that I always tore myself down with. I still don’t know what I’m suppose to do but I’m exploring my interests and hoping to continue to improve myself overtime. I want to become my own source of strength and joy. I’m 19 and I know I have a long way to go so I want to keep learning about the world and myself.
I want to thank you so much for this article because it has helped me understand how to improve my view of the world and be a little happier 🙂
I have only been on this blog a few times and every time I really enjoy it. I just struggle so much with my self esteem and confidence. I am 44 years old, married to a good man, have 4 wonderful kids and sometimes I still feel like a little girl who is desperately looking around the lunchroom for a friend to sit by. I wish I could overcome my self depreciating thoughts and actions. This blog is a good start, I think!
Always right on the mark with your insight. Thank you for giving me food for thought every day! It’s making me stronger and better.
Thinking negative usually offers negative outcomes from the universe to us. Whenever I am upset, I switch to the best music that distracts me and makes me dance or exercise. Most of the time that may not be possible so the above points make sense.
A year ago I experienced the heartbreak of the ending of a 7 year relationship, a couple months later I was made redundant from my IT job to boot. At that point in my life I felt worthless – like life itself made me redundant.
I took a month to restock, and battled with depression. I thought I’d be stuck there forever.
I found myself every night crying to the Lord above “What do you want from me?” Like a mantra. There were no answers. Until the night I realised I had to find it out for myself. So I asked MYSELF, for the first time in a long time: “What do ‘I’ want for ‘me’?” The words “I have always wanted to become a composer” entered my mind. And it stayed there.
I decided to take the negatives in my life and let it fuel me in that direction towards a positive outcome. I took short courses and studied every night. I applied to the best music university available. I went through months of grueling hours learning a craft that I was very new to. And I got in.
I’m now enrolled in a 4 year course learning every day what it will take to make my dreams a reality. If anyone were to ask me last year, I would’ve said it was the worst year of my life. Due to my attitude and my redirection in life because of it, I now and forever will view it as the best year of my life. I am on the path of becoming a composer like I have always dreamed. I had to be made redundant in that other way of life, for I no longer belonged there.
I’m so happy for you. Your experience is inspiring. Not wishing to go into the details but I’m passing through a dark episode in my life. Your experience has jump started a positive spark within me. A feeling of hopefulness. Many thanks for sharing
I have always thought that the “5 steps to success” type of pieces are bogus. After reading your blog, I find myself lifting the stereotype off my head and opening my self to read and understand first.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I, for one, have gained a lot of wisdom from them.
My mom forwarded this post to me and it just hit the spots. I am guilty of being a negative thinker, and now I have come to believe that I certainly won’t reach where I want to go with that attitude. Thanks for the inspiration and God bless!
Marc, thank you for your response on 7/28/13 to my comment on 7/26/13. Your thoughtful comments were very much appreciated. I did read the post of 8/10/09 about me being my own worst enemy.
“Never forget You deserve Your love and affection just as much, if not not more than anyone else in the universe.”
Thank you again, it is a work in progress. Your post are so moving and truthful. Many, many thanks.
Your website is superb. Full of facts and helpful advice that individuals now a days really need, in our fast unpredictable lives, each of us experiences hurt, pain, rejection and insecurities and your blog is the right place to get those wonderful enlightening advices. Salute! Keep it up.
Dan Michael Madrid says
This website always reminds me that there’s no obstacle that I can’t surpass. There’s a voice inside me, telling me that I’m not good enough and not attractive enough but after reading the articles in this website, I feel so damn GOOD about myself. This website is AWESOME! Keep up the good work guys. GOD Bless
I totally agree with Mary Lynn’s post. On the outside, I am positive with others but on the inside, I am negative with myself. Seems really stupid! The reason is in thinking negatively about myself and voicing it times, I subconsciuosly hope (though it hurts to say it) for people to give me more attention and affection. The thing is the best person who can give me courage and attention is ME.
I needed to read this this morning… I’ve been struggling with my health lately. And I am SO frustrated with my body; I give it what it needs, try so hard to be positive and take great care of myself and still things are only getting worse. After a long time of this it’s easy to start thinking negatively. Like no matter what I do, I can’t help myself feel better, I’m a victim. That’s what it feels like on bad days anyways. Words like these relieve the negativity and lets the positive voice come through. Thanks 🙂
I tend to have extremely negative thoughts. Most of them relate to my love life. I like a guy but think he’s too good for me. Even when the guy responds to me positively, I get these doubts that he is too good for me and will eventually leave me one day or will marry me but maintain a philandering lifestyle and despite that I will not be able to let go of him. This has become the greatest fear of my life. Struggling hard to be more positive in life.
The article was a good read. Hope to be able to apply it in my daily life and take benefit of it.
Another great set of points. Loved 4. It’s true. Being rejected in my family merely for who I was actually made me look around to find out where I would be safe and able to grow. It has taken me until now, having read this blog, that the rejection I have experienced in life has all been part of the journey, a piece of advice rather than a kick in the guts, even though it feels that way. As a kid, when I did get kicked in the guts, you don’t have the option of walking away, even though that is what I always felt I should have done. Or rather, I did have the option, but was caught up in an emotionally manipulative situation, coerced into having to support those who were rejecting me. There were lots of mind games going on that a kid can only feel but not really understand. Either way, now I can see the rejection was a sign I needed a different environment if I intended to develop and grow further. I have repeated this particular scenario many times in my life, but only do I realise that walking away is not a sign of weakness but a sign of intelligence.
My fiancee and I have been together for four years. I have a problem with thinking about the worst case all the time. For example, he is 21 and went to a bar with his friends. I knew and was aware of this a few days prior. I don’t mind. But I called him many times and I had no answer. My mind at that point starts to wander towards things like, he’s ignoring me. He’s flirting with a single girl that was invited to go with his friends. He’s cheating on me. And at this point normally I’m good about ignoring those thoughts but lately I’ve been reverting to old behaviours and letting those false thoughts and scenarios start to form into emtreme emotional distress. I literally get sick over these emotions they cause. Its been the past two weeks or so this old behaviour came back. He was recently unemployed so I feel like it triggered old fears again. But my problem is, is I can’t shake the negative emotion. Even though the reason behind it is purely false, the emotional response is real. And it hurts. I’ve tried finding coping skills and rarely do any work. This article helps slightly or at least for the moment. I am excited to see if it will work in my real life situation.
This is a just what I needed to read. I am a little older but like the poster above me. Always thinking the worst of my husband when he isn’t around. I know I making these things up in my head but when it’s happening I can’t see that, I just let my imagination run wild. It’s really a sad way to be. I know it stems from my past, I was cheated on and never fully dealt with the issue. Although he has never done anything to make me truly question him, I need to realize that I can and will survive even if it turns out that I’m right. The things we do to ourselves!
I have been on your website everyday this week. I have really been struggling with negativity lately. I am in a healthy relationship with a really great guy, but I just can’t help but think it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong. I know this is just my past and insecurities coming back…and I know/trust that if something were actually wrong, he’s man enough to talk to me. I’m hopeful that with continued reading & working on changing my thought pattern, I’ll get through this rough patch. While it’s comforting to see that I’m not alone, I also acknowledge that this is not a comfortable feeling for anyone & wish we could all just kick the little devil off our shoulders.
I have been struggling with some negative thoughts that aren’t even real. It is like I woke up one morning and it was in my head and two months later I’m still stuck here. I am normally the one telling everyone else to look how blessed we all are and to be grateful for what you are given. Now I am stuck in this loop and it is driving me crazy. In life I was really pretty happy. I love my husband and our three children. I have everything I need and life is pretty good. A few years ago we had a tramatic thing happen in our family which didn’t really get dealt with. It got swept under the carpet for noone else to see. Now almost four years later I am dwelling on it and turning it towards myself. I know I am a good person but my mind is trying to convince me otherwise. I am afraid all the time and I am desperately trying to fix this problem. Thanks for your article I am going to try and put it in my mind instead. I just need the negative to go away and go back to the person I was.
Thank you for the post. I have just realized that I am a black or white person. I just want things to be perfect. I believe if things were perfect, I’d be happy. I just didn’t think that things are good already. I fail to see the silver lining of things sadly. OK so turning more positive I’ll just have to change my outlook on things and embrace joy, love, and peace 🙂
Enjoying every single moment in life, God Willing 🙂
God’s Grace is the silver lining for me. He accepts me. All the best guys.
This is a wonderful blog and felt very relaxed reading it. 🙂 Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
It’s been awhile since my ex and I split, about 3 months. I miss him terribly and also feel down about myself. I know I need to be caring towards myself, at the same time it’s hard when our relationship ended so horrible. This article helped, and I need to read similar articles during my healing process.
I was just googling ‘things always fail to come up as I expected’ and this came up. I feel grateful to come across this post. I always think that I am not smart enough if I fail to do something that people are capable of doing. I want to get rid of that thought but incidents in life just keep on proving me I’m ‘right’ about my less smart brain. Guess I need more practice in life to think about the grey area and embrace the silver lining.
I am very anxious about living together with my fiance, we tried once before and it was a disaster, because we didn’t communicate, and my kids and our way of living drove him crazy. I’ve been doing all or nothing thinking, and reading things in to his behavior in ‘self-defense’, the ‘I’ll assume the worst and then I can’t handle the mess when it happens’ thing. Thank you for this encouragement, I am trying to practice not seeing the extremes, and only seeing what I’m thinking will happen as one option of many possible outcomes.
For a year after the end of a beautiful relationship, I woke up every morning saying ” I loved you!” I realized how sad that thought made me feel. So, I started waking up and saying to myself “I love YOU!” I even give myself a big hug! I’m still single, but I know I’m happy, right now. I am happy.
I sometimes struggle with a series of thoughts that has nothing to do with my present situation but have everything to do with my traumatic upbringing. At times, I am overwhelmed by the thought that I am not worthy of love from others, that I am incapable of achieving my dreams, that I am alone in this whole wide world, and that I am harmful to this world.
These thoughts are caused my the surges of emotions that hit me at times caused by triggers.
Learning to manage my triggers and manage my Post Traumatic Stress, learning about self-observation and self-management, and therapy have all been helping me cope with my negative thoughts.
After a poor week, this was just the tonic to lift my spirit and affirm what I essentially already know to be the truth but which I sometimes struggle to put into practice. Actually, now that I think about it, that struggle is to be expected. I’m not the finished article but a work in progress. Of course there will be poor weeks. Of course there will! So what!
This post is totally helpful.. I was in a relationship for 3 years and I went through emotional and physical abuse. My ex was very insecure to the point I allowed him to make me insecure. He accused me of cheating all the time and come to find out when I broke up with him, he was the one being unfaithful. I was the bread winner in the house and now I’m with a great guy who is funny, family oriented, attractive, financially stable, very intelligent, however he’s not really attached to his feelings. He is not as needy as my ex and it scares me because I think he is always on the look out for someone better especially because he only points out my flaws. He shows me in different ways that he wants long term commitment, but there is always this thought in the back of my head that something bad will happen and come to the light later and here I will be again single. I’m not with him because I’m afraid of being lonely; I truly feel we both have the capability to build something worthy and long lasting. I will try now to think more positive even when those negative thoughts from the past come to mind.