“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
“Almost all painful feelings have their source in an incorrect way of looking at reality. When you uproot erroneous views, suffering ceases."
— The Buddha, as written by Thich Nhat Hanh
All of us experience negative thoughts from time to time. How we manage our negative attitudes can make the difference between confidence versus fear, hope versus despair, mastery versus victimhood, and victory versus defeat.
Multiple studies have revealed how chronic negative attitudes can adversely affect one’s health, happiness and well-being (1)(2)(3). Below are eight common negative thoughts of unhappy people, excerpted from my book (click on title): "How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions.”*
1. Self-Defeating Talk
Self-defeating talk are messages we send to ourselves which reduce our confidence, diminish our performance, lower our potential, and ultimately sabotage our success. Common self-defeating talk includes sentence beginnings such as:
“I’m not good enough…”
“I’m not confident …”
“I don’t have what it takes…”
“I’m going to fail…”
Would you like it if a friend tells you repeatedly that “you can’t succeed,” “you’re not good enough,” “you lack confidence,” “you don’t have what it takes,” or “you’re going to fail?” Would you consider this person a real friend? If not, why would you want to talk or think this way to yourself? Engaging in habitual self-defeating talk is like having a false friend who puts you down all day long. You become your worst enemy and detractor.
2. Negative Assumptions
A prevailing form of negative thinking is to take stock of a situation or an interaction, and presume the negative. For many people, this “looking at the glass half empty” attitude is habitual and automatic. One might look at a crowded commute, a rainy day, or paying the bills as automatic negative experiences.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently positive or negative about traffic, weather, or bill paying. As the saying goes, “it is what it is.” It’s the way you choose to relate to your circumstances that makes the experience positive or negative. This choice can instantly make you stronger or weaker, happier or gloomier, empowered or victimized. Given the same situations, one might look at a crowded commute as a chance to listen to relaxing music or practice mindful breathing; a rainy day as an occasion to curl up at home with hot cocoa and a good book; or bill paying as an opportunity to practice the “pay yourself first” wealth building strategy. It’s all in how you choose to relate to the moment.
3. Negative Comparison with Others
One of the easiest and most common ways to feel bad about oneself is to compare yourself unfavorably to others. We may be tempted to compare ourselves with those who have more accomplishments, seem more attractive, make more money, or boast more Facebook friends.
When you find yourself wishing to have what someone else has, and feel jealous, inferior or inadequate as the result, you’re having a negative social comparison moment.
4. Negative Rumination about the Past
We should learn from the past, but not be stuck in it. Sometimes life circumstances and personal setbacks can haunt and prevent us from seeing our true potential and recognizing new opportunities. What has already happened we cannot change, but what is yet to happen we can shape and influence. At times the first step is simply to break from the past and declare that it is you, not your history, who’s in charge. Goethe reminds us: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” Don’t dwell on the past. Make better choices today and move on.
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.”
— Wall Street Journal
5. Disempowering Beliefs about Difficult People
Most of us encounter difficult people in our lives. In the face of such challenging individuals, it’s tempting to believe that they are the perpetrators and we are the victims, or that they hold the power with their challenging behavior. Such attitudes, even if justified, are reactive and thus self-weakening.
The key to changing your disempowering beliefs about difficult people is to shift from being reactive to proactive. Whether you’re dealing with a narcissist, a passive-aggressive, a manipulator, or an intimidating and controlling oppressor, there are many skills and strategies you can utilize to stay on top of the situation. For more on this topic, see my books (click on titles): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People,” and “How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People.”
6. The Desire to Blame
Blame can be defined as holding others responsible for our misfortunes. Some people cast their dysfunctional parents, negative relationships, socio-economic disadvantages, health challenges, or other life hardships as the reason for their unhappiness and lack of success.
While it’s certainly true that life presents many difficulties, and undeniable the pain and suffering they often cause, to blame others as the reason for one’s unhappiness is to cast oneself in the role of the victim.
There are illusory advantages to victimhood, as finger-pointing provides convenient justification for life’s unsatisfactory conditions, and sheds the work necessary to take complete charge of one’s own life and well-being.
However, habitual blaming over time perpetuates bitterness, resentment, and powerlessness, as the victim suffers from what H.D. Thoreau calls “quiet desperation.”
Often, those who are the target of your blame have little idea (or could care less) about how you really feel. You only hurt yourself by being a prisoner of your own bitterness and resentment. Your feelings may be justified, but they will not help you become happy, healthy, and successful. Ultimately, isn’t that what you really want?
"When we blame, we give away our power."
— Greg Anderson
7. The Struggle to Forgive Yourself
All of us make mistakes in life. When you look back at your past deeds, perhaps there were decisions and actions you regret. There may have been unfortunate errors in judgment. You may have caused harm to yourself and/or others.
As you recall these past events, there may be an accompanying sense of self-blame at the blunders made, damage done, or opportunities missed. You might think of yourself as a “bad” or “flawed” person and wallow in guilt. During these moments, it’s extremely important to be compassionate with yourself, knowing that now that you’re more aware, you have a chance to avoid repeating past mistakes, and to make a positive difference with yourself and others.
“Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes — and mistakes aren't permanent reflections on you as a person. They're isolated moments in time. Tell yourself, "I made a mistake, but that doesn't make me a bad person."
— Mayo Clinic
8. The Fear of Failure and Making Mistakes
The fear of failure and making mistakes are often associated with perfectionism (at least in certain areas of your life). You may think that you’re not good enough in some ways, thereby placing tremendous pressure on yourself to succeed.
While setting high standards can serve as an effective motivational tool, expecting yourself to be perfect takes the joy out of life, and can actually limit your greatest potential for success. Multiple studies have shown the correlation between perfectionism and unhappiness (6)(7). Try as we might, it simply isn’t human to be perfect, and certainly not all of the time.
“Given the desire to be valued and appreciated, it’s tempting to try to appear to be perfect, but the costs of such deceptions are high…How can you like yourself when you don’t measure up to the way you ought to be?”
— R. Adler and R. Proctor II
To learn how to reduce or eliminate over fifteen types of negative attitudes and feelings, see my book (click on title): "How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions.”
Also available (click on title):
© 2015 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
(1) Elejalde-Ruiz, A. How Old Do You Feel Inside? The Key to Staying Healthy and Living Longer is Deciding You're Not Old and Decrepit. Chicago Tribune (Oct. 12, 2011).
(2) New Research Reveals How Attitudes Affect Behavior. Research News Articles Archive, Ohio State University.
(3) Goldman, D. Researchers Find That Optimism Helps the Body's Defense System. New York Times (April 20, 1989).
(4) Aspinwall, L. G.; Taylor, S. E. Effects Of Social Comparison Direction, Threat, and Self-Esteem on Affect, Self-Evaluation, and Expected Success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64 (1993).
(5) Collins, R. L. For Better or Worse: The Impact of Upward Social Comparison on Self-Evaluations. Psychological Bulletin 119 (1995).
(6) Rice, Kenneth G.; Leever, Brooke A.; Noggle, Chad A.; Lapsley, Daniel K. "Perfectionism and Depressive Symptoms in Early Adolescence". Psychology in the Schools 44(2): 139–156. doi:10.1002/pits.20212. (2007).
(7) Rettner, R. The Dark Side of Perfectionism Revealed. Live Science (July 11, 2010).
*This article is for general educational purpose. In cases of severe mental or emotional distress, seek support from medical and mental health professionals.