6 Easy Ways to Cultivate Positive Thinking Today!
Want to feel better about life? Try these techniques right now!
Posted May 22, 2018
I have a client in my IGNTD Recovery course who always believes that everyone he knows is going to leave him and that everything he does will result in complete disaster. I don’t wonder why he feels this way – he’s been operating in this way for over 30 years and his parents (primarily his father), made sure he always knew when he screwed up. It’s a story I recognize from my own childhood, and in my case it led to about 15 years of caring little about achievement in school or hard work because it all came with a single thought – I am terrible anyway and anything less than perfect isn’t worthwhile, so why should I even try?
The thing is that, even as this guy is trying his hardest to kick his addiction to the curb, that little voice inside his head (and millions of voices outside of it) keep telling him that he’s just a piece if %&$* addict and that he’ll always be this way.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Negative thought patterns are part of being human. But while negative thoughts can be hel to keep us realistic and practical, they can also make us feel utterly defeated. Especially when those negative thoughts are directed inwards…
What negative beliefs do you have about yourself?
Core beliefs are the most basic assumptions you have about yourself in the world.
These core beliefs often form in childhood and solidify in adulthood. For example, if the idea instilled in you as a child was that you’re always a failure, then you may fear trying something new because you don't believe you are capable of success.
Let’s look at 5 of the most common negative core beliefs:
- I am unlovable
- I am unworthy
- I don’t belong
- I am defective
- I am powerless
Can you identify with any of these?
How negative beliefs impact your recovery
Negative beliefs are just that, beliefs. They are not facts. Just because you think you are unworthy, does not mean you are unworthy. In reality, every human has the right to feel loved, worthy, a sense of belonging and a sense of wholeness. Unfortunately, the stories we’ve been told about ourselves over time have, for many of us, damaged our abilities to see everything that’s great about us.
Negative beliefs are not helpful in your recovery because it leads to low self-esteem and poor self-image. And oftentimes, these negative self-portrayals can lead to inaction, low motivation or a fear of failure so debilitating that it makes you not act EVEN when you know you should. The good news is, you can change your negative beliefs. It’s not something that happens overnight, but with practice and focus, you can retrain your brain to have positive core beliefs.
“We can change our way of thinking about something far,
far better than we can actively make it go away."
- Adi Jaffe
Five steps to cultivate positive thinking
1. Keep a thought journal
A thought journal is a great way to keep track of your negative thoughts. At the top of a notebook, write the following headings: thought, situation, and feelings evoked.
Over a seven day period record negative thoughts as you notice them, the situations where they arise and how they make you feel.
For example, if your work colleagues invite you out to lunch one day, what’s the first thought that goes through your mind? It may be one of these:
They’re just asking to be nice
I have nothing interesting to talk about
If they get to know me, they'll realize how damaged I am
… and so on.
Becoming aware of these thought patterns is often the first step to changing them!
2. Test your core beliefs
Identify one of the situations in your journal. For consistency, let’s use the work colleague lunch example.
Write a list of predictions. Be very specific. Ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen?
I go to lunch with my colleagues, and they don't find me interesting, and they don't ask me out for another lunch.
Now, make a contract with yourself to test the negative belief. Try going out to lunch and see what happens. You’ll probably find your belief was biased and not an accurate reflection of what your colleagues actually think.
If this occurrence did not pan out as terribly as expected, what else might you be able to try ta you’ve held back from?
3. Label your thoughts
Once you’ve practiced step one and two, you’ll become more aware of those negative self-beliefs that infiltrate your mind. Rather than taking a judgmental approach:
“There I go again, thinking these stupid thoughts.”
Take a non-judgmental stance. Label the thoughts, so you reduce its power and the impact it has on your thinking. "I’m having a thought about how stupid I am.”
Accept that for whatever reason, due to your history and your life experiences, those are the thoughts you’ve been led to believe about yourself. But they are not true. They are not facts. They are simply the stories you’re used to telling yourself.
4. Thought stopping/urge-surfing
One of the problems with negative thinking patterns is this constant downward spiral we can end up in when one negative thought leads to another and then another. As you can see from the example above, the idea that your colleagues won’t find you interesting leads to “they’ll never ask me out to lunch again,” “they’ll talk about me behind my back,” “they’ll find a way for me to lose my job”… and so on.
When you get into that thinking pattern, say STOP. Say it out loud as that will have a stronger impact. You can also interrupt the negative thought patterns by snapping a rubber band on your wrist, clapping your hands or snapping your fingers.
If yelling STOP is not your thing (or if you find yourself in public without a rubber bank on your wrist), you can try to urge-surf. This technique requires no board or wet-suit, but just your mind. Observing the negative thoughts as they rise, labeling them and doing your best to stay non-judgmental, how long does it take for the wave of negative feelings to pass by?
5. Challenge all-or-nothing thinking
Stop thinking in absolutes. Try not to use words such as “every,” “always,” “none,” “never,” “must,” or “nobody.”
“None of my colleagues will think I’m interesting.”
“Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.”
Challenge it. Think of a time when the evidence stacks up against your negative belief.
Oh yes, one of my colleagues asked me about my weekend on Monday. The next day she asked me how I was. So she does seem interested in me.
Oh right, my boss/partner/friend told me how great I was at math when I helped him calculate his mortgage payment in my head. I guess some people think I’m intelligent.”
Our brain organizes the world based on expectation and previous experiences. If you focus all of your efforts on stopping negative thinking, you may still find yourself engrossed in the negative thoughts you’re attempting to stop.
The confirmation bias is a well known psychological fact that leads us to continue seeing more of what we expect to see.
If you want to prime your confirmation bias with positive thoughts, start every day with a short list of (3-5) things you are grateful for. It could be anything from your children, to your job, to your spouse or your new car.
By starting the day with a positive reflection, you’ll be “priming the pump” towards positivity for the rest of the day!
How will positive thinking help your recovery?
By taking charge of those negative core beliefs, you can retrain your brain to think positively and reshape the way you see the world. You will feel better about yourself. It will lead to better relationships with yourself and others. It will change your experience in life.
You will be better equipped to stay on track with recovery when you have power over those habitual thought patterns. Remember to practice and positive thinking will become the new habit.
Because while the approaches shared can take some time to fully “take,” I have no doubt that you will experience some incredible changes within days or even hours of starting to apply them!
Copyright 2018 Adi Jaffe
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