We may all have negative thoughts sometimes and therefore feel sad, pessimistic, or suspicious. However, what if we constantly focus on negative thoughts and think the worst?
Have you ever had a minor negative experience that stuck in your mind all day long? Or that you remember a bad behavior you were once subjected to as if you experienced it today? For example, a wrong word that came out of your mouth during a speech you made, or a negative comment you received that day despite a good day.
The Negativity Bias in Our Brains
In fact, we all tend to think the worst about things and focus on the negative. Our brain’s hypersensitivity to minor negative experiences is called negativity bias. Negativity bias can be explained as our proneness to remember negative experiences more in many of the events we experience. Under negative emotions and stimuli, ‘amygdala’, the region controlling our emotional reactions, especially fear, in our brains gets activated. Thus, our focus on negative events allows us to be alert to dangers, and to survive. Therefore, this tendency has an important evolutionary function. However, although this trend helps us to survive, it can do more harm than good in today’s modern world.
Especially, if we consider the thoughts swirling in our heads, our critical and negative inner voice, the increase in the amount of time you are stuck with negative moments during the day may prevent you from realizing the positive moments and positive emotions you experience. When the level of stress we are exposed to due to negative emotions and stimuli increases, we may experience stress-related physical and psychological problems.
So, can we prevent negative thinking?
What is positive thinking?
In the face of harsh events, we hear someone says, “think positive, focus on the good”. A positive mindset is important to balance our negative tendencies. Yet, what does it really mean to think positive?
Positive thinking or an optimistic attitude is the practice of focusing on the good in any situation. However, this does not mean ignoring the fact or underestimating the problems; positive thinking means that we approach everything in life, good and bad, with the expectation that things will turn out well.
Positive Psychology and Positive Thinking
One of the important figures in positive psychology, Prof. Barbara Fredrickson states in her Broad-and-Build Theory that positive emotions increase one’s awareness and encourages new thoughts and behaviors. According to this theory, our limited responses in moments of anger and fear expand and diversify when we think positively. In other words, realizing that there are different alternatives to events, seeing the big picture with the mind brought by positive thinking, enables us to react more flexibly and creatively in the face of events. In summary, positive thinking opens new avenues for thought and action in our minds and enables us to look at things from a different perspective.
Benefits of Positive Thinking
Thinking positive has a great influence on our physical and mental health. Many studies have shown that having a more positive mindset helps stress management and reduces the risk of significant health problems such as heart diseases, cancer, and depression.
In general, positive thinking provides a better psychological and physical well-being, while bringing a longer and higher quality of life.
How can we think positively? Meditation and boosting positive thinking
Positive thinking often begins with positive self-talk. If most of your thoughts are negative, your outlook on life may be more pessimistic. However, it is possible to change this. Thinking positively is a learnable approach. Although this takes practice and time, you can try these 4 proven scientific techniques to reverse negative thoughts:
1. Restructure your negative thoughts.
Negative emotions are more related to what we think and feel about the situation rather than the situation itself. Noticing the effect of our negative inner voice on our thoughts, reshaping our feelings, and thought patterns can make a difference in our perspective on events.
Try reversing your negative thoughts by starting a positive conversation with yourself with this new perspective.
2. Focus on your strengths.
Every day for a week, you can think about and write about one of your strengths, such as creativity, kindness, discipline. Plan to use this aspect in different ways that day and put it into practice. In one study, it is seen that people who apply this technique have increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression at the end of the week.
3. Write down the things you are grateful for.
Studies show that being able to accept things as they are and writing about what we are grateful for increases our optimism. So, keeping a gratitude journal every day, or making a list of things you’re grateful for when you’re having a hard time can help you stay positive.
You can take a deep breath and meditate when your negative thoughts are concentrated, and you are in doubt. Meditation calms the mind, reduces stress, and helps you observe your thoughts and feelings with an open mind. According to one research, meditating helps to build the positive emotions needed for personal resources and it helps us stay positive.