In India, when training elephants, handlers begin by chaining one of the elephant’s legs to a tree. Over time, they gradually decrease the size of the chain until all it takes is a flimsy string to hold the elephant. It’s not the string that restrains the massive animal. It’s his mind. Your mind limits you in the same way. It can mercilessly pick apart and criticise your every move while chewing on the “evidence” ceaselessly. It can second-guess and sabotage your relationships with insecurities and emotional walls. Your mind can keep you stuck and hold you back in all areas of your life, like the elephant’s string. But it doesn’t have to. By recognising your negative thinking patterns and turning them around, you can put your mind to work for you instead of against you.
YOUR BRAIN’S PRIORITY IS YOUR SURVIVAL
Your brain is built to remember and focus more on bad experiences than positive ones. It was actually an evolutionary advantage that helped our ancestors survive by avoiding danger. This negativity bias is still active in your brain today and can get in the way of your happiness, up your stress and worry levels, and damage your brain and health.
NEGATIVE THINKING GETS WIRED INTO YOUR BRAIN
Over time, habitual negative thinking patterns become physical neural traits in your brain. If you get stressed out often about every little thing, your brain is going to forge and strengthen connections making it reactive and anxious. If you expect the worst in all situations, you’re reinforcing this kind of thinking in your brain every time you engage in it.
THE MOST COMMON NEGATIVE THINKING TRAPS
Black and white thinking: “I can’t even do this. I never do anything right.”
Mind reading: “They think I’m boring. I know they have better things to do than hang out with me.”
Crystal-ball gazing: “There’s no point in even trying. I know I’m not going to get the job anyway.”
Over-generalisation: “This relationship didn’t work out. I’m never going to meet someone.”
Disqualifying the positive: “I may be a decent mother, but anybody can do that.”
Over-reacting: “My friend hasn’t replied to my text in three hours. She hates me. Nobody likes me.”
Unrealistic expectations: “I have to get straight A’s. Nothing less is good enough.”
Name calling: “I can’t believe I said that. I’m such an idiot.”
Self-blame: “The boss looks mad. It must be something I did wrong.”
Catastrophising: “Since I can’t pay this bill, my credit rating will go down the tubes and I’ll lose the house.”
HOW TO REVERSE NEGATIVE THINKING PATTERNS
Become aware of habitual negative thought patterns You have to “catch” yourself in the act. You can’t control the random thoughts that pop into your mind. However, you can become aware of them, pause, and choose what happens next.
Challenge your thinking Distance yourself from and question your thoughts and beliefs. Analyse them objectively from all angles. Is this really what you think or is it an inherited belief from your past? Have the intent to give your mind guidance, like a wise, caring friend. Control it instead of it controlling you.
Is the thought helping or hurting? Usually, the answer is “It’s hurting”. When it is, I then consciously choose a thought that is more supportive, understanding, or positive. Studies show that positive self-reflection, recalling happy memories, and affirmative thoughts boost serotonin activity in your prefrontal cortex.
Decide After examining your thoughts mindfully, consciously decide what you want to believe and think, how you want to behave, and who you want to be. Hold that image in the forefront of your mind and move forward taking the appropriate actions.