Negative Thinking Habits

Mindfulness, Personal Development



“Show Notes”

In this podcast, Maureen explains the reason why we, as humans, are prone to negative thinking. She then shares ways in which we can address negative thinking habits.

“Show Transcription”

Hello, I’m Maureen O’Callaghan, founder of Beyond Money, a business that aims to change the way people do business by teaching them the art of doing business beyond money.

In this series of podcasts, I’m going to cover some key themes that will help business owners thrive in work and in life, do some good, and discover that their purpose goes way beyond money.

On today’s episode, I’m going to talk about negative thinking.

Have you ever had an unpleasant conversation that stuck with you for a long time afterwards?
Do your setbacks come to mind a lot faster than your successes?

This happens because as humans, we have a negativity bias. That is, we pay more attention to negative things that happen in our world.

We pay more attention to insults than compliments.
We dwell on bad experiences rather than pleasant ones.
We have a good day yet we ruminate on that one ‘bad’ experience.

So why is this the case?

Research suggests this is an adaptive evolutionary function; that thousands of years ago, our ancestors had to pay attention to threats that might harm or kill them such as predators, so it made more sense to look out for negative stimuli.

Today, while being aware of potential threats is still useful, negative thinking can have an undesirable impact on our personal and work life, as well as our mental and physical health.

Let’s look at some of the common negative thinking habits we tend to adopt.

There’s overgeneralisation, which is fixating on one negative experience or detail and giving it far much more significance than it’s worth.

An example of this might be telling yourself ‘I shouldn’t be a business owner because I didn’t deliver on that project for a client. I’m useless!’

Then there’s mind-reading; assuming what someone else thinks or feels about you. This might look like thinking that a client hates you because they were brusque in a meeting. How do you really know that this was aimed at you, and not because something bad had happened to them that day?

Catastrophising is another common negative thinking habit. This is where you blow something out of proportion. For example, your business is going through a quiet patch and you assume that that’s it, it’s all over and your business is going to collapse.

And the final one I want to talk about is personalisation, which is a big one for me. This is where you think that it is your responsibility when things go wrong. My rational mind knows that it’s not all about me, but that internal voice with its ingrained negative thinking patterns is all to quick to tell me that it is.

Personally, I’m also prone to negative rumination. I am a worrier and I can easily make something bigger than it really is by worrying about what might happen and putting a negative slant on it. For example, when I forget something, I worry it’s a sign of early stage Dementia.

So how can we start to challenge negative thinking and break the cycle?

You can start by trying to catch yourself when you fall into negative thinking patterns.

If you notice that you feel angry, resentful, worried, or frustrated-what were you thinking before you felt like that? How true are those thoughts, and what evidence do you have for and against them?

For me, because my tendency is negative rumination and worrying, I find it helps to ask myself the following:

Are my thoughts true?

Where is the evidence?

Could there be another way of looking at this?

I also try to remember to ask myself this:

Can I do something about the issue? If I can, why worry?

If there’s nothing I can do about it, why worry?

Mindfulness is a great tool for helping you observe your feelings and thoughts more objectively. Instead of reacting with your default negativity, practising mindfulness can help you get curious about what you are feeling and why you are feeling this way. You can become an observer of your thoughts rather than being completely overtaken by them.

Reframing negative experiences or situations can also help. Say that you are in the running to win a contract from a prospective client, and they award it to someone else. Instead of telling yourself that you didn’t get it because you’re not good enough or incompetent, could you learn to think ‘that was just one thing that didn’t go my way-what can I learn from this and how could I do things better next time?’

The key to overcoming negative thinking habits is shining the light of awareness on them.

I’d like to share with you something that works for me, it’s called the STOP practice.

When I notice that I have fallen into negative thinking patterns, I:

  • S-Stop what I am doing
  • T-Take a breath, or several breaths
  • O-Observe what is happening. What am I thinking? How do I feel? What is happening in my body? If I identify any negative thoughts, I name them, saying ‘Hello, negative rumination, I see you’re here again.’ Then I:
  • P-Persevere with getting on with what I’m doing.

I found that all too often when I wasn’t connected with my direct experience in the moment, it was easier for negative thinking habits to take over. But when I made a conscious effort to connect with what I was experiencing and name my negative thoughts, it really helped.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and you’re going to give some of the practices to break the cycle of negative thinking a try.

Tune in for the next episode of the Beyond Money podcast which will look at resolving conflict.