A study conducted on over 30,000 participants found that negative thoughts — not life events or genetics — are the primary predictor of mental health problems. That it’s not what happens to you but how you perceive what happens to you that drives the course of your life.
This evidence might be hard to swallow at first — accountability usually is.
But once you accept it as truth, you’ll become more empowered than you’ve ever been before. Your destiny becomes the simple result of your own choices. And when life starts feeling not-so-good, you can simply change your choices to create a better outcome.
There are really just two choices you make every day that create and feed negativity: what you think and who you surround yourself with. Let’s start with what you think about.
The Power of What You Think
Consider your last bad day. What went wrong? What did your internal dialogue say in response to what went wrong? And how did that internal dialogue drive your thoughts, mood, and behaviors the rest of that day, week, or month?
If your blood is boiling just revisiting the event, you’re not so different from most of us. Negative thoughts have the power to produce negative feelings and negative reactions. Let’s say you were ready to walk out the door when you got into an argument with your roommate (or spouse or child) about the dirty dishes left in the sink.
Your internal dialogue actually starts before the argument and it continues throughout the day, saying things like, “He has no idea how hard I work,” and, “She has no respect for me at all!”
The dialogue not only becomes angrier and intensifies throughout the day, but it bends the truth. In fact, it creates a truth of its own and then sells that truth to you. What started as a simple oversight — he forgot to wash his bowl — now feels like the worst transgression ever committed.
All because of your own internal dialogue.
And these negative thoughts don’t only hurt the people around us, they hurt us, too.
Consider the last time you made a mistake. Perhaps you said something you shouldn’t have in a meeting or missed a timeline at work. While the original mistake was likely small and easy to resolve, your internal dialogue may have quickly convinced you that you’re a failure, you aren’t good enough, or you aren’t cut out for this job. Maybe it told you that everybody’s judging you and talking about you or that your boss is angry with you.
How to Think Differently
Your thoughts have incredible power to both create intense negativity and to counter that negativity with powerful positivity. So how do you redirect your thoughts?
- Listen to the voice as an observer rather than letting the voice define and drive you. Pause for a moment to acknowledge the voice, then ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” Envision yourself transcending above and observing all those negative words, separate from you and unrelated to who you are.
- Nip negative thoughts in the bud. Immediately replace them with positive thoughts and affirmations. When your dialogue is about other people, you can do this by putting yourself in their shoes, trying to understand their perspective or assuming the best instead of the worst. Instead of thinking, “She doesn’t appreciate me at all,” consider how busy she is or how she expresses her gratitude for you in other ways. When the negative thoughts are about yourself, replace them with positive affirmations, like “I am enough. I am important. I am kind.”
These two simple tips can help you put out negative coals before they become wildfires.
Who You Surround Yourself With
Now let’s talk about whose company you keep. Do you have anyone in your inner circle who calls you and your immediate reaction is to hit “ignore” on your phone?
Do you have friends who thrive on negativity? Who complain all the time? Who never seem to be satisfied despite the blessings and positive things happening in their lives? They have a lousy marriage, rotten kids, and crummy job. They don’t make enough money, they’re always sick, and on and on and on. You with me?
Maybe you can simply cut these people out. If it’s a friend you can do without, simply move on. But in most cases, it’s much harder than that. It’s a parent, a child, an in-law, a boss, or a coworker. You don’t get to choose these people, but you can transform their negativity with a little work.
Just like you can put out a fire with water, you can drown negativity with positivity. Try these tips:
- Encourage gratitude by asking questions. When a friend complains about her son, simply ask, “What’s the sweetest thing he’s done this week?” or, “What do you love most about him?”
- Share some perspective. In the situation above, you might say, “I bet he’s going through a hard time right now,” or, “Do you think he’s feeling left out?”
- Point out the positive. If you can’t get your friend to express gratitude by asking questions, simply point out the positive yourself. “Well the good news is he’s doing great in school!” is a positive response to your friend’s griping and moaning.
- Share your own gratitude. Don’t be afraid to share your own gratitude without bragging. You can say something like, “My daughter has been causing me stress lately, too, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be her mother that I’m welcoming the challenge.” Model positive behavior.
- Set your boundaries. If none of these strategies work, then perhaps it’s time to set some boundaries. You can say something like, “I’m working on eliminating negativity and I need to surround myself with positive people. Can you try to be more grateful and positive in our conversations? If not, we’ll have to spend less time together because it isn’t healthy for me.”
The truth is, changing your mindset to reflect more positivity will not be easy. In fact, it will be rather difficult at first. This is because it’s not natural and we are hardwired to see the negatives. Stick with it though, you will improve each and every day.
Choosing a Lifestyle of Gratitude
Your thoughts and who you surround yourself with can promote a negative lifestyle. Now that we’ve tackled how to transform those two areas, let’s talk about some other important things you can do that support your health and well-being and enhance the steps you’ve already taken.
- Wake up and journal every single morning. This is a must. Create your best mood and intention for the day.
- Celebrate gratitude. Take a moment every morning to stop and recognize the things for which you’re most grateful. You can also download the Gratitude Log worksheet that will help you keep what you’re grateful for in front of you.
- Start every day with intention. If you know what success looks like before your day even starts, there’s no stopping you and nothing will get in the way of your happiness.
- Surround yourself with more optimistic and positive people. There’s nothing quite like submerging yourself with optimism. It is so contagious.
- Before you go to bed each night, think about the best thing that happened to you all day. Really experience the emotions and use all your senses to recall that great moment in time. Ask yourself, “What did I see, smell, and feel?”
- Go to Instagram and follow people who motivate and inspire you.
- Watch your favorite YouTube channel to re-energize.
- Go on a negativity diet. Avoid media, limit your time around negative people, and eliminate all negative self-talk. Hold yourself accountable by placing a rubber band on your right wrist and starting the timer. If you violate the “diet,” move the rubber band to your left wrist and restart the timer.
Increase Your Positivity Intake
Do everything in your power to create a positive mindset each morning before you start your day. Test out the 24-hour negativity diet. Now is the perfect time to make the changes that you’ve always wanted to make and become the person that everyone wants to be around.
It’s impossible to avoid all negativity — it’s out of your control. But, you can act to consume more positivity and drown out and suffocate the negativity. The key is to consume more positivity than negativity.