(In our previous post we explored common patterns of negative thinking and their impact on our our health, goals, and performance. In this post, we present strategies for overcoming those negative thoughts.)
With the proper techniques, anyone can overcome (or at the very least, reduce) negative thinking patterns. All it takes is self-discipline and a strong commitment to practice. Here are some steps you can take.
Recognize your thoughts
The first step to overcoming negative thinking is to recognize the thoughts when they arise. It can sometimes be challenging to identify them, because our thoughts can feel so immediate and authentic we have a tendency to accept them without questioning. However, one method you can use is to simply ask yourself two questions, “Would I talk to someone else this way?” and “Would I let anyone else talk to me like this?” If the answer is no, recognize that they are simply maladaptive thoughts, not reality nor something to pay mind to. Employ one of the following methods:
Intercept your thoughts
It is important to recognize who is in control of your thoughts: you and only you. With control comes choice. You have a choice how to respond to them. You could either sit on the thought, relinquish your power, and allow it to affect your entire day (and potentially others around you), or you can choose to intercept the thought before it spirals. When you notice yourself beginning to ruminate, take action. Get up and do something simple and immediate: take a walk, call an upbeat friend, head to the gym. When you distract yourself by doing something positive, you begin to change your thought patterns. If the thought does return, there is opportunity to analyze it with an improved state of mind.
Analyze the thoughts
To reiterate, thoughts and feelings are not always reality. They can be misinformed, skewed, and overdramatized, subject to the biases of your mood and the influence of your environment. As such, analysis of negative thoughts should only be done in a positive and healing environment, and with a clear mindset. Some questions you may ask yourself include:
• Would you say this to someone else?
• How would you respond if someone said this to you?
• Why are you having this thought?
• Are any aspects of this thought based in reality?
• Is this thought helpful or advancing my goals?
• What negative impacts can this thought have on me or those around me if I continue to entertain it?
• What steps do I need to take to step away from this thought pattern?
• What positive effects will removing this thought or feeling have on my life?
Say them out loud
Not getting to the conclusion you’re hoping for? Say the thoughts out loud. While there is potential for this to be productive on your own (sometimes hearing your thoughts out loud allows you to recognize their harmful and irrational nature), it is best to do to a trusted, loving friend or professional. When you share your thoughts to someone you trust and respect, you’ll often find that you are offered a perspective that you may not have had otherwise. Further, persistent negative thoughts can be extremely lonely and often times alienating, since we experience them alone and without feedback. Even if your friend is unable to offer solutions, at the very least, it is comforting to release what you are experiencing.
Replace the bad with good
Another tried and true method to combat negative thoughts in the moment is to replace them with positive ones. If you are feeling frustrated about a missed clean and find yourself saying things like “you’re weak,” “your technique sucks,”or “you’ll never lift like ‘X,’” stop and identify 3 positive things you did or are doing for each negative thought you have. “I may have missed a rep at 95%, but 90% felt easy, I’m starting to get more consistent at higher percentages, and my 95% today was my 100% 6 months ago.” The more you begin to shift your thoughts to a more positive perspective, the more you begin to recognize all of the things you are doing right. As a result, not only can you learn to be unaffected by the occasional misses, but you begin to use them as motivation to continue to improve.
Take constructive action
If you have gone through the analysis and “talk out loud” methods, and have come to the conclusion that while the way you are talking to yourself may be harmful, the thought does bring to light something you can improve, instead of spiraling in helplessness, shift to a problem-solving perspective. Ask yourself:
• What do I need to improve upon?
• What steps can I take to begin?
• What do I need assistance with?
This shift in perspective is deliberate and strategic. You have identified, with the help of someone else, that there is something you can work towards to improve yourself- that’s great! Without challenge and effort, there is no growth. The important thing to remember here is that you are taking action for yourself, to improve yourself, and to end the cycle of self-doubt. By focusing on what you can do, instead of what you’re feeling or what you fear might happen, it opens you the opportunity to strive for your potential and work towards a positive outcome.
Practice regular stress-management techniques
Lastly, as both a preventative measure and a mechanism to overcome persistent negative thinking patterns, it is helpful to practice routine stress-management techniques, specifically meditation. Meditation teaches you to be self-aware, to be in the present moment, and to detach from thoughts. When you meditate, try to view your incoming thoughts simply as words or images that pass through the mind. You may acknowledge them, but try your best not to entertain them. Remember that you have a choice how to respond to thoughts. By practicing routine meditation, you can learn methods to tame the mind. It can also serve as a way to calm the mind in the moments of turbulence and shake your negative energy before it grows.
In Dr. Bob Rotella’s best-seller, How Champions Think, he makes the insightful conclusion:
“While the correlation between optimism and success is imperfect, there is an almost perfect correlation between negative thinking and failure. If you look at a golf hole before you hit a tee shot and fill your mind with worries about hitting it into the woods, water or sand, I can almost guarantee you won’t hit your best drive, and you probably will indeed find woods, water or sand. So why wouldn’t you be optimistic if optimism was a choice you could make?”