How negative thinking affects our lives
The way we think has a massive influence on how we feel.
Let's consider a simple example: I didn't get a promotion at work. My first reaction is a belief that I'm a failure, that I'll never get the promotion and that I'll end up losing my job because I'm useless. This is quite negative thinking, and as a consequence I feel awful. In fact I feel useless and I end up with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, low motivation and hopelessness.
I spend the following two days in this state, then I am tired of being miserable and I decide to talk with my boss. I discover that my contribution at work is strongly appreciated and that I didn't get the promotion because of absence of funds. Now I think I'm a good worker and I have good hope that I'll get the promotion when the financial situation changes. My mood changes radically: now I feel satisfied, energetic and I re-gained confidence.
It is clear in this example how thinking influences the way we feel. Sometimes we experience a difficulty in our life because we think in the wrong way. If we change the way we look at the situation and at ourselves, the difficulty can appear as an opportunity, or maybe just as something that happened but doesn't affect our life in a significant way.
Negative thinking patterns can cause us to get stuck, because thinking serves not only as a way to see and understand the world, but also as a mechanism of creation of outcomes. We certainly want to create positive outcomes, thus positive thinking represents a wonderful instrument for our lives.
Negative thoughts can be explicitly or implicitly negative, and we cannot be aware of them. Explicit forms of negative thinking sound like "I am never going to overcome my fear of dogs" (it makes us feel hopeless), while subtle forms sound more like "I wish I could deal with my fear of dogs" (I wish I could...but I can't!).
Often, we have to deal not only with negative thinking, but also with negative mindsets. A negative mindset is a combination of negative thoughts, beliefs, patterns, interactions and behaviours. Sometimes, different negative mindsets can coexist at the same time, and in this case the impact of negative thinking is even heavier.
Positive thinking is a very useful and effective tool to improve our lives by changing our thinking. Positive thinking empowers us and makes us feel better because it encourages us to think about the world in a different way and to react to external circumstances in a more constructive way.
A criticism that is often drawn about positive thinking is that it's not healthy and mature to have a Pollyanna attitude and deny the reality. This criticism can be safely subscribed, apart from the fact that its objective is not positive thinking but a Pollyanna attitude of denying reality. A Pollyanna attitude has nothing to do with positive thinking, rather it is a strong misconception of it.
It is crucial not to use positive thinking as a mechanism of suppression of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. In fact, these need to be respected and expressed, without letting them dominate our life experience. Repressed negative thoughts, feelings and emotions can keep us stuck and prevent true change.
We need to acknowledge and express properly all the negativity, but at the same time we must not let the negative dominate our lives.
Coaching is a great tool to help us change our negative thinking and attitude - particularly if supported by approaches such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or Mindfulness. In fact, the first is an extraordinary effective tool to challenge our thoughts in order to experience new positive outcomes, while the latter can consistently improve the awareness of our thinking.
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About Giorgio Aprile
Giorgio is a qualified and experienced life coach and philosophical counsellor based in London. He has been practising CBT, Mindfulness and other evidence-based methods of coaching and counselling with excellent results. Giorgio is a member of the Association for Coaching and a member of the National Counselling Society.