I can't do that... How does negative thinking serve us?
We’ve all done it. When something bad happens, we immediately think of the worst-case scenario, we decide that we are the reason the thing happened. We blame ourselves or we might even blame others. Anxiety starts to build, and we can’t go backward.
We do not tend to think rationally and see that actually, things just happen sometimes, and we do not control why and how. The only thing that we can control is our reaction to the situation. We can choose whether we look at the negatives or we choose to just move on, to put it down to experience and learn from it.
Easily said and much harder to actually do. So how do we change those negatives into positives? And if not, into a positive, how do we neutralise the thought?
You will have heard of self-talk (re-framing a negative into a positive). Instead of thinking “Why would they give me the job?” think, “Why wouldn’t they give me the job?”.
Instead of “There is no way that I could set up my own business and earn enough money” think, “I have years of experience and know that I can make it work”.
Again, easy to say and hard to carry out.
So what does actually work?
Look for evidence
The one thing that I believe truly works is re-visiting the past and looking for evidence. Evidence of what went right, what went wrong in your life and whether you were able to control those situations or whether it was out of your control.
For example, for someone like me, who is slightly nervous about flying because of the irrational fear that the plane will fall out of the sky, it is important to recognise how unlikely it is that this will happen. Of course, there is evidence that planes do fail, they crash, and people die. We hear about these tragedies in the media and immediately this shows us that our fears are indeed founded. We could be on that one plane that crashes. It could happen.
But when you really think about it, how likely is it to actually happen? In all the years that you have been flying on planes, has it happened to you? Never. And if it had happened to me, I would not be writing this article! So, what is the point of worrying unnecessarily about something that is incredibly unlikely to ever happen?
It's just wasted energy.
You worry, you feel sick, you look around at the other passengers nervously, and then you land. All that worry was for nothing, and you realise you made it to your destination safely – you can stop worrying until the next time you board a plane.
Negative thoughts can also lead to social anxiety, stress, and add to feelings of low self-esteem. By always thinking the worst, it can be hard to function normally in life. If you believe that the reason you didn’t get the job you applied for was because they didn’t like you or didn’t think you were capable of the job, then you will lower your self-esteem and lose confidence in yourself. However, if you realise that there could be several reasons why you weren’t chosen, which are not personal, then you can accept it and move on.
I once applied for a job which I was completely qualified for. The job was advertised as part-time, but during the interview they started asking whether I would be able to do the job full-time as they were adding another element to the job. When I didn’t get the job, I was absolutely heartbroken and took it very badly. Six months on, I found out that the person that got the job was set up to fail and as soon as she left, the boss’s husband took over the position. It was never personal; the job was never actually there – they just had to go through the recruitment process so that it wasn’t obvious that there was nepotism at play. The job rejection wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, it was because somebody else was more suited to the role.
Everything happens for a reason.
Document your thoughts
Journaling is a common tool which can be really useful for awareness. By identifying and writing down these negative thoughts as they come up, you can start working out whether there is a pattern emerging. Once they are down on paper, you can analyse whether there is any concrete evidence supporting the negative thoughts you have been having. Are they fact or fiction?
Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. Everyone has thoughts and it is up to you to decide which thoughts to pluck out of your brain to think about! You can choose to push the negative ones to the back of your mind and, if you have written them down, leave them on the paper, and move on.
Look at your belief system
Do you have self-limiting beliefs? Do you believe that you are not good enough, you are not valuable enough etc?
Some examples of common limiting beliefs are:
- I’m not good enough... for this job, for my partner, to be a good mother.
- I will never be successful... I don’t have the skills to go further in my career, so I should just make do with what I have.
- I don’t have enough time... to relax, spend time on myself, learn something new.
- I don’t have enough money... to have fun, to improve myself.
These kind of thoughts or beliefs will restrict you in some way – you are falsely accusing of yourself of something that isn’t true. This will make you shy away from opportunities or from doing new things or from doing what needs to be done to move forward.
Sometimes, the easiest way to find out whether these limiting beliefs are based in fact is to actually verbalise them. If you are brave enough, ask someone you trust. Ask them directly whether they think you are capable of doing the thing that you are too scared to do. You might be surprised by the answer!
Many of us need external validation i.e. praise from others, to believe in ourselves, to believe we have done a good job. We don’t trust ourselves enough to self-congratulate.
Learning to validate internally is quite a skill, but it is possible.
By repeating positive sentences about what we are doing, what we are hoping to achieve or will achieve in the future, we can behave as if it has already happened. These are positive affirmations, and we use them in life coaching to keep us moving forward.
Talking to a life coach can help us identify where our negative thoughts are coming from, whether we need to take a look at our belief system and start to transform the way that we think about own life and career. We can then start planning a more positive future with the realisation that negative thoughts only serve to keep us standing still.