Individual thought patterns
The average person has anything between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day.
That’s a whopping 2,500-3,300 thoughts per hour.
Did you also know that 80% out of our overall thoughts are things that are negative?
Now isn’t that as incredible as it is truly tragic?
This means the greater sum of each day and night of our lives is spent wasting time, effort, and life on damaging, vexing, and adverse thinking, whereas our resources could be better spent and put to more productive use.
What are these things that cause negative thoughts? They could range from work issues and professional quarrels and pressure to personal conflict and relationship turmoil, from social prejudices to academic hurdles, from shattered aspirations to economic stress…many are the problems that may weigh heavy upon us all.
Yet how do these problems rally round our deeper consciousness and tug away at our resolve, bending our confidence and breaking our stride? Is it due to being subjugated by the aforesaid things?
By that, I mean things that are beyond or out of our control. Things that cause us stress, grief, fear, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and regret.
Now you and I know that there is a significant correlation between our thoughts and our deeds. Our thoughts are the bedrock that stimulates our desires, feelings, perceptions, and actions.
Then we must surely take more than a bird’s eye view of the situation troubling us.
Are there major catastrophes in the wake of an untended and unaddressed dilemma?
Or are there smaller things that are apt to snowball in our life? Things that grow from an acorn to an oak given time?
Small issues that transform into bigger calamities that end up bothering us for days at a time, weeks or even months?
In a nutshell, our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are all linked. Having unhelpful and harmful thoughts are more common than we imagine. In fact, if it comprises 80% of our thoughts every day, just consider how much time we spend wrestling with ourselves; where we convince ourselves that we are not good enough, that we are weak, vulnerable, miserable, or helpless?
Imagine the time in our lives that is wasted watering seeds of negative thoughts repeatedly, only to reap a garden in decay on infertile soil? The bulk of our lives are spent in letting our negative emotions, behaviours, and thoughts drive us on auto-pilot mode – because it is easier to accept that our lot in life is to suffer, constantly compromise, perpetually be insulted, injured, and harmed gravely, than to combat our woes, convert our weaknesses to potential strengths, and turn our lives from negativity to positivity.
Mindfulness and self-awareness
If we can learn to practice detaching ourselves from our thoughts and emotions, it can help us immensely. The key is to start viewing our issues in multiple perspectives, particularly as an outside observer. Either through meditation, improving ourselves and our well-being, other therapeutic means, or creative or innovative processes that render fulfilment, surrounding ourselves with meaningful people and worthwhile situations can ease our thought patterns and help us grow more conscious of our own thoughts and feelings.
Identifying the negative
To tackle an obstacle and find solutions to a problem, we must first identify the roots of our negativity. A myriad of cognitive distortions alters our thinking; be it jumping to conclusions, catastrophising; thinking of the worst possible outcome, overgeneralisation; applying some negative experiences to all future experiences, emotional reasoning; letting our judgment be clouded by emotional reactions, and personalisation: assuming every scenario and situation revolves around us and taking stuff too personally that we become claustrophobic to others.
Control emotionally-driven reactions and responses
Our ability to identify what triggers or bothers us, and dealing with it by first being mindful, can provide us with the means to utilise our thoughts more adaptively, positively, and progressively. Studies have proven that those who engage in mindfulness are able to lessen negative thinking. Unhelpful thoughts will often manifest unhelpful realities that we situate and perpetuate for ourselves. By practicing to manifest sentiments through controlled thinking, we can avoid facing circumstances irrationally, illogically, and impulsively.
Prevent thought stopping
We may believe that we can just shove our negative thoughts away, to grab hold of them by the scruff of their necks and toss them into a little box that’s locked and forever buried. More oft than not, this only results in the negative thoughts returning full force. Thought rebounding is an actual thing. Negative thoughts tend to resurface over and over again, although with a steely resolve and iron will there are those who might be able to exorcise those negative thought demons. It’s rare but doable, and depends on the nature of our problems and our ability to tackle them. Sometimes it’s impractical and unrealistic to attempt to simply erase and eradicate negativity by clearing out our cache and giving ourselves a factory reset. That’s more a fantastical whim than a pragmatic solution.
Cognitive restructuring or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the process of identifying and changing negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses. It’s much harder to eviscerate negative thoughts than to replace them with positive ones by weighing the pros and cons, benefits and disadvantages. By conceiving a step-by-step process of identifying, observing, and understanding negative thoughts accurately and then figuring out how to replace those thoughts, we can challenge negativity. Cognitive restructuring can also weaponise us with tools to avoid toxic and harmful situations, evaluate our thought processes, and align our actions to our thinking in order to fulfil our objectives and goals. We can consider what we stand to gain by harnessing and clinging onto negative thoughts and strive to look for suitable and adaptable alternatives that are more beneficial that may reap positive outcomes in life.
Optimism and blind positivity
We often tend to replace one line of thinking with another that may not be realistic, practical, or prudent. People confuse optimism with blind positivity. This results in us setting ourselves up for failure by focusing on tasks and hurdles that are perhaps a little too gargantuan for our abilities and capabilities to handle at that time. Developing an obtuse sense of optimism blindly can cause us to shut out, fabricate and gloss over tragedy and situations. The modern term for this is toxic positivity. Don’t we all know people who are too optimistic to the point of shutting out the realities of life? It’s a dangerous thing indeed to be blindly positive to the point of evading truths, letting facts elude us, and allowing our shortcomings and bad habits to become a fixture in our day-to-day existence.
Let’s be clear here. Optimism is a great thing. But even optimism needs balance and cohesion for it to be fruitful.
Developing coping mechanisms
How do we handle negligence? Being ignored and taken for granted? Underappreciated and under-valued? How do we handle judgment, criticism, and rejection? It might be a toxic scenario at work, not receiving the credit you deserve or being exploited and abused to work long hours without compensation. Mayhap a stressful situation at home, where you are eternally locking heads with a family member or exchanging diatribes with your spouse. Perhaps it’s a circumstance with your closest circles, who don’t include you anymore in their plans and personal exploits. You might be immersed in a group school project that is deeply exhausting and taxing where you have little contribution from others. Maybe you are facing heartbreak and emotional scarring by your partner being unfaithful to you or being a victim of constant gaslighting.
These are but a few examples of what nearly all of us go through or have endured at some point in our lives. Such situations are apt to lead to the birth of negative thought patterns that will grow malignant and end up dictating and governing our life’s choices thereafter. Whatever the situation, building assertiveness in dealing with the thing that bothers us is important. Improving our abilities to face hurtful situations and tough circumstances can start with us developing coping mechanisms.
Learning to value yourself is a good starting point to work towards overcoming negative thinking. Motivating yourself can help you formulate a more robust strategy to deal with problems, as well as being able to face consequences that are infinitesimal or dire. Trust in your experience and intuition, listen to your mind as you will your heart, and evaluate situations prior to facing them. Build up your confidence to say “no” to toxic people and environments that don’t bring out the best in you. Move out of your state of complacency and comfort zones. Take calculated risks without sacrificing your values. Fix the stuff you can in life. Accept that the fear of failure shouldn’t hold you back from trying your best to better yourself.
Finally, life is complex. It will throw us off balance frequently. We must practice the art of survival by forging our capabilities, abilities, confidence, and skills. The better we are at something, the more prepared we are to face unexpected repercussions that may spring up. Carrying a heavy load of negative thoughts is baggage we don’t need. Ridding yourself of negative thoughts will be a challenge. But remember there is nothing in life worth achieving that is easy.
There is a wonderful quote that reads: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
Now that’s some proper positive food for thought, isn’t it?
Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.