Are you drowning in negative thoughts?
I was for way too long. I spent all of my adolescence in a state of nearly crippling low self-esteem. My early adulthood saw me feeling like a failure for not being like everybody else.
I still deal with it, but it has taken until my early to mid 30s to really step into my identity, and wear it with pride. Much of my success there has to do with working on my positive thinking.
If you can relate to any of what I just said, keep reading. This post is the first in a multi-post series all about negative thinking and how you can live a happier life. I was inspired recently to make this series after the popularity of a post I published earlier this year: How to Challenge Negative Thought Patterns
In this series, I am going to talk about the following topics
- Biology of a negative thought- What causes you to be so negative? (this post!)
- Snowballing thoughts + how to stop them
- Effects of negative thinking on your mind and body
- Limiting beliefs- What are they and how can you change them?
- Questions we need to ask ourselves when we think negatively
- The cancel-cancel method & journal prompts for positive thinking
- Positive affirmations & toxic positivity
- Teaching children positivity in a messed up world
So make sure to subscribe, so you can stay updated. In this first post, I’m going to talk about why we allow negative thinking, how to rewire your brain for positive thinking, and some recommended reading.
This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my Privacy and Affiliate Disclaimer pages for more info.
Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with depression and anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
Why do we allow negative thinking?
Before we talk about ways we can think more positively later in the series, we need to answer the question: why do we allow negative thinking in the first place? Why can’t we just be positive instead?
Ha. As if it’s that easy. There are some simple fixes, but it is by no means easy.
It’s important to be clear about this: Your negative thinking is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something you choose. Why on Earth would you? Why would you choose to live a life of self doubt and insecurity?
While you don’t choose to think negatively, since it’s often a result of depression or anxiety, you can choose to attempt to think more positively. After all, it’s possible to control our reactions to things with enough effort and practice.
What is negative thinking?
Psychology Today cites a 2015 study which pointed to two different areas of the brain that were connected to negative thought patterns (or depressive ruminative thinking)
- The default mode network (DMN)
- The subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC)
Going forward I will refer to them by their acronyms.
Do you daydream a lot? Find yourself lost in thought? I know I do. I’m an introvert and massively introspective. If you are like me, you can thank your DMN for that. The Psychology Today article says that your DMN is a network of brain regions that work together to allow you to reflect on past, present, or future events.
Your PFC is a guide for your DMN to help it prioritize which thoughts and ideas are most important. So this is actually a very useful part of your brain!
What happens when you have depression
When you have depression, your PFC prioritizes the negative thoughts over the helpful, positive ones. That is why really feels like you are trapped in these negative thinking patterns. You know how they say, “It’s all in your head”? Well, in this case, it actually is. Your PFC distorts reality by allowing your negative thoughts to take priority over positive ones.
The article linked above states, “The fact that they can’t just ‘snap out of it’ is consistent with the idea that a dysfunctional brain network may be involved in depressive thinking.”
That’s why I mentioned earlier that this is nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t being negative by choice. You simply have a slightly defective brain.
How to rewire your brain for positive thinking
The good thing is, despite the fact that your brain is merely a victim of faulty wiring, you can actually rewire it to be more positive in general. This is where the difference between simple and easy comes into play again. It is by no means easy to retrain your brain, but Bustle talks about 5 simple things to keep in mind.
Realize how smart your brain really is
Just because you’re all grown up like me, does not mean your brain has learned all it is capable of learning! You don’t hit a certain point where you can no longer change, contrary to popular belief.
Just like you can learn to knit, or learn Welsh like I’m currently doing, your brain can learn to adapt to positivity. This is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is still an emerging scientific principle, and there are no clear answers yet about how it works. But it is a topic that is becoming more widely believed! Check out this video for more info:
Remember: “Fire together, wire together”
The Bustle article states: “The one thing we do know, generally, about neurobiology is that there often seems to be a ‘fire together, wire together’ principle at play. In other words, if certain neurons keep firing at the same time, eventually they’ll develop a physical connection and get physically associated too. It’s called experience-dependent plasticity, and we’re still learning the precise ways in which it changes our brains, but it’s basically like repeating a good habit.”
In layman’s terms, the more you do something, the more likely your brain is to adapt to it. I’ll use the example again of me learning Welsh.
I have some Welsh heritage, so I thought it might be neat to learn some of the language. It was hard at first. Welsh is no joke! Seriously though, that LL sound is killing me. But I use Duolingo everyday for 10-15 minutes, and after 2 weeks, I’m surprised at how easily some of the words come to me.
Positivity is the same way. It might not be your native language, but studies show you can learn it.
Scientists might be able to “fix you” one day
In 2014, scientists revealed that they’d completed a study where they able to change mice’s memories using something call optogenetics. So, if they were able to do it with mice 6 years ago, it’s possible that one day they would be able to heal people with traumatic memories and thoughts.
There is not guarantee that this will happen, but it is really cool to think about!
Kick stress to the curb
Like I’ve written about time and time again, stress sucks. It is super bad for you, and you need to do what you can to avoid it. It shortens your lifespan in general and contributes to a host of other health problems.
Despite how awful stress is, it’s fascinating the way it affects the brain. In 2009, scientists did a study on rats that shows that the more stressed out they were, the more they fell back on old negative habits, rather than being able to find new healthier solutions to problems.Just like we can use positive thinking to rewire our brain, chronic negativity can change it too! That's why it's so important to choose positivity, even when it seems impossible. Share on Twitter`
Try some brain training exercises
In a recent study, it was shown that, “training that improves the ability to ignore irrelevant information can result in reduced brain reactions to emotional events and alter brain connections… accompanied by strengthened neural connections between brain regions involved in inhibiting emotional reactions,” according to researchers.
What this means for rewiring your brain for positivity is that, the more you can train yourself to ignore certain information, your brain grows stronger. It becomes easier to think more positively!
I am going to talk about a particular favorite exercise of mine in an upcoming post in this series, so stay tuned.
Recommended books for positive thinking
I’ve always been a bookworm. I started learning to read when I was 2, and haven’t stopped since. Whether it’s for an escape from reality, or for a better way to understand the world around me, books have so much to offer us.
These are a couple books I have read and loved in my own journey to change my mindset, plus a couple that I haven’t read that come highly recommended.
The book The Four Agreements literally changed my life. I read it at a really low point in my life where I was considering suicide. It talks about a lot of amazing things, but one of the “agreements” in particular has always stuck with me. The authors says, Do not take it personally.
By this, he means when people do or say things that are hurtful, it is more a reflection on them than on you. This has been a massive game changer for me as far as the way I let the words and actions of others affect me. You can grab your own copy by clicking the picture.
For someone like me whose negative thinking largely centers around the low self esteem I developed in childhood, this book was amazing! I love her blunt approach to overcoming insecurities and taking life by the balls.
Here are a few other popular books that I have heard great things about that are worth checking out as well. Click the corresponding images to check out more info.
Amazon description: “After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.”
Amazon description: “In this phenomenal bestseller, ‘written with the sole objective of helping the reader achieve a happy, satisfying, and worthwhile life,’ Dr. Peale demonstrates the power of faith in action. With the practical techniques outlined in this book, you can energize your life—and give yourself the initiative needed to carry out your ambitions and hopes. You’ll learn how to:
- Believe in yourself and in everything you do
- Build new power and determination
- Develop the power to reach your goals
- Break the worry habit and achieve a relaxed life
- Improve your personal and professional relationships
- Assume control over your circumstances
- Be kind to yourself”
Stop letting negative thoughts control your life.
Check out the books above and remember: Your brain can learn.
You will not learn to be more positive overnight. In fact, for some, it can take years to undo the level of damage done by decades of negative thinking.
But the point is, it can be done. Say that out loud: It can be done.
In the next post in this series, I am going to talk about something super common in people with chronic negative thinking- Snowballing thoughts. So keep your eyes peeled!
Are you prone to negative thinking? If so, let me know a little about how you deal with it in the comments. Also, please share this post if you found it helpful!