How to put a positive spin on negative thoughts

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Self-talk — the inner monologue sometimes referred to as automatic thinking — can be positive or negative. When the theme of your self-talk is mostly negative, your own misperceptions, lack of information and distorted ideas have overpowered your capacity for logic and reason. But if you weed out misconceptions and irrational thinking and challenge them with rational, positive thoughts, your self-talk will gradually become realistic and self-affirming.

Some common forms of irrational thinking are:

  • Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
  • Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
  • Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. You refuse to go out with friends for fear that you'll make a fool of yourself. Or one change in your daily routine leads you to think the day will be a disaster.
  • Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, or black and white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or you're a total failure.

You can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. The process is simple, but it takes time and practice.

Throughout the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else.

Examples of typical negative self-talk and how you might apply a positive twist include:

Negative self-talk Positive spin
I've never done it before. It's an opportunity to learn something new.
It's too complicated. Let's look at it from a different angle.
I don't have the resources. Necessity is the mother of invention.
There's not enough time. Let's re-evaluate some priorities.
There's no way it will work. I can try to make it work.
I don't have the expertise. I'll find people who can help me.
It's good enough. There's always room for improvement.
It's too radical a change. Let's take a chance.
No one bothers to communicate with me. I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I'm not going to get any better at this. I'll give it one more try.
I'm never going to learn how to manage my stress. I'm going to try to learn how to manage my stress.

Practice makes perfect

If you tend to have a negative outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But eventually your self-talk will automatically contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance.

Practicing positive self-talk will improve your outlook. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're able to handle everyday stress in a realistic and constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of being an optimist.

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