Do you naturally think negative thoughts? Or are you more inclined to think positively?
I was in the audience of a dear friend, Derlene Hirtz, founder of You Empowered Services LLC (opens in a new link), when she cited an astounding statistic, from a variety of sources, regarding the percentage of negative thoughts we have each day…somewhere in the vicinity of 80+%. Derlene went on to discuss effective ways of dealing with negative thoughts, then opened the floor to questions.
A member of the audience asked: Why, with all we know about the workings of the mind, do we still have so many negative thoughts? His question gave me pause. In a moment I’ll share my thoughts on his question, but first let’s look at the statistics in light of natural tendencies.
We are all familiar with the way we categorize people as being glass-half-full or glass-half-empty. Some of us naturally see potential, while others see risks.
Both are essential in life. Those who are naturally optimistic need people in their lives who remind them of the potential risks. Conversely, those inclined to see risks rather than potential need people who help them see the potential so that they can do a more effective risk/reward calculation.
With this perspective on our natural way of thinking, we might be inclined to think that there is a balance in the universe between the glass-half-full crowd and the glass-half-empty group…despite what the statistics indicate.
Personally, I think that the glass-half-full group holds an edge based on the fact that we make progress in so many fields of human endeavor. And, yes, I believe that even though we are in a period where there seems to be a significant amount of negative thinking today, we will return to more positive outlook because negative thinking ultimately fails to meet society’s needs and desires.
Speaking of natural tendencies, one of mine is to doubt statistics…even when accompanied by a caveat stating that they represent the probability of a given result. Absent this caveat, we humans are too inclined to consider probability to be fact. I also question what bias might have been created based on how the study was structured. I know from experience how easy it is to create bias based upon how a question is structured.
Now that I’ve expressed my concern about statistics in any form, let’s explore the reasons why we experience a significant number of negative thoughts per day…whatever that number might be.
Why do we think so many negative thoughts per day? I believe that the reason is that negative experiences create more vivid memories than positive results…especially if that result is what was expected.
When things go according to plan, we experience little, if any, emotion from that experience. Absent emotion, there is no long-term memory. Conversely, things that go “wrong” create powerful emotions, primarily negative initially, and these emotions create memories that last a long, long time.
In some respects that’s a good thing because we avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. As long as we don’t allow memories of these negative emotions prevent us from pursuing what we desire, negative thinking can be beneficial to us
What does this mean for you?
First and foremost, don’t consider negative thoughts unhealthy. They are essential to helping us avoid repeating mistakes. They also serve as a launchpad for creating ways to overcome whatever obstacles are embedded in the negative thoughts we experience.
Negative thinking is only unhealthy when we nurture it. When we nurture negative thoughts we increase the likelihood that they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, limit our potential, degrade our confidence and our self-esteem, diminish our capabilities in others’ eyes and make life miserable for ourselves and those around us. That’s a lot of pain from the small, yet significant, act of nurturing negative thoughts.
If you naturally nurture negative thoughts, try these simple exercises each day over the course of a week until you naturally convert negative thoughts into action.
Each morning, shortly after rising, remind yourself that when you experience a negative thought you’re going to ask yourself “How can I overcome this obstacle?”
Each evening, shortly before retiring, review your day. Remind yourself of the successes you had in creating ways of overcoming the obstacles embedded in your negative thoughts. In those instances when you nurtured negative thoughts, ask yourself “What could I have done instead of nurturing this thought?”
You’ll be amazed at how quickly your mind will embrace this new way of thinking…and how much more fun and exciting life becomes for you.
For our kids
First, live the message. As kids see you quickly convert negative thoughts into productive behaviors, they’ll mimic your behavior. Our actions are more powerful than our words.
Second, when you hear your kids expressing negative thoughts, remind them that negative thoughts are healthy in that they prevent us from repeating mistakes and they also serve as a launchpad for creating ways to overcome the obstacles envisioned in the negative thought.
Finally, help them see that negative thoughts are only unhealthy when they are nurtured. Then share with them the exercises for developing healthy, automatic responses to the negative thoughts they experience. They’ll be forever grateful to you for having shared this lesson with them.
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