“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.” – Unknown
What are thoughts?
Thoughts are mirrors of our reflection. It is the main component of brain activity.
Physiologically speaking, thoughts are generated in the brain, which is by itself composed of 100 billion nerve cells that transmit impulses through synapses. In other words, thoughts are the cause and effect of electrochemical reactions occurring within the brain. What makes it difficult to track is the complexity of these reactions. The firing of neurons can range from one signal per second to 1,000 signals per second.
From the Psychological point of view, most 19th century psychologists viewed thoughts and ideas as representations of memory and imagination. For instance, a picture, an image, or an imprint is a representation of an object. It’s the process of thinking about an idea, image etc. The brain and its functional product the mind evolved as representations of the senses and organs in relation to its external environment, such as seeing, feeling etc.
Fundamentally, our thoughts are representing and corresponding to things that our brain have either perceived with our senses or felt with our emotions.
How do you differentiate Positive and Negative Thoughts?
Positive and negative thoughts can be differentiated based on their impact on our emotional and mental well-being.
Positive thoughts are those that uplift our mood and make us feel good about ourselves and the world around us. These thoughts can be optimistic, grateful, compassionate, or empowering. For example, thinking “I am capable of achieving my goals” or “I am grateful for the people in my life” are examples of positive thoughts.
On the other hand, negative thoughts are those that bring us down and make us feel anxious, stressed, or depressed. These thoughts can be pessimistic, critical, or judgmental. Examples of negative thoughts include “I’m not good enough” or “I always mess things up.”
It’s important to note that thoughts themselves are not inherently positive or negative; it’s our interpretation and perception of them that determines their impact. For instance, a thought like “I made a mistake” could be perceived as negative or positive depending on how we choose to interpret it. If we view it as an opportunity for growth and learning, it can be a positive thought.
In general, positive thoughts tend to improve our overall well-being, while negative thoughts can harm it. By becoming more aware of our thoughts and choosing to focus on the positive ones, we can cultivate a more positive and fulfilling life.
More on Negative/ Dysfunctional thoughts
Negative thoughts are the flow of sad thoughts through your mind that can be frustrating because you can’t be sure if sadness is making you think negatively, or thinking negatively is making you sad or depressed.
Negative thought includes negative beliefs you might have about yourself, situations, or others. They can affect your mood and can be present in certain mental health conditions. Examples are, “I’ll never be good enough,” “They must think I’m stupid for saying that,” “That situation is destined to turn out badly.”
Negative thoughts are quite common. You might have negative thoughts because we’re more influenced by negative than positive, or have a negativity bias. It’s also possible that evolutionarily speaking, negative thinking was more conducive to survival. For example, when early humans were living in dangerous and unpredictable environments, being able to anticipate potential threats and dangers could help them stay alive.
In an evolutionary context, there could be a scenario where early humans encountered a dangerous predator, such as a lion. A person who had a negative outlook and saw the situation as threatening may have been more likely to take precautions, such as avoiding the area where the lion was spotted or seeking shelter. This could have helped them stay safe and survive.
Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked, so our thoughts impact how we feel and act. Social anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem can all be exacerbated by negative thinking. Understanding how you think currently is the key to changing your negative ideas. From there, you can apply tactics to change or reduce the impact of your negative thoughts.
Are negative thoughts always bad?
Negative thoughts are not always wrong, and there can be situations where they can help us avoid potential dangers or make better decisions.
Imagine you are walking down a dark alleyway late at night. Suddenly, you hear footsteps approaching from behind, and your mind starts racing with negative thoughts – “What if it’s a mugger?” “What if they have a weapon?”
These thoughts may cause you to feel anxious or fearful, but they could also help you stay alert and aware of your surroundings. As a result, you may decide to quicken your pace, find a safer route, or even call a friend or family member for support.
Hence, Negative thoughts aren’t always a bad thing. It’s bad only if we keep on ruminating over and over thinking about it and also do not acknowledge them. Though some negative thoughts are irrational and they can cause you to feel bad and discourage you from taking any positive action, there is also something good about a few negative thoughts and we cannot ignore them.
Let’s understand the good behind negative thoughts and why suppressing your thoughts and emotions is not always good.
To start with, suppressing thoughts prevents us from accurately evaluating our life experiences. We need to understand that our mind, which is the thought-creating machine, is constantly trying to evaluate and find answers. So once it gets the answer there are fewer chances of that negative thinking hovering upon you.
Also, if we don’t allow yourselves to experience the lows, the highs become less satisfying. Perhaps trying to repress ideas can backfire, lowering our sense of happiness and contentment.
Secondly, negative thoughts and emotions are also necessary for our survival. The negativity linked with a health problem, a relationship, or employment makes it evident that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. It informs us of the areas in which we need to focus our attention and make changes and improvements. Negative ideas and emotions have a survival value, which may explain why repressing them is pointless.
Finally, the act of suppressing thoughts and feelings can be bad for our physical health and cause stress and anxiety. All the emotions that we suppress can cause body aches and sometimes many severe illnesses and diseases.
How to recognize and then accept negative thoughts?
Recognizing and accepting negative thoughts is very important to further proceed and change it for your good.
You influence how we think, feel, and act through our self-talk, our dialogue with others, the generalizations we make, the details we leave out, or the way we distort our language.
“The relationship is the communication bridge between people.”
— Alfred Kadushin
Negative or vague language can work for or against you. You can choose limiting vague language or artfully vague language patterns that are positive and empowering. Understanding the pattern of how we perceive things around us is the key.
Work on identifying and categorizing cognitive distortions as you observe your thoughts. For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in “black-and-white” thinking.
Generalization is where the speaker takes a particular experience and applies it generically to a multitude of other situations. Eg. Children need discipline. In this example ask questions like what do you mean by need? Which children? Discipline in what way? What else do they need? who says?
Deletion is where details are deleted as the speaker chooses what to focus on. Eg. Her children are not very bright. Questions to ask – Compared to whom? What standard/who are you measuring them against? Bright in what way?
Acknowledging and understanding negative thoughts and emotions can actually lead to greater clarity and understanding of our life.
One should acknowledge how we are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state. From mindfulness to writing a journal, a shift in perspective and learning to tolerate strong emotions could help us.
Some tips you can use to change your negative thoughts:
The first thing that you can do is to ask yourself- if the thought is realistic. Our mind usually works on assumptions and breaking the negative thinking pattern is very important to reach reality from assumption.
Our mind is constantly analyzing and trying to find conclusions and solutions for negative thoughts. So, find the conclusion and the answer for your mind to stop overanalyzing and overthinking patterns.
You can also think of what happened in the past in similar situations and evaluate if your thoughts are on course with what took place.
Consider what you’d tell a friend having the same thought and replace your own negative thought with that one.
Also, if you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I am a failure”/”I am going to fail,” pivoting or flipping it with something like “I know I am going to succeed.” helps a long way to change the perspective.
People can sometimes actually be critical and judgmental toward you, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection and criticism.
You can also use a thought diary (also called thought records) to write any negative thoughts and identify negative thinking styles and gain a better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions.
As a Psychotherapist, I would suggest thought restructuring wherein you find out the trigger associated with the negative thought and then change the old thought to the new and more empowering one.
If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it’s impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share the thoughts you have with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue.