Our perceptions tend to operate within a good news/bad news scenario. Whether we feel anxious, angry, or depressed – or content, peaceful, or joyful – we affect our own worlds more than we often realize. Our minds are always processing information and relaying the findings back to us, depositing them into one of two buckets: is this safe, or a threat?
This internal dialogue is generally on autopilot. If you’re usually a positive person, your mind will tend to report back positive findings. If you’re prone to pessimism, your internal dialogue may reinforce that outlook by saying people are unfriendly and events are threatening. So how can you reprogram your brain so you’re thinking in a more balanced, realistic manner?
1. Recognize a negative thought pattern as it starts. Words to watch out for: never, always, can’t, ought to, and should. Negative thought patterns speak in all-or-nothing types of language, convey judgment, express hopelessness, or reflect self-criticism, as in: I always make bad decisions about choosing friends, or: I may as well give up and be unhappy for the rest of my life. Strengthening your awareness through daily practice, you’ll begin to notice these self-defeating thoughts as they go through your head.
2. Interrupt the negative thought pattern whenever it is noticed. Focus your attention on any critical, worried, or hopeless thoughts and decide you want to stop them. Notice, interrupt, decide to stop.
3. Use deep breathing as a tool to step back and observe the situation from a different perspective. Begin by taking deep breaths and exhaling, counting from ten down to one with each exhalation. As you use this calming exercise, feel yourself moving away from the negative thought pattern. Say to yourself: I am separate from this thought.
4. Replace the negative thought pattern with a balanced thought pattern. Try incorporating these words: sometimes, maybe, might, can, right now. Balanced thought patterns encourage a mindset of possibility, improvement, and agency. Say you’re on a bad date; your automatic negative thought pattern might be, I don’t like this person I’m with. Create choice by thinking: I’m not going to go out with him again. Create possibility by thinking: Next time I’ll pick a better person to date, or: Maybe I’ll pursue my own goals instead of dating and enjoy the freedom. Promote a sense of balance and hope just by making these small adjustments in thinking.
While this may sound simple in theory, it isn’t easy to do. For this to be effective, you’ll have to practice every day. But the payoff of increased potential for happiness is immeasurable!