How to Escape From the Prison of Negative Thinking

Negative thinking is common but it's seldom really that bad.
How to Escape From the Prison of Negative Thinking
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If you want to change your circumstances, you need to change the way you think. You have to stop believing that you are stuck in your situation and passively accepting that you’re incapable of doing anything about it.

Many people allow themselves to be caged by their fear and anxiety. For these people, an inner critic always seems to be whispering in their ears, keeping them from succeeding. The truth is, negative thinking will shackle you to a life that’s both mediocre and unfulfilling. If you want to stretch yourself to your fullest potential, you need to escape your self-imposed prison of negative thinking.

All it takes is consistent practice and the will to overcome. Use these nine effective tools to begin creating a healthier, happier, more positive you today.

1. Set your new “norm.”

Negativity is so pervasive in today’s world that we can get mired in it without even realizing it. This can happen in subtle ways. Our friends might tease us for our dreams, casually diminishing our goals. Or family members might urge us to seek out a dependable, reliable job and stay the course. We are surrounded by the constant drumbeat of “you can’t make it, so don’t even try.”

Negativity is so pervasive because our brains are wired that way as part of our self-defense mechanism. Therefore, we also accept it as normal. But negative thinking isn’t healthy. It can trap us in a prison of fear, anxiety, anger and despair. In order to break free, you need to start setting new norms.

2. Tame your mental monsters.

The more we let negative thoughts take hold, the more we let negativity seep into our psyche and allow pessimistic thinking to become a part of us. Negative thoughts are like mental monsters: They will eat you (and your dreams) from the inside out.

Psychiatrist Daniel Amen has a name for these infuriating monsters we harbor in our minds: Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT), which he describes as “the little voices that pop into your head and tell you you’re not good enough, not thin enough, a rubbish daughter, mother, worker.” The best way to handle an ANT is to develop an ANT-eater. Write your negative thoughts down, and then write down what your ANT-eater would say to squelch them.

3. Give yourself a pep talk.

To truly break out of the prison of negative thinking, you must begin acting positively every day. This will help you eradicate negativity by not giving it space to fester in your mind. One way to do this is to write yourself a pep talk that reads like an advertisement -- like you’re selling yourself by promoting your best qualities. What would you say to market yourself?

Think of this like an in-house advertising campaign that only you will see. This is an internal commercial that you can play on repeat in your mind -- it’s a constant pep talk to yourself. Say this pep talk to yourself out loud at least once a day (preferably in the morning), and read it to yourself several times throughout your day.

Related: When Times Are Tough, Give Your Team This Pep Talk

4. Get back to reality.

Negative thinking is often centered around thoughts about the past that are upsetting, hurtful or disappointing, or around anxiety or apprehension about something that we believe will happen in the future. These painful or fearful thoughts prevent us from focusing on the present and accepting where we are at this moment in time.

Negative thinking creates angst and mental pain because we are focused on these ruminations instead of living in the reality of the moment. By bringing your attention back to the present, you’ll see that your negative thoughts are just that -- thoughts. They aren’t reality. By living in the moment, you can begin to shape your reality the way you want.

5. Become a comfortable person.

If you want to break free of negativity, you’re going to need to start attracting the positive. That means exuding the kind of positive energy that makes people want to gravitate toward you. You can do this by learning to be honest, outgoing and likable. Do you make people feel comfortable around you? Do you show interest in them and ask them about themselves (and then really listen to their answers)?

We all want to feel appreciated and liked, and if you show this consideration to others, they will begin to respond in kind. You can start by shifting the focus from yourself to others by showing those around you that you truly care for them. Become a “comfortable person” by first becoming comfortable with yourself and making others feel welcome and accepted when they are around you.

Related: The More You Talk, the Less They Listen

6. The power of forgiveness.

We may imagine that not forgiving someone is a form of punishment for that person; a way of making them pay for what they have done to us. We may feel like withholding our forgiveness is a way of validating our own hurt and holding on to our sense of rightness. We were wronged, and we need to make the other person pay for what they have done.

But the truth is, forgiveness is a gift to yourself, first and foremost, because it allows you to let go and move forward. Forgiveness is a necessary part of releasing negative emotions such as bitterness, resentment and anger. When we truly forgive someone, we also heal ourselves and can begin to shift our mindset to become more optimistic and compassionate. It doesn’t mean that you ignore that a wrong has been done or forget or condone what has happened. But by letting go, you keep those negative feelings from eating at you.

7. Be a force for good.

It’s not hard to see that our world is full of tragedy, sadness and cruelty. So many people act out of self-interest and have little regard for helping others unless there’s some ulterior motive.

The result is that we often lose our way because our moral compass is fractured. But, just as we have the power to damage, hurt and destroy, we also have the power to exert a positive impact on the world. This is what the Dalai Lama calls a force for good.

We can embrace becoming a positive force by taking small steps. Be more compassionate to others. Practice forgiveness. Endeavor to always be fair, foster transparency in all you do and be accountable for your actions. By treating everyone equally, remaining honest and taking responsibility for your mistakes, you will live a life that is happy, positive and satisfying.

Related: You Can Reprogram Yourself to Be a Positive Person and You Should

8. Use anger and frustration for the positive.

There are times when we may become morally outraged about something that we feel is unfair or unjust. We take action to fight for what is right -- and on the face of it, that’s a good thing.

But it doesn’t take much to allow your anger to push you from being constructive to destructive. To keep your mind and heart free from negativity, you must learn to use your frustration and anger to drive positive action.

You may be justified in your indignation, but if your behavior is hurtful or detrimental, it can nullify the helpful, positive change you were hoping to create. Remember to show compassion and understanding even to those you oppose or feel angry toward. By doing this, you can create lasting, positive change.

9. The power of change lies within.

To break the negative cycle you have become trapped in, you must accept that the power to change -- to embrace the positive -- must come from within. No one else can do this for you. Only you are capable of reframing your mindset by embracing and creating positive change.

The first step is to begin shifting away from being completely self-focused, self-absorbed and wrapped in a pessimistic mindset. Begin focusing on ways to show compassion and understanding toward others.

Identify something you feel needs improvement; something that will help others. Get involved in an organization or a cause that is bigger than yourself, and feel how exhilarating it is to focus on creating something positive rather than being trapped by the negative. Recognize that ultimately you must be the one to create a healthier, more positive you.

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