How to change Negative Thought Patterns

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you are right.” 

Herny Ford

Are you experiencing true reality?

Recently I have been confronted with how my personal narrative may be affecting my life, more specifically, the stories that I have been telling myself about my professional life. So I set out to find a proactive solution.

Although derived entirely from interpretations of past experience, personal narratives determine present and future interpretations of experience too. How we interpret events, significantly influences our behaviour.

We all craft a narrative every single day. Personal narratives are a short-hand way of imposing order on the chaos of lived experience. Our narrative can be positive or negative (or more often a bit of both).

To become personally secure, you must make your personal narrative an empowered one.

All of our experiences happen in our brain. Our brain is our consciousness… therefore we are our brain! Your brain, thus your thinking shapes your reality. This concept can be quite hard to get your head round.

Maybe your narrative currently includes thoughts like:

Why does everything always go wrong for me”

I am so lucky to walk to work every day”

“I hate my body, I am so fat, I need to lose weight,”

“I am so tired of being single.”

These thoughts most commonly flit casually through our minds, but sometimes they can become mantras that we brood on and obsess over and they can come to define us, and not in a good way. Thus there are problems with what your brain tells you because your thoughts are not reality. Our thoughts are only how we have interpreted an experience.

Everyone has doubts, fears, second thoughts and experiences that fit a negative narrative. The problem is that your personal inner critic can bombard you with discouraging thoughts like:

“I can’t manage a team. That’s why it’s all my fault.”

“There are no single men left, so whats the point in looking”

“I won’t even try, because I will mess-up.”

It goes without saying that negative narratives are harmful, they are toxic and can keep you in a rut. They block us from moving on, taking risks, justify inaction and stop us from believing in our selves. We use negative narratives as a way of controlling our environment.

What you tell yourself and the underlying beliefs, determines your actions, thus shaping your life.

For example, Your inner voice is nagging at you, that the relationship isn’t going to work out so you don’t open-up to the guy. So the relationship doesn’t work out.  A self-fulfilling prophecy.

or

Your inner voice tells you, you are not up to the job you are doing. You get stressed, you don’t perform as well as you might, or alternatively, you aren’t able to celebrate your success.

If you can change your thoughts into more positive ones, you will move more easily towards your goals, or respond to situations from a more positive, less fearful and anxious position. Your inner life really does have that much of an impact.

It is important to make the distinction that positive narratives don’t whitewash the hardships of a situation. Positive narratives are about: not over dramatising a situation, being optimistic, kind, forgiving, and hopeful, but also being vulnerable and honest.

It is not damaging to your personal narrative to think, “Man, I am really struggling here.” But how you feel about the situation depends heavily on whether you conclude the first thought, negatively or with possibility; ending on an up-beat note. “But I can face my fears and do this” 

To start reframing your life experience more positively, you need to change your underlying narrative. It is easy to say ‘think positive!’ But simply willing  yourself to think positively, doesn’t change anything. You have to change the habit. Using the below techniques will activate positive neural pathways. Training the brain to automatically make more uplifting thoughts.

These 9 co-dependent techniques will help break bad habits:

1. Recognise and interrupt thinking habits

A habit is what we do without consciously thinking about it. Because you do something without thinking, it becomes second nature to behave or act in a certain way. The more often we do something, the more unconscious the pattern it forms. These habits can be beneficial. Like smiling when you ask for a coffee in your local cafe. Or detrimental, like dropping your head and not making eye contact when you are talking to someone you fancy.

The same process applies to your thoughts. Something triggers your negative thinking, and you are rewarded with a familiar feeling, a sense of being right. To change your negative thought habits, you need to gain awareness and disrupt the patterns.

Start practising ruthless awareness of your thoughts. Be brutally honest about your thinking. Get to know your mental habits.

•  Analyse what sparks negative thoughts and start writing your thoughts down, you might start to see the patterns.

•  Once you become aware of the negative thought triggers, try to pause and distract. Shake out your limbs, go for a walk, sing a song – do something different. Something active is more effective at distracting you from the repetitive cycle of your negative thoughts.

•  Regularly revisit your writing to stay aware. As you consciously learn to pause, you will become more able to enact disruption into your thoughts.

It will take some effort. It might be uncomfortable to analyse yourself like this, but it is the first step in breaking down negative patterns.

Whenever possible – simply stop doing what ever triggers your negative thinking.

2. Drop your assumptions. 

If you have the belief that something that has happened in the past will always happen the same way in the present or future, you are holding yourself back. Past lack of success in no way predicts or affects the outcome of an action the next time around. There are many interpretations of every moment. The one you’re carrying around is neither the only one or the only accurate one. It’s time to create a new story around the old belief.

Look for the positives that might be embedded into a negative situation and try to focus on those.

3. Transform resistance.

Whenever you try to change something, there will be a part of you that opposes the idea. At the bottom of any resistance is fearespecially fear of change. You can greatly decrease resistance by acknowledging it. Identify the fear, and make a plan to mitigate it.

Ask yourself what part of you resists changing your negative belief?

Why?

What fear does that relate to?

What would it take to lessen the fear?

4. Rephrasing your habitual thoughts

When you catch yourself spiralling into negativity. First, pause and disrupt. Then actively try to rephrase your negative thoughts.  Practice being open to the possibility of change. You don’t have to believe it will happen or know exactly when it might happen. Focus instead on developing an attitude that allows for the idea that change might occur.

If your inner narrative is: “I always make stupid mistakes.”

Try rephrasing it to emphasise that your action may have been stupid, but you aren’t.     “I did something stupid. but I had to give the guy a chance.”
Or try re-phrasing a dead-end sentence to something with the potential for an alternative outcome. “This time I made mistake, next time I will know better.”

Distance yourself from the negativity. Only the action was a mistake. Not you.                  Be compassionate with yourself and allow yourself room for improvement.

5. Suspend judgment

Every time you criticise yourself for that old belief you make it stronger because this kind of negative self-talk is your comfort-zone. You are reaffirming all that you believe to be bad, or negative. In doing so you weaken your connection to one of your greatest assets: self-compassion.

Instead, work on building an internal support system based on forgiveness, compassion, optimism, and acceptance.

• Forgiveness is about rising above old doubts

• Compassion accepts and appreciates that you may be apprehensive and get it wrong sometimes

• Optimism believes you can arrive at the desired outcome eventually

Exercise to try:

Positive visualisation: Imagine that you have already achieved success as if the task of change is behind you. Imagine that the timeline of your life stretches into the future in one direction and the past in another. Face the future. Now imagine you are standing on your timeline, behind you is the old beliefs. Push them back down your timeline as far as they will go. Then take a deliberate step forward into the future. Do this often. It can be empowering during difficult times.

6. Change your approach

So often when we want to change something about ourselves, we place our attention on stopping whatever it is we want to change. For example, improving our health by stopping overeating, drinking, smoking, and so on.

But by thinking about what you want to stop, you focus your mind on what you don’t want it to do. Instead, switch your attention to the thing you do want. So, focus on what you will be able to do if you are fitter or slimmer.

As you try to do the right thing, your mind will try to fight you as it is set in its way of thinking. Your mind will hold onto terms like: have to, should have, could have can’t and must. These verbs constrain you. All these expectations are judgemental and only serve to stagnate you and make you anxious and tense.

If you catch yourself thinking like that again, rephrase it in a more liberating manner. In a style of choice and possibility. ‘I choose to do this’.I can go wherever I want’. By actively thinking that you can choose to do something takes back control and is liberating.

As you free your mind, you will be more open to possibilities. Start by telling yourself, you are making the choices. This cognitive habit will be easier and more effective over time, as you learn that you have the power to create your own story.

7. Surround yourself with positivity

By actively seeking out positive things to read, listen to, or look at,  you will start to evoke more positive thoughts. Start by reading positive blogs and books. Read stories about people who overcome setbacks, or biographies of upbeat role models. Immerse yourself with positive frames of mind.

Immersion in positive or negative situations stimulates your mostly involuntary thought processes. Exposure to happiness and positivity helps achieve an upward spiral of positive thoughts and well-being. Training your positive neural pathways will train your brain into positive responsive thinking and in time you will reap the benefits.

8. Create your own rules, but allow for clauses (life is never black and white)

Our negative thoughts are a manifestation of set beliefs about how we believe the world to work. These beliefs can often be very limiting – especially as they pertain to social and emotional reactions. Most of them formed through conditioning over many years.

Certain rules you learn to be true. If you throw something up, it will fall back down to earth because of gravity. A useful rule to acknowledge. But inner doubts like: ‘I always attract emotionally unavailable guys.” Are just learned scripts. These aren’t necessarily true.

Inner beliefs work a bit differently from natural rules because our thoughts dictate our behaviour. They become self-fulfilling prophecies. In truth, there is no good reason why you can’t attract emotionally available guys. There is no energetic force making sure that you only encounter emotionally unavailable guys, these are just your arbitrary beliefs.

Give yourself permission to believe something different, even if you feel it is foolish. Define your own beliefs.

For example: ‘There are plenty of guys out there for me to meet who are emotionally available and whom I can connect with.”

What else do you need to do?

What rules need to be overwritten in your head?

Write down your new rules in a notebook.

Revisit them every week.

Step by step, start living by them.

Doubt will creep in, but you have ammunition to counter your inner negativity. You have given yourself permission. You don’t need anyone else’s.

You don’t have to be held-back by previous limiting beliefs.  You are your mind, you make the rules.

Be creative, set up your guidelines in an empowering style.

9. Shift from expectation to intention.

Having an expectation is a strong belief that something will happen in the future. When circumstances beyond your control interfere with success, it’s easy to experience a setback.

An intention is how you plan to approach a task or experience. This is always within your control, which means it offers more solid ground on which to build your desire for change.

This step is about empowering yourself to eliminate the expectation that you are stuck in an emotionally unfulfilling pattern. It empowers you to focus on how you intend to approach an encounter with an unemotionally available man for example.

Set your intention for how you’re going to embody changing this belief: “I intend to do this____ by _____.”

Use this sentence as a guide for your future actions.

Conclusion

So much of life is choosing to be happy. Choosing to look on the bright side.  Never overlook the power of CHOOSING a positive personal narrative.

A positive narrative has an impact on everything you do and everyone you interact with. 

A positive narrative cannot change your circumstances, but it can make everything more enjoyable and easier.

Your circumstance don’t define you. You are who you believe you are.

As you empower yourself with new positive references, you will be better able to take action where it’s called for. Use your PMA (positive mental attitude) to achieve your goals and realise your personal purpose.


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