Even if you’re the happiest person on the planet in possession of all the wealth and health needed to keep yourself content, you can still fall prey to negative thinking. Why? Because it is natural and a part of our humanness to feel this way occasionally. However, it can be draining to deal with negative thoughts constantly pressing on your mind, sucking the very light out of you, and leaving you stressed.
Obviously, it’s not possible to transform your mindset overnight. Negative thought patterns can be very tough to get rid of, especially since once they weasel their way inside your mind, they take on the form of your inner voice which then continuously casts a pessimistic cloud over all of your thoughts. Still, it may be tough, but it is not impossible.
This article answers all your questions about automatic negative thoughts, how they are formed, their effects and causes, and how they can be transformed into positivity. The contents of the article include:
- Automatic Negative Thoughts.
- Negative Thought Patterns and Mental Health.
- Restructure Your Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones.
Automatic Negative Thoughts
Almost all of our thoughts are automatic, that is, we do not need to consciously force ourselves to think about a particular thing and while that may seem like an advantage — and it is, really — there are some disadvantages to it as well. Such as, our mind working on autopilot entails that our thoughts are subconscious, meaning, they can easily go unnoticed when our mind decides to ignore reality or the more significant aspects of a situation, and instead focus on something trivial.
Negative filtering is a cognitive distortion, where your brain subconsciously concentrates on or gives too much importance to insignificant details, overanalyzing only part of a situation, or even distorting the reality of a situation completely, giving an altered and pessimistic outlook to the situation. When the mind does that and dwells on such uncomfortable thoughts excessively, making the whole situation out to be more negative than it really is, it can give birth to excessive pessimism and overcome positive and happy thoughts, thus triggering unhappy emotions, stress, anxiety, and on the long run, giving rise to depression and other serious mental health conditions.
Automatic Negative Thoughts and Mental Health
Excessive and constant negative thinking can be exhausting and frustrating. It can cause you to dwell in misery, completely blocking out all the optimism in life. Often, it can develop into a serious mental health issue or it can contribute to the worsening of a pre-existing condition.
Automatic Negative Thoughts and Depression
Research suggests that negative automatic thoughts related to the self, such as, ‘I do not deserve to be happy’, ‘I am unloveable’, etc., are very common in depression. According to Beck’s cognitive model, it has been hypothesized that:
‘People suffering from depression would hold dysfunctional attitudes, or “rules for living”, that are often rigid and negatively skewed,’ further stating, ‘people who are vulnerable to depression detect violation of these rules or attitudes (e.g., detect criticism from others), which results in activation of more proximate negative automatic thoughts, finally resulting in an amplified depressive experience.’(Chahar Mahali, S., Beshai, S., Feeney, J.R. et al. 2020).
Automatic Negative Thoughts and Anxiety
According to a study conducted among children and adolescents aged 10-18, it was found that repetitive negative thinking is correlated to symptoms of anxiety and depression. According to the study:
All three forms of repetitive negative thinking showed positive and significant associations with symptoms of depression and anxiety. In general, worry showed the strongest associations with depression and anxiety symptoms, followed by stress-reactive rumination.(Rood, L., Roelofs, J., Bögels, S. M., & Alloy, L. B. 2020.)
Restructure Your Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones
Our brain’s cognitive function is based on our thought patterns. Thought patterns, like physical patterns, are formed through the habitual repetition of a certain thought in a particular situation. When you repeat an action a certain amount of times, it becomes a habit. Thought patterns are created in the same way until eventually, they begin occurring subconsciously as a habit.
Despite all the similarities, thinking patterns are a lot more stubborn than physical patterns to get rid of. One reason is the fact that physical patterns being tangible are easier to identify than the sneakier, more incessant mental patterns of thoughts. Still, negative thought patterns can be restructured by enforcing positive patterns and through other methods. The following are ways you can restructure your negative mindset into a positive outlook for a happier and healthier life.
Identify Automatic Negative Thoughts
t is a common misconception that our thoughts are random and follow no sequence or patterns. The truth is, our thoughts are very much patterned and are connected to a deeply ingrained issue that is not visible on the surface. In order to restructure your negative thinking pattern, the first step, thus, is always identifying the root cause of your automatic negative thoughts.
Each negative thought may be traced to a different trigger or cause. For example, your automatic thought ‘I am a failure’ may be traced back to that one time in fifth grade when you overheard your mother talking to your aunt about how your sister always gets excellent grades as compared to you. Your mind may have interpreted something entirely different from what was intended in that conversation, thus, generating a negative thought which, with time, may have, through witnessing other such instances become cemented in your thoughts.
Identifying the root cause of your automatic negative thoughts can help you focus on eliminating or dealing with the cause of your negative thinking, ultimately breaking the negative thought pattern as well.
Question the Logic
It is common for our automatic thoughts to purposefully blot out the positive side of a situation to focus more on the insignificant and uncomfortable details or even to warp whole situations and show a completely different reality to us. We tend to accept whatever our brain tells us because we trust it to be accurate in its perceptions and interpretations.
However, the truth is, the brain can often get confused and let emotion take over logic, which is why you must take a deep relaxing breath as soon as you identify that you’re having a negative thought and challenge the emotional reasoning behind the thought and counter it with logic.
A few important questions you would want to address at this point are:
- Is my reaction based on mere emotion or does it have a rational explanation?
- Am I looking at the full picture or am I basing my reaction on a part of the situation?
- Could there be more than one interpretation of the information I have just discovered?
If you find out your thoughts were based on irrational, purely emotional thinking, then you definitely need to reevaluate your perception of the whole situation.
Replace Negativity With Positivity
Of course, it’s easier said than done but with the basic steps of identifying and challenging your negative thoughts done, you are one step closer to getting rid of your negative thoughts. There are several methods you can adopt to achieve that. One of the easiest and quite effective methods is restructuring any negative thoughts that may arise in your mind. This is very simple and while it may feel forced in the beginning, it will soon replace the negative and destructive thoughts if you repeat it enough.
For example, if you identify yourself thinking ‘I can’t do this,’ perhaps, you can counter this thought with a more helpful one, such as ‘This may seem difficult but with some help and practice, I may be able to do it.’ Notice how the second statement has a positive connotation while the former has a negative undertone.
When you regularly practice this, your automatic thoughts will eventually take on a positive note and replace all negative thoughts, breaking the unhealthy, destructive patterns.
In the end, of course, it is advised that if self-restructuring does not help, seeking therapy and counseling would be the best thing to do. Still, you can simultaneously continue with the practice of restructuring for the best results, and remember, consistency is what gets you results, so do not lose hope and do not let negativity win.
- Almost all of our thoughts come to us without much awareness; automatically. These are known as automatic thoughts.
- Our brain sometimes unconsciously concentrates on or gives too much importance to insignificant details, triggering unhappy, unhealthy, negative emotions, called automatic negative thoughts.
- It is possible to restructure your negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts by first, identifying them, questioning them, and then moving on to countering them with positive ones.