Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are deeply interconnected. The science of positive thinking has received increased attention recently, but it's not always easy to be positive, especially when our emotions are telling us to be something else. In fact, our responses to many uncomfortable situations are guided by automatic thoughts — it isn't always the case that we choose to think in a way that brings us discomfort, but sometimes we do so instinctively.
Our automatic thoughts and interpretations of events are guided by the schemas, or lenses, through which we see the world. A schema is molded from our lived experiences and mobilized when we see an event that triggers the memory of a previous experience. Some schemas are helpful: we once ate mushrooms, we had an allergic reaction, now when we see mushrooms a little signal goes off in our brains that says, “Stay away!” Other schemas, however, are based on faulty beliefs that have never been challenged, and cloud what would otherwise be a beautiful view of the world.
Pessimistic thinking happens — we're only human. However, grasping onto our interpretations of situations can result in dysfunction. Here are four ways to prevent negative thoughts from sabotaging your life and overall well-being:
1. Build awareness.
Recognize and assess your unhelpful thoughts. Do you have any real, concrete evidence to support your belief? Are there other ways to interpret an event that brought up negative emotions in you?
2. Practice positive, or at least neutral, thinking.
Reframe your defeating thought to a more realistic one. What's a different, less discomforting, or more realistic way of explaining the situation?
3. Practice acceptance.
We can't control everything. Give just one more obsessive moment to those situations and moments you can't control, and then vow to let them be and let them go.
4. Move forward.
We can't turn back time. Spend time doing things that make you happy, and don’t look back.