Turning Adversity Into Advantage: Overcoming Negative Thinking

Do you end up thinking more negative thoughts than more positive ones? Do you seem to dwell on little things that are going wrong? Did you know that thoughts of disappointment and anxiety can actually drag your mental state into a tailspin? They can create negative emotions that tend to last longer.  

What is “negativity bias”? 

Re-living and repeat-thinking about negative emotions such as regret, anxiety, disappointment, and sadness is actually a phenomenon known as a “negativity bias.” This bias is a result of the human brain that has developed the habit of fixating on negative thoughts and emotions. Since negativity can have a greater impact on your overall psyche than positivity, a negative mental state can powerfully influence your behavior, decision-making process, and relationships - but not necessarily for your benefit.  

If you find yourself criticizing yourself mentally about past actions and feeling regrets, this can lead you into the common trap of cycling through feelings of regret, worry, guilt, and depression. When you’re feeling drawn down by negative thoughts, you are more likely to respond aggressively to external threatening stimuli and remember insults more than compliments. You may find that you tend to dwell more on the past and keep recalling unpleasant or traumatic events. You may feel guilt and shame over past mistakes even though they are long over with. If you fall into dwelling on these past circumstances, it can lead to seemingly unexplainable anger and resentment toward others. Because of this, you may nosedive into low self-esteem as a result of blinding yourself to your positive attributes.  

Is it really easier to think negative thoughts? 

Some researchers believe that the “negativity bias” (the tendency to think negative thoughts) may exist as an adaptive evolutionary function, meaning that rethinking past negative behaviors and regrets may have helped our distant ancestors survive. For early humans, re-examining negative events in order to avoid future unpleasant circumstances such as starvation, disease, and predators, was a matter of life and death. A dependency on these negative thoughts may have eventually passed down as humans evolved.  

However, this “negative bias” can be useful in some respects. For instance, if you have ever burned yourself on a hot stove as a child, you’re unlikely to repeat that behavior. On the other hand, when your brain has developed a habit of continually thinking of the negative aspects of life, it can begin to interfere with the joy and pleasantness of living your daily life. Once you become aware of your negative thought tendencies, you will be able to take steps toward a more positive mindset.  

How can you overcome a “negativity bias”? 

You can take stock of your emotions and mental state through practicing mindful meditation, journaling, or having therapeutic discussions with a trusted person who you can use as a sounding board to help you get a better understanding of your emotional experiences. Make a conscious effort to be aware of your negative self-talk and then actively replace it with positive self-talk. In fact, you may find this even helps improve your self-esteem.  

When negative thoughts start to creep in, focus on the things in your life that you can be grateful for. Practice daily gratitude, even for the simplest things such as the aroma of a rose or the smile of a passerby, which can help you improve your mindset. As you actively avoid being negative about yourself, also avoid spreading negative thoughts to others. It can be helpful to talk out your problems, but try not to place blame for your negativity on those around you. Very importantly, don’t take your anger out on those around you.  

The Bottom Line 

Negative thoughts can deteriorate many different aspects of your life and make your day-to-day life feel gloomy. Instead, make a conscious effort to focus on the good things in your life. Work to always maintain a positive attitude which can help improve your mental state. You may find that you even become and overall better person. Ok, that’s a good deal!