„An attitude of positive expectation is the mark of the superior personality.“ ~ Brian Tracy
Have you ever noticed how negative emotions can completely consume your reality and how strange, frustrating or hopeless everything seemed at those moments? I know from the feedback that I am getting to this site that many people would like to break out of the cycle of continuous emotional drama and finally overcome negativity.
The Purpose of Negative Emotions & Negative Thoughts
I believe negative emotions do serve a purpose. Their purpose is to signal us that something is not working. Negative emotions are a feedback system of our brain, similar to feeling pain, with which our brain tells us that it is time to make a change.
That doesn’t mean that you have to follow every negative emotion and dive into them with everything you’ve got. I personally try to get aware of the emotion and then, if possible, use that energy towards what I think is going into the right direction. You can’t and shouldn’t suppress the emotion, but when you get awareness about it, you then have a choice to follow it or to use it as the signal it is as described above.
What is Negativity?
Now negativity is something different. Negativity begins when we not only use those negative emotions or thoughts as a signal to act, but also keep on repeating them. Negativity is the dwelling and almost cultivating of negative thoughts and negative emotions. It is when negative thoughts become a bad habit. And the sad part is, it mostly happens on a completely unconscious level. So how can you get control over your negative thoughts and negative emotions and turn them into something more positive?
The key to overcome negativity is as always: awareness.
1. Awareness of what negative thoughts are doing to you
Negativity can be a real pain in the neck and keep your mind busy in the most unpleasant way. It can seriously pollute your consciousness and destroy any productive ways to make progress in your life. Notice what effect negativity has on your life, your relationships, your success, your peace of mind. Thoughts are creative and the more you dwell on the negative side the less you are able to attract the positive side.
2. Awareness of why you are negative
By far the biggest reason for negativity is the need to be in compliance with your self-image or your image of the world. If you have a negative self-image for whatever reason, a logical way to be compliant with your self-image is to project out negative thoughts and emotions.
The key to overcome this negativity is to change your representation of yourself and your world. Easier said than done, I know. But that’s why we are here. So progressively building up positive states and with it improving your own self-confidence is one way out of this pattern. There are countless other reasons why you have negative thoughts, doing self-reflection regularly can give you the awareness on why that’s the case and also the push to change it.
A second big reason is just learned negativity. People around you are negative, you see a bunch of negative news in TV etc. That’s when you have to raise your awareness and make a conscious decision to not jump on that train. Overcome negativity by surrounding yourself with positive people. Feed you brain with positive and awareness-opening material (as you’re doing right now!) and avoid polluting yourself with those negative news and messages.
3. Awareness that you have a choice
That’s the key point of this post. You can choose your thoughts, or better: you can choose which thoughts you want to follow. You are not your mind. You have to train your awareness up to a point where you can use your gap between thoughts to choose which thought to follow. If you notice a negative thought or emotion, try to get the message of it as described above and then make a choice not to feed that thought and emotion. Focus on something else and change your state actively.
I find there is a delicate balance between being aware of our negative thoughts (and not following them), and actually working on our negative thoughts. Some would say that working on our negative thoughts would feed them and would make them stronger. Yes, I think that could be the case in some situations, but not all. The tricky part is to be able to see this. I am still figuring out how this works and how to make it work for myself.
I have had repetitive and identical negative thoughts come to me on a regular basis for years. I tried to work on them. I thought it worked, but they are still there. Perhaps I need to accept them as a part of the vast thought content and let them be without getting involved. On the other hand, I think they are affecting me subconsciously making me have false, negative assumptions about life and myself, which is why I was drawn to work on them in the first place. Being between a rock and a hard place is not easy and I want to find a way to deal with this issue, so any experience anybody has with this would be highly appreciated.
A continuation of my comment:
I have read psychological research on this topic, specifically emotion regulation strategies, some of which involve working with thoughts. Rumination could is a maladaptive way to work with thoughts – it involves passively and repetitively thinking about what and the why of a negative event, and not really going anywhere. For people prone to this, mindfulness could be the way. Reappraisal is a strategy of seeing a negative event in a more positive light and finding how one would benefit from the situation. This is another way of working with negative thoughts, but it is adaptive. The only exception when it is NOT adaptive is when the person is under intense negative emotion at the moment of reappraisal. In that case, reappraisal has been found to backfire.
With all this useful information at hand, I am still struggling to see the benefits of reappraisal, because after a while, the reappraised thoughts become negative again. I am also struggling to see the benefits of mindfulness, because as I said, I find that the thoughts affect me subconsciously. There is a third dimension that might help, and that is working directly with emotions: trying to feel what a positive emotion would feel like – inducing it artificially so to speak and thereby building new neural pathways so this positive emotion would be more accessible in the future.
I would be excited to engage in discussion about this with someone who has experience to draw from.
@Zaykira: You have a lot resources, you may just have to realize and unlock them. With this site and the free newsletter you have a lot of my best insights for free. Maybe start there and never give up!
I am struggling with this to the point where I see the end. I wish I had the proper resources to fix this. It is really bad.
I have nothing. It’s really sad when you’re homeless in your own mind!
Johnny sounds like you are living right in the present moment, which is just awesome. Many people would love to be in your place, I know that. :-)
I try not to ever think about the future, beyond today anyway. I’ve never planed 1 thing more than a day or 2 out and it actually comes to pass, ever. I know thts hard to believe but its true. It actually almost destroys me to think about that. I know there are people in Zen who can plan something and if it flops they have no attachment to it. I lke this line from the book Zorba The Greek.
“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.”
I am learning to stay away from hope and fear.
I llike how Byron describes it:
But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.
I fear nothing. I hope for nothing I am free. Zorba
Nothing has ever been as painful for me as knowing full well nothing I plan will work. Unless an idea just pops in my head and I do it. Ever so often I let myself fall for the great whore hope and plan something and it naturally fails. And I am devastated. The most recent episode I did’t really function normally for about 2 months.
.I did read an uplifting quote that I believe this morning from Thich Hanh. It is similar to hope but it is not. „Thanks to Impermanence Everything is Possible“. That’s not saying what I desire to happen will happen. Its just a possibility that it might. Because existence itself is impermanent.
@Glynis Jolly: Most likely because they want to induce only positive vibes. But as a matter of fact, negative thoughts and emotions happen all the time. So I think it’s important to find constructive, supporting ways to deal with them.
Excellent post. I think many people who are in the field of life coaching avoid what is negative. I’m not sure as to why this is but I’m sure they could give reasons. I like the angle you have put to this subject.
@Sarah: Yes, if you are aware of what is happening at this moment you can turn the negative impulse around and use it as a catalyst for change.
I really liked how you stated the value of negative emotions is that they serve to trigger change. I’m going to try to be mindful of that, when I feel negativity to look for how to move toward something more positive rather than dwelling on the misfit of the moment.
I used this „awareness of choice“ today and it worked. Thanks Myrko.
@TheDude: Yes, I think the more aware you are the easier it gets to dissolve negativity. Good Luck!
I especially struggle with repeating negative thoughts. So you are suggesting that I become more aware of them and train that… hm ok I’ll try my best. Thanks for this tip, Myrko.