We live in an age of positivity. Self-help mantras and sales pitches for self-help programs worldwide are enthusiastically promoting positive thinking as the end all be all for better health and wellness. Negative thinking is bad and positive thinking is good. Squash those negative thoughts forever, they promise, and harness the power of positivity.
Positive thinking certainly is powerful. Unfortunately, positive thinking cannot exist in a vacuum. Though negative thinking can be detrimental, it can also be instrumental. Rumination and obsession over a negative experience can teach us lessons we might not get from anything other than a negative experience. However, if we let a negative experience control us, we might miss the wisdom. If we never had a negative experience which lead to negative thinking, would we be able to truly acknowledge the importance of positive thinking? Negative thinking is necessary, but only to a certain degree. We can learn to manage our most negative thought patterns and transform them from harmful to helpful.
The New York Times interviewed Dr. Judith Beck of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy for their article “The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking”. Dr. Beck explained that “Worry and obsession get worse when you try to control your thoughts.” Rather than control the thoughts, the article suggests first acknowledging the thoughts. “Don’t try to stop them,” the article writes. “If you are obsessing about a lost promotion or the results of the presidential election, whatever you do, don’t tell yourself, ‘I have to stop thinking about this’.” Instead, simply tell yourself “I’m obsessing about this negative experience.”
A few suggestions for working through the negative thought pattern following a negative experience:
- Pick apart your negative thoughts and evaluate them. Are they real? Are they true? Can you trace their root? Are they based in fear, past experiences, old thought patterns, or insecurities?
- Consider your negative experience in the “grand scheme of things”. How much does this negative experience matter? How much do you want this negative experience to impact your life? Is it realistic that this one experience “ruins” your life forever?
- Ask yourself how you would support a friend going through the same experience. If they voiced their negative thought patterns to you, would you be encouraging them to continue in that headspace? Most likely, you would be guiding them toward a different perspective, reminding them of the truth of who they are, and assuring them that obsessing will accomplish nothing.
- Use practices of the breath from your meditation to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and start relaxing the brain. Deep breaths help your brain slow down and settle into the present moment instead of being stuck in the past.
Tree House Recovery is a men’s treatment program located in Portland, Oregon. Creating sustainable recovery through sustainable change, our programs help men learn how to live sober with adventurous lives. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474