Mind Matters – New year but old patterns of negative thinking?

Rather than write about new year resolutions I’ve decided to write about what usually prevents them from being achieved – negative thinking.

Everytime you see a news article about COVID do you think about it in terms of what it suggests might go badly as opposed to what might improve? When the phone rings unexpectedly or when an unexpected letter arrives do you expect trouble? Do you instantly start to think that something bad is happening?

If you are feeling unwell do you find yourself checking websites and end up wondering if you have the most serious illness listed? When watching news items about difficulties in the economy do you instantly start thinking about losing your job, or not being able to pay your bills?

Do you recognise thinking like ‘I’m stuck in traffic it’s going to be a terrible day’. ‘I made that mistake again, I am stupid’. ‘I always fail at relationships, I will never be happy’. ‘I am in debt, I cannot manage my finances’.

Negative thinking is where you are constructing your everyday experience and situations as challenges and threats; you might also describe this as having a pessimistic outlook. Negative thoughts generate negative feelings which lead to further negative thoughts and so it is really important to recognise negative thought patterns. Left unchecked negative thoughts and feelings change how life is experienced such that anxiety and depression become increasingly significant.

The very first step to tackling your negative thinking is to accept that recognising your struggle now means you can take action to improve your situation. If you have any physical concerns or symptoms visit your GP so that these can be either diagnosed and treated or discounted. This then leaves you able to start to understand what your emotions and thoughts are really trying to tell you. You are experiencing a healthy response to a perceived threat, the task here is therefore not to stop thinking and feeling but to understand and challenge your sense of being under threat; doing this effectively will lead to a change in thinking and feeling.

It is important that you know that you do have the potential to change the way you think and that will start to change the way you feel, that as a result this pattern of negative thoughts and feelings can be broken. What you will need will be the right conditions to facilitate this. Having recognised what is going on you may be able to work through and find a solution and there is a quick guide on how to go about this at the bottom of the page. However your ability to do this on your own will depend upon the severity and length of time you have struggled.

A common problem is that people can be reluctant to seek help and this is often a wonderful example of negative thinking. ‘If I seek help it will mean that I am going to be a burden, a failure, pathetic, wasting people’s time or, I don’t have time or, I don’t have the money etc’. The reality is that everyone struggles from time to time and left unchecked negative thinking will only create a downward spiral, ultimately it must be argued that not seeking help to a recognised and treatable problem is a mistake. As soon as you realise that your own efforts are not succeeding, seek help.

A quick guide for challenging and changing negative thinking:

Write down the negative thoughts you are having and the situations in which they occur.

Do you remember the first time these thoughts occurred to you and if so what was going on for you in life at that point. Is it possible that there is a connection?

Consider whether you are being realistic in your thinking. Visualise how you would respond if a friend of yours came to talk to you with this problem – would your advice or judgement be any different to the way in which you are advising or judging yourself?

Now let’s get down to challenging those individual negative thoughts – pick the one that occurs to you first. Does the thought contain any element which is based on interpretation and not fact? In the example ‘I am in debt, I cannot manage my finances’. The first part may be fact but the second is an interpretation.So what you need to do here is to replace the interpretation with a question – ‘what can I do to solve this’?

Watch carefully to ensure that if you cannot find an answer you do not judge yourself but instead you bring in a new question ‘what help do I need?’

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the previous one – Mind Matters, Lost and Found

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

Read a profile of Nicholas here

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