The Upside and Downside of Negative Thinking


Have you ever caught yourself full of negative thoughts and being critical of yourself? Have you noticed how this makes you feel? Have you noticed the physical and emotional fallout from giving yourself a hard time? 

Next time you realise you are berating yourself, I suggest you stop to reflect: are these thoughts helpful or unhelpful?

When can negative thoughts be helpful?

Aside from being normal, a little bit of negative thinking also has a positive side. We are hardwired to survive and all those negative thoughts, what-ifs, worries, worst expectations and caution are our natural stance to stay alive. The priority for our brain is survival, not happiness. 

It is also good to remember that we are only human and sometimes we make mistakes or our efforts fall short of having perfect outcomes.

Negative thinking could help:

  • Avoid threat or danger, maybe even save lives
  • Anticipate problems which allow for planning possible solutions ahead of time
  • Motivate to take preventative measures
  • Consider why outcomes were not as good as anticipated and make adjustments
  • Consider how you could repair situations that went wrong

Allowing yourself the freedom to think of the negative side of things and acknowledging your feelings of unhappiness or dissatisfaction means there is some critical analysis going on. Although it doesn’t help to dwell too much on the negative, make it the starting point for positive change.

When does negative thinking become destructive?

Our negative thoughts, particularly self critical thinking are not helpful if they are the loudest and most dominant thoughts in our head. If our self-talk is predominantly negative and we are  repeating negative thoughts  over and over, it has a negative effect on our mental health and self-esteem. 

When we repeat these thoughts to ourselves everyday, they easily become the things we believe. We can become pessimistic about ourselves, about others and about the world. This can have a detrimental effect on your outlook and motivation in life.

It can also affect your mood causing you to be depressed, fearful, angry and other destructive emotions. Be aware of some of the most common negative thinking patterns:

  • Over-generalisation

When you tend to draw negative conclusions about yourself and other people on the basis of limited evidence.

  • Black and White thinking 

Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than somewhere in between.

  • Emotional reasoning

When you assume that the way you feel is the way things really are. For example I feel anxious, so I must be in danger.

  • Mind reading

When you assume you know what someone is thinking or how they are feeling with little evidence or without asking them directly.

  • Catastrophising

Imagining or believing the worst possible thing will happen.

  • Personalising

When you feel responsible for things that are not your fault or incorrectly assume that other people’s responses are directed at you.

  • Selective abstraction

Focusing on a detail taken out of context, ignoring other more salient features of the situation, and conceptualising the whole experience on the basis of this element.

It’s important to be aware of what you are thinking and challenge your thoughts if they are not helpful. Move away from negative thinking if it serves no purpose and work towards a more positive mindset. Not only will it improve your outlook in life, you will also feel better!

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