They say that happiness is a state of mind – but what if your mind is your own worst enemy? Sometimes it can feel like our own brain is turning against us, assailing us with negative thought patterns that impede us from living a full and fulfilling life.
What Are Negative Thought Patterns?
These are thoughts and emotional reactions that feel almost automatic, as though your mind were drip-feeding your brain negative information. It can seem like you have no control over your own thoughts. Or like a leaky tap, which you can’t shut off, is continuously dripping negativity into your brain. This negativity that continually filters into your self-identity is hard to fight if you don’t have the right tools.
However, there are ways to train your mind out of these automatic negative thought patterns. Rebuilding your relationship with your own mind can empower you to own your worth and your power, helping you to manifest the life that you actually deserve.
But how? Below are five negative thought patterns, and the weapons you can arm yourself with to challenge them.
1. ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not good enough’
You always expect yourself to fail, whether it’s something new you’re trying or a task you’ve accomplished time and time again. As soon as you intend to start something, from an academic assignment to a new sport or a new project, your thought pattern tap drips into your brain.
It reminds you that you are useless, incompetent and generally incapable. Any motivation you once had is a thing of the past. You begin to feel deflated and unable to face the task.
This negative thought pattern is also connected with Imposter Syndrome, wherein you believe you’re incapable of performing the job others think you’re good at.
Fix this leak by reminding yourself of everything you HAVE accomplished. Grab a piece of paper and divide it into three sections. They each represent three phases of your life up to this point; you can label them as you wish.
In each section, list ALL of the things you accomplished during that phase in your life. Anything from cooking your first meal, doing well in school or sports, finishing a book, overcoming hardship, being a good friend, getting a job, decorating your room or house, picking up a new skill.
Next, condense this list into a new list of those things which made you feel most accomplished.
When this negative thought pattern comes back to haunt you, challenge it by re-reading both of these lists and re-living the feeling of accomplishment that accompanied each activity. This engages the rational part of your brain, presenting evidence that undermines your automatic thoughts.
Extra: keep a daily or weekly Accomplishment Journal in which you write a list of your accomplishments.
2. ‘Something terrible is going to happen’ or ‘Nothing good ever happens to me’ (Catastrophic Thinking)
You’re continually convinced something awful is going to happen to you, and that only terrible events take place in your life. It’s one of those negative thought patterns that are a tough nut to crack because, in many ways, it’s self-reinforcing. The more you let it control you, the more blinkered your perspective on life becomes.
You eventually notice, focus on and remember only the negative things that happen to you. You’ll obsess over all the instances when someone let you down; you had problems at work, didn’t succeed or failed to meet your goals. Even the small things like choosing the longest line at checkout or getting stopped at all the traffic lights will add to this negative picture of your life.
Your mind will gloss over, ignore and forget all the positive things. The times when there wasn’t a queue, when you hit all the green lights, when your hopes and expectations were exceeded, someone showed up for you, or you succeeded and met your goals.
Plug this leak by writing two lists. One list of everything in your life you are grateful for, that was entirely out of your control. That time the weather was perfect on your day off, or when you took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere beautiful, or a chance meeting that led to something wonderful.
Write another list of everything you are grateful for that was under your control (graduating, fitness, travelling, making connections).
Whenever this negative thought pattern overwhelms you with pessimism about your life, re-read your lists of gratitude. Remind yourself of everything you have been given, and everything you have provided for yourself. Using this evidence, challenge the notion that only bad things happen with concrete proof of every time something beautiful happened!
Extra: keep a daily or weekly Gratitude Journal in which you record all the good that is happening around you.
3. ‘I’m a burden on my loved ones’ and ‘No one actually loves me’
You feel that everyone in your life merely puts up with you. You have nothing to offer them – in fact, you’re probably burdensome and irritating to them. They hang out with you because they pity you, not because they actually like or love you.
This negative thought pattern can extend from colleagues and acquaintances to friends and family, Generally, it drips in whenever you feel a surge of affection for someone or feel very alone. It convinces you that you are unlovable and that others would be better off without you.
Sort out this leaky tap by writing three lists. One list of times people have been grateful to you, a list of what others have done for you, and compliments or good wishes you’ve received. It might take some digging, as your mind will resist the notion that any of the above actually happens. Sit through the struggle and write down anything you think of before your ego jumps in. Once you’ve written something down, don’t erase it!
Every time this negative thought pattern jumps the queue, challenge it by looking at this list and reminding yourself that you do bring positivity to the lives of those around you. The fact that they care about you is translated into gratefulness, actions on your behalf and positive sentiments regarding you.
This negative way of thinking prevents you from fully receiving the love, and gratitude others offer you. By challenging this negative thought pattern with evidence of the esteem and love that others have for you, you show yourself the truth: you are loved and valued.
Extra: keep a daily or weekly Receiving Journal in which you list all the gratefulness, compliments, positive sentiments and acts of service others offer you.
4. ‘The world wants to hurt me’ and ‘It’s not safe for me out there’
We are biologically programmed to pay close attention to the negative parts of our life since our survival is dependant on our emotional and physical wellbeing. However, a mind in the constant grip of fear detects threats quickly and everywhere, without necessarily differentiating between real or imaginary threats.
A speciality of the human brain is also to think in terms of emotional risks and emotional safety. While we may not be imminently eaten or killed, our brain perceives that certain people or circumstances are emotionally unsafe.
Those of us who struggle with anxiety have a mind that has become hardwired to recognise physical and emotional perils everywhere, which trigger a fight or flight response. This generally leads to feelings of victimisation and a desire to isolate ourselves from this unsafe world to avoid its many threats.
This negative thought pattern requires a two-fold response. Physically, we need to turn off the fight-or-flight response by re-centring our breathing. Make sure you’re breathing through your stomach, not your chest, and spend 2-5 minutes inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Using mindfulness, you can also centre your mind so it’s not panicking wildly about future threats. Still focussing on your breathing, list five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell and two things you can feel.
Emotionally, we need to to show our mind the evidence that the perceived threat is imaginary or not as significant is it thinks. The first step is to identify the source of our fear: what is making me feel unsafe?
Secondly, we can dismantle it, as objectively and compassionately as possible, to reveal the truth: it’s nothing more than we can handle. Write a list of every time you have previously faced this threat or something similar. This will challenge your mind to rationalise its reaction to the perceived menace.
If you are regularly overcome with a generalised fear of everything, the essential step is mindful breathing. Recall your mind to the present situation in which you are safe. Once your body is under your control, it’s easier to re-negotiate a positive thought loop with your mind.
5. ‘I don’t deserve anything (good)’ and ‘I’m ugly on the inside’
This is another tough one. Whenever something good happens to you, be it a promotion, winning a competition or requited love, your leaky thought pattern tap kicks off again. It persuades you that the good things coming your way are more than you deserve and if the world truly knew you, it would give you nothing.
Patterns like this one are the pillars of the negative thought process cycle. It robs you of your very right to own your worth, power and talent and receive the love that comes your way. It’s also linked to Imposter Syndrome, in that it convinces you that you are underserving of your place in the world. Everything good that comes your way must be based on an illusion.
Whenever this negative thought pattern drips in, write down what it is you are undeserving of. Then, force yourself to write down at least three reasons why you DO deserve it. This might feel forced, dishonest and borderline arrogant.
However, if you can write down at least three and then read them out loud to yourself until they feel natural, the whole process will become more comfortable. You’ll eventually come to believe yourself when you tell yourself why you deserve good things.
- Dr. Mathieson, A., Clinical Psychologist, personal conversation
- Stanny, B., Sacred Success: A Course in Financial Miracles (2014)
- 5 Negative Thought Patterns and How to Challenge Them - January 1, 2020
- The Five Buddha Families and How They Can Help You Understand Yourself - December 25, 2019
- The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism and What They Can Teach You - December 20, 2019
Copyright © 2012-2020 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.