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3 Negative Patterns of Thinking & How to Avoid It

Science shows that positive thinking can improve mental wellbeing, minimize stress and even lead to better cardiovascular health, yet many of us are stuck following patterns of negative thinking.


3 Negative Patterns of Thinking & How to Avoid It


1. Negative Rumination

Although it’s natural and can be healthy to self-reflect, reflection becomes problematic when it’s negative, excessive, and repetitive. Rumination is a kind of negative thinking in which we get mentally stuck and keep spinning our wheels without making progress, like a car stuck in a snowdrift. Rumination can make you more and more anxious as you keep thinking of more and more negative outcomes that could possibly happen. If you feel lonely, you may think about being lonely forever, never meeting the right partner, never having kids, losing all your friends, and ending up alone in a ditch. Ruminating can also make you feel depressed. You may focus on how bad you feel, why you feel so bad, what you did wrong to get in this situation, and how things could get worse and you could mess things up even more. Before you know it, you start to feel like a loser, and this interferes with your motivation to take steps to solve the problem.    

     What to Do Instead: Pay attention to when you're thinking starts to get repetitive or negative. When you notice rumination, make yourself break the cycle. Get up and do something else: Go for a walk or reach out to a friend (but don’t continue the rumination out loud by whining to them). Don’t overeat or drink too much alcohol to avoid the negative thoughts. Try to change your thinking to a problem-solving focus that is more deliberate and strategic.


2. Overthinking

Overthinking is when you go over and over different choices in your mind, trying to imagine every possible outcome and everything that could happen in the future, to make sure you make the perfect choice. Your focus is on avoiding mistakes and risk. The problem with overthinking is that it’s an attempt to control what isn’t controllable. You don’t have a magic eight-ball that can predict the future. With most choices, there are unknowns. For example, when you choose a partner in life, you don’t know what situations the two of you will face and how your partner will react to each situation. Overthinking can take away your joy in situations like choosing a college, changing jobs, getting married, having kids, buying a house, and so on. It can make you too risk-averse and scared to act. It can keep you stuck, unable to leave a bad relationship or choose a different career path.

     What to Do Instead: Limit the time you spend thinking about a decision before acting. Give yourself a deadline to decide, even if it feels uncomfortable. Only allow yourself to research a few alternative options — not every one. Don’t be so hard on yourself: You are only human, and it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. You can learn from it. Overthinking results from anxiety, so practice stress-management techniques like yoga, running, nature walking, or meditating.


3. Cynical Hostility

Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting that is characterized by angry mistrust of other people. You see other people as threats. They may cheat you, take advantage, let you down, deceive you, or otherwise cause you harm. Cynical hostility involves interpreting other people’s behavior in the worst ways. You may think the driver ahead of you is being deliberately slow to frustrate you, or that a friend has an ulterior motive. Cynical hostility can ruin your relationships and increase your blood pressure. Research shows it is associated with heart disease and shorter telomeres, the protective coverings at the ends of your chromosomes that fray with age. (Shorter telomeres are a sign of cellular aging.)   

     What to Do Instead: Try to get some distance from your judging thoughts. Notice when you begin to think distrustfully, and deliberately think of alternative ways of seeing the situation. What are some more benevolent or less toxic motives for people’s behavior? Learn to reserve judgment and look for the evidence before labeling people. Notice how your own behavior may be pushing people away or prompting them to react negatively to you. 




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Assume Good Intent

Einstein famously said, "We cannot solve problems with the mindset that created them. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."