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Negative Thinking is Hazardous to Your Health + Relationships!

5 Min Read on Your Mental Health + Business Relationships

We all have negative thoughts from time to time, often affected by what we experience around us. If you didn’t feel both the good and the bad, you wouldn’t be human. However, negative thinking, negative self-talk, negative emotions all contribute to mental distress like social anxiety, low self-esteem, and even depression. And none of those are healthy for you or your business relationships!

To avoid falling into a pattern, let’s look into the science of negative thinking and how you can become more intentional about your thoughts, words, and actions.

The science of negative thinking

Our thought processes are intimately connected to the way we feel. When you’re feeling content, your thoughts tend to reflect this. In times of happiness, you may be more satisfied with your career progress, perceive your personal and professional relationships as more secure, or have a better body image. Conversely, if you’re anxious or unhappy, you may notice that negative thoughts start to emerge. Feeling stressed about work, worrying about your appearance, or questioning the loyalty of and support by your relationships are often the big culprits here.

In the 1970s, psychologist Aaron Beck theorised that negative thought patterns, which he labelled as “negative schemas”, reinforced negative emotions. In his book Cognitive Therapy, Beck explained: “A central feature of the theory is that the content of a person’s thinking affects their mood.” It’s an endless loop: when you’re already feeling anxious or depressed, succumbing to negative thought patterns is unfortunately likely to worsen the way you feel.

Research suggests that amongst business professionals, automatic thoughts were strongly correlated with self-esteem. If you regularly experience negative thoughts, this cognitive distortion can sadly worsen an already poor mental health, leading to low mood, poor self-esteem, and anxiety.

To make things worse, a bias towards negative thinking will increase the likelihood that you’ll spend time ruminating on mistakes or dwelling on things that didn’t go as well as you had hoped. Negativity bias, or the propensity to focus on negative experiences, can cloud your judgement. Decisions will appear more complex than they truly are, which will make it harder to know how to handle difficult situations.

Depression and negative cognitions have a reciprocal link in which one worsens the other, and vice versa. With both factors present, a vicious cycle is set in motion. Learning how to recognize and manage negative thoughts could therefore be the key to breaking this cycle of poor mental health, as well as helping you to avoid the pitfalls of negativity bias in your relationships.

Constructs in managing negative thoughts

We all have negative thoughts, so managing how often they occur, as well as helping to reduce the impact a negative thought will be key to your overall health, happiness, and relationship success. Here’s how:

  1. Recognize your negative thoughts when it first comes up. When a situation triggers a thought, pay attention to it, such as: “I am going to fail at this interview”, “I will never lose weight”, “No one cares about me”, etc.

  2. Challenge your automatic thought or speech patterns. Rather than allowing a negative thought to control your language or emotions, ask yourself if the thought is truthful or helpful. If the negative thought provides no value, it’s time to shift your focus by rewiring your thought patterns.

  3. Change the way you respond and control negative impacts. It can be tempting to try to force positive thoughts in the hope that they might replace negative ones. However, managing negative thinking involves transmuting our thoughts rather than replacing them. You have to change the way you respond to your negative thoughts, as well as controlling how much impact they have.

Recognize and detach

Constructs are great. But as I read the last point above, I can’t help but to think, “how?” How do you transmute your negative thoughts to avoid a tailspin of negative moods and disengagement from your relationships? It’s time for some practical applications / action items:

  1. Create distance from your thoughts. Pay attention to your automatic thoughts and start to label them out loud or internally: “I’m having the thought that I am no good at my job” or “I’m having the thought that I am all alone.” Labelling your thoughts in this way will help you to detach from the critical inner voice that makes a distorted thought seem like the truth.

  2. Start a thought diary. Journaling in a thought diary is a great way to manage negative thinking. Write down the date, the time, the event that triggered an emotion, and the resulting negative thought. In his book, psychiatrist Dr Daniel Siegel explains that you need to “name it to tame it.” Being able to name your emotions and the resulting thought will help you to understand the relationship between external triggers and internal beliefs.

  3. Walk away from the cliff!!Negative thinking often leads to catastrophizing. If making a mistake leads you to believe that your worst-case scenario is likely to happen, de-catastrophizing can prevent a spiral of negative thinking. Ask yourself:

    1. What am I worried about?

    2. Is it likely that my worry will come true?

    3. What is the worst that could happen if my worry did come true?

    4. If my worry comes true, what is most likely to happen?

    5. Despite my worry, am I likely to be ok in one week (or month, year, and so on)?

Once recognised, negative thoughts can be managed to reduce the impact on your emotional wellbeing. This in turn will break the cycle of negative thinking. By paying attention to your thoughts and interrogating their validity you can prevent cognitive distortions from skewing your beliefs and impacting your mental health.

Last note: stop the negative talk too. I hear several times throughout the day, leaders I coach actually say, “I’m not good at that,” “I can’t do that,” or “I’ve never been able to do that…” None of it true. It’s simply a long-held belief and when it’s repeated, it gets reinforced. “Name it to tame it,” remember? Stop with the negative thoughts and talks. It’s not helping your mental health or business relationships.

How do you tackle negative thinking?

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