I was brought up believing that I should keep alert and pay attention to my mistakes so that I would learn from them.
It is a fantastic approach but it lacked balance. I believe it should have been completed by the following sentence: pay also attention to your successes so that you can also be proud of yourself and use this energy to improve yourself.
As this was not said, I turned out to be very harsh on myself. This has been putting me down and not really helping me improve. My negative thoughts about me at work were indeed holding me back from being the best version of me.
1- Negative thoughts can be useful
Negative thinking has very bad press. We are supposed to get rid of “negative” thinking because it is bad for us. This was not being very useful to me, just trying to ignore my negative thinking was not at all useful.
Some months ago I decided to check my thoughts and find out what was the reason for my negative thinking ( I always think that things exit for a reason).
You can do it as well. Ask yourself: what if this that I am thinking happened? and again what if …? In my case I had made a mistake and was blaming myself for it.
I asked myself : what would happen if this mistake was seen? Answer: That my boss might be angry,
and what would happen if my boss got angry? Answer: He might think that I am not competent and give me another job?
and what if you got another post that is not so good as this one? Answer: I might earn less, not progress in my career and not have enough money …
As the questions went on I realized that the driving force behind my thoughts was fear and the desire to protect me from potential threats.
We are not always aware of our thoughts.
Our thinking can compromise our actions
2- Where is fear located in our brain:
The center of fear in our brain is the amygdala. Apparently it is continuously scanning the environment looking for potential threats. Its function is to protect us. As it turns out, we, humans, have a negative bias, a tendency to sniff threats. So our negative thinking is part of this system and it is focused on our protection even if we do not specially like its manners.
If we stopped here it would seem that there is no way out to our negative thinking however there is a study that I find particularly interesting regarding positive and negative thinking. William Cunningham and Alexander Todorov, in a serie of recent studiesdiscovered recently that the amygdala in not only the center of fear, but it is also implicated in human connection, compassion and happiness. According to their research happy people do not ignore threats, they just might be better at seeing the good side of things.
Cunningham and his colleagues also carried out another study in which they displayed a series of images to a total of 15 participants while recording the activity of the amygdala with the use of FMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Images varied in their emotional content (positive, negative and neutral). They found out that, as expected, negative images provoked to amygdala’s activation. And so did the positive, but only this time the activity was raised only when the participants were asked to consciously focus on them.
As a conclusion we can say that we, as human beings will automatically concentrate on the negative as our survival might depend on it, however we can “see” the positive if we actively search for it. We do not need to be naive and look only at the bright side of life, as it turns out we can be on the safer side if you consciously look at the negative, but also at the positive side of things.
3- How to manage negative thinking in a simple way
A student attending one of my courses was rather mad at me when I suggested that she could deliberately change her thoughts. She understood that I was asking her to ignore her negative feelings and concentrate only on the positive.
This is not what I meant, so for clarity’s sake I will explain a four step process to free ourselves from the impact of negative thinking. I got it from Elisha Goldstein, you can have a look at his writing here
Here is my adapted version:
1-Give it a name:
When we name things they become easier to grab. We give them limits and a definition.
I am as creative as I can when naming my emotions and my behaviors, for example I might have an overeating in a rush, a slow deep sadness, a burning anger …
2- Feel it in your body
The mind can lie, and mistake us, but the body doesn´t. Where is it in your body? What shape does it have? What colour? What temperature?….
3- Set it free
You can put it in a balloon and set it free or breathe in and acknowledge the feeling that is there and breathe out releasing it.
4- Consciously refocus your thoughts
Take 3 conscious breaths paying attention to the present moment, how the air comes in and how it goes out. Now bring your attention consciously to something that you feel nourishes you more.
Please also thank yourself for making this effort. I know it is not that easy
Negative thinking is there to try and protect us even if it is not what helps us most, so they can be rather resistant to change. Do not worry if they keep on coming back, just keep acknowledging them and focusing your attention in what your instinct tells you is better for you … and enjoy the process, have fun…. be happy.
Written by a The Kairos Project Associate, Ainhoa Campo