Dealing with negative thoughts

Monday, 14 December 2020

If you have trouble dealing with negative thoughts try the ‘and strategy’ to develop and cultivate a positive mindset.


Wow, what a year 2020 was. It will certainly stick in our minds for a long while.

What will your recollection of it be? Will you choose to remember the negative aspects: what went wrong, what was taken away from you, how much you suffered, how much the people around you suffered and how uncertain you felt?

Or will you choose to remember the positive aspects: the chance to slow down, to spend more time at home, to reconnect with some of your passions, to learn new technology and to experience growth through change and uncertainty?

Science confirms that the majority of us will most likely focus on the negative.

Our brains are hardwired for negativity and fear, so what we tend to do is to maximise the negative and minimise the positive. We will easily remember, without any conscious effort, all of the negative things that we experienced in 2020. We will even replay them over and over again in our minds, just to make sure we don’t forget them.

However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Science also confirms that we have the ability to hit the pause button on our negative thoughts. This gives us the opportunity to change the way we think and to cultivate hope. The only drawback is that this requires a lot of energy, conscious effort and action. But if you are serious about your wellbeing and living a happier life, then it’s worth every ounce of effort.

How do you cultivate hope?

First of all, it is important to acknowledge your negative thoughts. These thoughts are a normal part of life.

We have to learn to live with negative thoughts; however, we also have to find a way forward to more positive thinking. Resilient people are good at doing this. They don’t try and push negative thoughts away; instead, they accept and hold a space for them, while having the capacity to grow and learn from these thoughts.

It’s important to become aware of your negative thoughts and the impact they’re having on your wellbeing.

Once you’re aware of these thoughts the best thing to do is to name them and then create some distance from them. This allows you to create space in your mind for more helpful thoughts.

To do this, Positive Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar talks about the genius of the AND. For example, you may have a negative thought that goes like this: “I am constantly worried that having diabetes will result in more serious health problems”. Once you have acknowledged this thought, place an AND at the end of it and write down statements that are positive and true.

I am constantly worried that having diabetes will result in more serious health problems AND I know that if I follow my treatment plan and consult regularly with my team of health professionals, I will live well with my diabetes.

AND if I exercise daily and follow a healthy eating plan, I will keep my blood glucose levels in the recommended range.

On the other side of these negative thoughts there is always hope.

By using the AND strategy these positive and true statements cultivate a sense of hope and provide a plan of action. You’re bringing your mind back to a slightly more positive space, while taking personal responsibility and being accountable for the quality of your thinking.

You will be in a much better space if you can train your mind to look for the positive, instead of always languishing in the negative.



The second way to cultivate hope is to practise self-care.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s imperative you look for ways to increase your positive emotions.

I use a strategy called Lighten Up.

COVID-19 has impacted greatly on our ability to lighten up. The seriousness of the virus, the negative impact on the world at large and the economic implications has created a spiral of negative emotions.

These negative emotions have the capacity to shut down your brain and impair your ability to lighten up. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that you do something every day to evoke positive emotions and fill up your cup.


Positive activities

Write down five activities that you love doing. These activities are ones that bring you joy, that inspire and nourish you. For me it is painting rocks, reading a good book, dancing in my lounge room to my favourite songs, going to the movies or simply connecting with the people I love.

What are five things you love doing that bring a smile to your face and help you to lighten up?

By doing something every day that evokes positive emotions you’re opening up your mind to new possibilities. This in turn cultivates hope.

Accept that 2020 was a year of uncertainty, change and challenges. Upon each of us now is the requirement to take action.

Name those negative thoughts and place an AND at the end of them.

Create space in your mind for more helpful thoughts that pave the way forward to living well with your diabetes. Do something every day that lights you up and in doing so cultivate a mindset of hope. Next year is full of possibilities if you choose to look for them.


Claire Massingham

Author of Happiness Bank: how to invest in your wellbeing

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