Negative thinking and depression
Depressed and highly anxious people tend to think negatively. The question is whether they think negatively because they are depressed and anxious, or whether they are anxious or depressed because they think negatively. I do not believe that negative thinking is the whole cause of depression and anxiety, but it is a major factor in contributing and keeping us anxious and depressed. Consistent negative thinking has a devastating effect on how we feel and on how we appear to other people.
In almost any situation we can choose to work for or against ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you have a long term illness, ADHD or an anxiety problem, there are things you can do to help your situation, it’s just about learning how to do that. You are what you think yourself to be, and others tend to see you as they perceive you to be seeing yourself. That is why it is so important to think positively. Be what you want to be.
Know your strengths, accept and compensate for your weaknesses, and practise being confident.
The problem is that many of us, when we are anxious and depressed, do not realise that our thinking is negative. Only when we are starting to lift ourselves out of anxiety or depression, and see things in better perspective, can we recognise how negatively we have been thinking. During depression we drift along, barely aware of ourselves as people. The solution is to pick ourselves up and take charge.
Positive and negative thinking
Make a conscious effort to feed positive messages to your mind.
Just as your body responds positively to correct feeding, so your mind responds to being fed constructively. Everyone knows the long-term results of overindulging in a diet without nutritional value, yet many people feed themselves a diet of negative, self- defeating thoughts for years then wonder why they tend to feel anxious, depressed, inadequate or unsuccessful. It makes sense that we can only be what we think we are.
What makes it possible for us to take charge of our thinking is that although human beings can think only one thought at a time, we are able to switch thoughts so rapidly that it seems as though we are thinking many things at once. Every thought is accompanied by an emotion - at any given moment we can have either a positive or a negative thought in mind, but we cannot have both together.
How the habit of negative thinking builds up
We are creatures of habit. This is why we quickly get used to a certain way of doing things, a particular way of acting or thinking.
We establish habits of thought according to how we are thinking, on a thought-by-thought basis. A habit can be established surprisingly quickly, often within a few weeks.
We tend to think about ourselves and our lives in a certain way - our thoughts following a familiar path. If we are in the habit of thinking negatively about ourselves, we must expect to feel chronic depression and a lack of motivation to get out of those well-worn ways of thinking. The feelings of lethargy and apathy that usually accompany this state of mind can be devastating. The real tragedy is that once the habit of negative thinking is established, it determines the way in which we act and react in most situations.
The cumulative effect of many little negative thoughts, each seemingly insignificant, is what does the damage. A daily dose of this kind of thinking is enough to drag anybody down:
I won’t go - I wouldn’t enjoy it - I won’t like it -
I wonder why they are being nice to me - If I try this,
I’ll mess it up - I can’t do it - I’m so unattractive -
I wonder why she invited me?’
If we indulge in this type of thinking day after day and week after week, it is no wonder that we feel less than happy and confident. We are feeding our anxieties with our negative thoughts, which is why we can end up quite depressed. Each seemingly unimportant thought has an effect and contributes to our overall habit of thinking about ourself and our environment.
We are usually totally unaware of the fact that our thoughts are so negative. Thought by thought, we build up a destructive pattern of thinking. Negative thoughts are like an insidious and slow-growing cancer, creeping up on us without our knowledge or awareness.
Decide to adopt the habit of positive thinking
We must guard against the one-at-a-time negative thoughts that seem to pop into mind. They may seem small and unimportant, but they are a trap because they tend to build up and ruin our whole way of thinking. It is the little thoughts that you have to deal with if you want to move out of your present state of anxiety and depression.
When we have established a habit of thinking positively, the result is a general feeling of optimism, well-being and heightened self-confidence. Other consequences are personal growth, increased motivation, energy and enjoyment of life, and a general feeling of being on top of things.
When you adopt the habit of thinking positively, certain things begin to happen. You will feel more confident and you will find that you start to handle stressful situations better. You will develop a more optimistic outlook on life and begin to enjoy it more. You will become more cheerful and find it easier to motivate yourself.
Things you previously thought were beyond you will seem more within your reach. You will begin to want to try new and unfamiliar things because you believe that you can succeed. You will find it easier to make new friends, probably because your tolerance of other people has increased due to the fact that you are feeling happier in yourself.
How to change your thinking
The first thing you must do is believe that you can change the way you are thinking and, through that, the way you are feeling.
You are largely in control of what you think. You alone have the power to decide what you will or will not accept and feed into your mind. You are far more in control than you probably realise, as working through the steps of this program will prove. In the meantime (if you are in doubt), what can you lose by trying something that, if it works (and it will if you want it to), can only benefit you?
The way to change your habit of thinking from negative to positive is so simple and basic that you will be amazed that you have not stayed with it long enough in the past to get results. Like most methods that prove effective, it works when it is applied consistently.
To replace negative thoughts by positive thinking you must deal with two aspects of the situation:
- monitor your thinking
- kill negative thoughts as they arise by replacing them by pos- itive thoughts as quickly as you can.
The following paragraphs show you how to go about this.
Aspect 1: Monitor your thinking
Become aware of the way you react to situations, people, requests, the weather, and so on. Each time you catch yourself feeding a negative thought, pause and realise what you are doing. Take a hard look at that particular thought. Ask yourself:
Why did I think that way?
Was there a reason for thinking that way?
Be very honest when you answer these questions. In most cases the answer will be ‘no’ - you will not be able to find a valid reason for your negative thought because there was no factual basis for it.
Aspect 2: Kill negative thoughts quickly
Any time you catch yourself thinking negatively, firmly dismiss the negative thought and replace it quickly with a positive one. Stamp out the negative thought and replace it with a counterbalancing positive thought. In the following examples negative thoughts are presented in italics and counterbalancing thoughts are in ordinary print.
I can’t do it.
Why can’t I?
There is no factual reason why I can’t, so I will do it.
I probably won’t like it.
Why wouldn’t I like it?
How will I know I don’t like it until I try?
I’ll give it a go and see how I feel.
I don’t think they like me.
How do I know they don’t like me?
What are the factual reasons behind my feeling that they don’t like me?
I can’t think of any factual reasons - it’s just a feeling.
I’ll start thinking they do like me until it’s proved otherwise.
I don’t think I’ll go.
I have no reason for not going.
I’d probably quite enjoy it once I got there.
My feelings are based not on fact but on vague negative fears.
I won’t continue to allow these negative feelings to set limits for me.
I am going and I will enjoy myself.
It’s not for me, I can’t be bothered.
On what am I basing that decision?
My vague feelings of no-confidence again?
It could very well be just my thing.
I am going to try it and see.
If it turns out to be boring I won’t go again.
At least I’ll have a real reason for my decision then.
Are you beginning to understand what this method is about?
Have you noted the increase in positiveness of thought in some examples? The method involves you looking quickly at the negative thought when it arises, and deciding whether it is based on fact or on your negative feelings. If you are in the habit of thinking negatively, you will usually find that the negative thought is based on feelings not on facts. You are reacting negatively almost without being aware of doing so, because you have got into that habit.
Having decided whether your negative reaction is justified (whether it is based on fact, or on vague negative feelings or anxiety) you can then deal with it. If your reaction is not based on fact, you must replace the negativity with positive and constructive thoughts. This way you will learn to think positively.
Do this exercise many times each day, trying not to miss any opportunity to put it into practice. The more consistently you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, the quicker the results will be.
Beware of the wrong approach
Some people who try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones do so in a self-defeating way. They follow only the first half of the method. They monitor their thinking, as advised, but then they dwell on the negative thought by trying to find reasons for their negative thinking. They ask themselves, ‘Why has this negative thought come into my mind again?’
The longer you focus on a negative thought the stronger it becomes. The question ‘Why am I thinking this?’ is not a fruitful one. It makes you introverted, concentrating on yourself and your unhappiness. Try not to think of yourself so much - instead, concentrate on the content of the negative thought. Question its validity, as shown in the examples above.
Above all, do not blame or get annoyed with yourself for having negative thoughts. Blaming and feeling annoyed with yourself does not help to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
It makes you dwell on the negative thoughts and helps to make you feel bad. At the very least, it leads to self-pity.
Soon your positive thinking will be automatic
The first week will be hard work. You will have to watch the way you think all the time. But gradually, it will become automatic for you to reject unfounded negative thoughts. As your subconscious absorbs and responds to the new message it is receiving continuously, you will react and respond in more positive ways. After one week, you will certainly have stopped your habit of responding negatively to every situation.
If you practise Step 1 continuously, you will change drastically your habit of thinking. Those living with you will observe a dramatic change for the better. You yourself will notice the difference less, because much of what has happened occurred at a subconscious level - unless you actively monitor your thinking, you are not aware of it. That is why you fell into the trap of establishing a negative pattern of thinking in the first place.
Once a positive pattern has been established, it will become as automatic as the habit of negative thinking was. You will feel a growing awareness that good is happening to you at a very deep level. This feeling - and the way those around you react to you - will increase your confidence and feelings of acceptance, inner release, hope, happiness, general well-being and peace.