What is negativity and how do you shift your mindset for more positivity?
Negativity involves feeling sad, skeptical, and pessimistic. When our thoughts are shrouded in negativity, we can easily find the worst in any situation, even situations that objectively are not that bad. Because negativity makes us feel bad, it tends to be bad for our well-being.
If you find that you struggle with negativity, you're not alone. In fact, humans have a negativity bias. A negativity bias just means that we notice and feel negative things more intensely than positive things—and negative things have a bigger impact on our mental health. So that means we could experience a bunch of positive things, but the one negative thing could ruin our entire day. If our thoughts are plagued by negativity, this can be especially true for us.
How do we stop feeling so negative?
Firstly, go easy on yourself. Remember, we are all negative sometimes and that's okay. Remember to have self-compassion as you're working to shift your negative thoughts. But it's also helpful to know that our brains like to do things the way they have always done them. If we've been negative for a long time, regulating our emotions and shifting to more positive thoughts may be a little harder and take a little longer. Just keep at the strategies below to see improvement over time.
1. Make positive concepts more accessible in your brain
Our brains prefer to just go to whatever is familiar—it's easier, quicker, and requires less energy. So undoing negativity involves making positive concepts more familiar and accessible in the brain. One way to do this is to just have a "positive word of the day". Or memorize a series of positive words each morning and ask yourself to recall them each night.
Although the research hasn't shown that there are positive regions of the brain, per se, strengthening the connections between positive concepts and strengthening your ability to generate positive thoughts, words, and emotions can likely make it easier to do this again in the future.
2. Deconstruct your negativity
When we feel negative, it can be easy to see the external causes of our negative emotions but not the internal causes. The truth is our thoughts have just as much (or maybe more) to do with our negativity than the situations we're in. We really do create our own reality.
To deconstruct how your thoughts lead to your negativity, engage in self-reflection by asking yourself if you do any of the things below:
3. Check your attribution style
Do you feel like nothing you do matters, and the world is responsible for all your woes? Of course, this may be true sometimes, but this "external attribution" means we have given up control of our lives and this can end up making us feel worse. To shift this thinking, try to think of the things you do have control over. We all have control over some aspects of our lives.
Or do you feel like you are to blame for all of your woes? This "internal attribution" style where we blame ourselves for the bad things can hurt our self-esteem and emotional health. To shift this thinking, recognize that not everything is in your control. We all have done bad things, but we can move past them when we see that we did the best we could given the situations we were in.
Either of these attribution styles can be problematic when they go unchecked. So, keep an eye out for them.
4. Generate positive emotions with your imagination
When we struggle with negativity, we get good at imagining negative things. Therefore, forcing yourself to imagine the positive things can help change these patterns. So, give it a go and try imagining positive things. Imagine eating your favorite food, seeing your favorite person, or going to a favorite place.
5. Halt ruminative cycles
Do you dwell on the bad stuff, working yourself up until you've got steam coming out of your ears? We all do this from time to time, but it's rarely helpful and not actually good for our well-being. Still, stopping rumination can be hard. In fact, telling our minds to just "Stop!" thinking of something can often make us think of it even more. Instead, activate your body to stop the negativity fast. For example, you could go for a run or take a cold shower. These physical jolts to the body can force your energy resources to go elsewhere and really help stop a negative racing mind.
6. Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude makes it easier to focus on the good things and accept the bad things. We realize that things are not as bad as they may seem, and it helps us stop the negativity. To practice gratitude, you can try writing gratitude notes, gratitude lists, or a gratitude journal.
When we notice these good things, it can also be helpful to savor them. Maybe your mom calls to check in on you. Instead of focusing on the things that annoy you, you remind yourself that she's calling because she cares and you savor that feeling of being cared for (easier said than done, I know). Just keep trying until you find what works for you.
7. Do positive things
One of the easiest ways to feel less negative is to do things that make you feel less negative. Engage in activities that make you feel good—spend time with friends, go hiking, do crafts, or dance—whatever helps you feel less stuck.
On the flip side, try to stay away from activities that make you feel negative. For example, watch how much time you spend on your phone or social media. These activities can feel good in the moment but can increase negativity if we're not careful.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.