A guide to switching negatives to the positive
Are you trying to be more positive but somehow, negativity slips back in your life? You Nama-stay in all the right places but your resting bitch face takes you elsewhere?
You’re not alone. Being positive isn’t something you achieve overnight, it takes learning the what, how and why to make it stick.
Discover how to pimp your positive neurons and put negative thinking to the curb.
In this blog you’ll learn how to
- Find out when and why negative thinking happens, especially when it comes to our appearance.
- Stop negative thinking from spreading through your relationships, your work and your health goals.
- Understand why negative thinking makes you feel safe.
Negative thinking is insidious, it’s like a cancer that spreads in silence.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself: when did I start thinking more negatively than positively? It’s hard to figure out, isn’t it? It’s not like one day you are Dr Jekyll and the next day you’re Mr Hyde. Negative thinking is often slow to develop and therefore it’s cause (or catalyst) is challenging to uncover.
Negative thinking and body image seem to go hand in hand. More often than not, I find people are far harsher on their appearance as a whole, rather than individual aspects. For example, you actually might like (gasp!) several parts of your body yet, but overall, you hate how you look. For example, you may love your hair, your back, your boobs and your chin, but when you look in the mirror all you see is . . . ugly.
Dr Cash, a well-known body image researcher, calls this the Spillover Effect: it’s like the saying ‘the fly that spoiled the soup’ (or the ointment). The Spillover Effect is a lose-lose situation, because really, no matter how many parts of your body you like, overall you’ll always look at yourself negatively.
Can you be positive without sounding like a jerk?
Take a look at these statements. Now, be honest, remember this is a bullsh*t-free zone, we’re in the tree of trust. Have you ever said any of them? Or a version of them?
‘I hate my body.’
‘Everyone’s looking (poorly) at my . . . ’
‘I’m too fat/short/tall/flabby/bony . . . ’
‘I can’t wear that. It’ll look like crap on me.’
I’d bet my shoe collection that everyone reading this (including me!) has said one, or a version, of those statements. The fact of the matter is, it’s pretty common to not like a part of our body, or more specifically, not like ourselves. Even if our bodies are the stereotypical sought-after examples of perfection, that’s often not good enough.
But now let me ask you this, just because it’s common not to like parts of our body, does that make it normal? Does it make it okay?
Common, but not normal
It has become so common for people to speak negatively about themselves that it’s now the new norm—just like it’s normal to text a person to ask them out on a date rather than call them, or to break up with them via a Tweet, or—relevant to this topic—to judge the worth of a person depending on how they look, or don’t look.
But what if the opposite was the case? That is, what if we flipped all the negative comments to be positive ones? What would that look like?
‘I love my body!’
‘Everyone’s looking (kindly) at my . . .’
‘I’m fabulous/awesome/amazing . . . ’
‘I can wear that. It’ll look great on me.’
First of all, much of it sounds foreign—like it’s an alien language. People talking positively about themselves? Yeish, something must be wrong with them! They must be faking it! They must have issues.
How else does it sound? Maybe a bit egotistical? So that leads to my first question: can you say you love yourself and your life, without sounding like a jerk? That is, can you be a positive, upbeat person without sounding like you’re up yourself?
Balancing the positives and the negatives? Yes you can!
If you’re wondering if it’s possible… of course it is! But first, we need to learn about a few sneaky ways that negative thinking can slip into our life.
Let’s go back to the Spillover Effect, which is when you allow negativity to ruin any positivity that you have in your life. It’s kind of like passing a car crash on the highway, we get so fixated on it that we don’t notice all the other beautiful things about our trip.
The Spillover Effect is a combination of overgeneralisation and catastrophising, which are forms of cognitive distortions. While that sounds like a super fancy term, all it means is that our way of thinking is distorted. There are several different types of cognitive distortions, but for today, we’re going to focus on only two. Let’s chat about these now.
Have you ever had a horrible job interview? Me too. HOR-RI-BLE.
Let’s say I interview for a job and don’t get it, which makes me think I’ll suck at all job interviews. This is overgeneralising, because I take one instance of a situation and think all situations like it will be just as bad.
Or what about this: let’s say I go on a first date and then don’t get asked out on a second date. This may lead me to think that all dating sucks.
Another very relevant example is if we have a bad experience with someone from a different cultural group. We may make broad assumptions about that group based on our single exposure to only one person’s behaviour⎯and that’s not fair.
Before we talk about what we can do about it, let’s first chat about catastrophising.
Catastrophizing is when we predict something negative will occur and then jump to the conclusion that not only will it be negative, it will be catastrophic. A disaster.
If we go back to our examples, this could be: we think we won’t get the job and then predict we’ll need to go bankrupt.
Or, because we weren’t asked on a second date, we catastrophise ahead into the future and picture ourselves forever single and surrounded by cats. #catlady
As our last example, we may catastrophise that our lives will be in danger if we are on board a plane with a fellow passenger that originates from the middle East.
Challenging the negatives and pushing up the positives.
Overgeneralizing & Catastrophising is ineffective for three reasons:
- It includes inaccurate thinking—what we think isn’t necessary what’s true! That’s not a good place to start, is it?
- It lowers our quality of our life, because our thoughts are based on untruths, not reality.
- It has the potential to cause us a lot of unnecessary emotional discomfort—because if we’re thinking negatively, we’ll likely feel negative too, right?
Problem is, overgeneralizing and catastrophising can seem effective as well. As with most things in life, when there are negatives there are also positives too! But in the case of catastrophic thinking and overgeneralising, they are actually false positives as they only provide us with a false sense of security. For example, if you are feeling sick, you may catastrophise that you have cancer even though in reality you may have a mild infection.The problem with this is that your concern may prevent you from making a doctor’s appointment, because in your mind if you don’t go, you don’t know (and you delay what you think is inevitable doom). Whereas in reality, an appointment that could speed up your healing with some basic medication and have you feeling right as rain in no time.
Unfortunately, things that make us feel safe are hard to let go of. Just ask any toddler with a snot-filled blankie that hasn’t been washed since their birth. Or imagine being stuck in the middle of the ocean – you might feel that the clothes you are wearing are protecting you, whereas in reality they are weighing you down and making it harder for you to swim to safety.
What can you do about these forms of inefficient thinking?
First, consider these 2 points:
- Overgeneralising: there are certain things that are guaranteed to happen, such as not getting a job because you’ve shown up drunk and naked, versus others that are very unlikely to happen, such as messing up a job interview that you’ve prepared for.
- Catastrophising: there is a huge distinction between something being very unpleasant, like not being asked out on a second date, and something being a catastrophe, like an earthquake that devastates a city (or Trump being president).
What I have found, more often than not, is when we step back and look at the bigger picture, things are not as bad as we originally thought. So ask yourself, are you relying on actual evidence to predict the future? Or are you relying on your feelings? Which one do you think would be more reliable? Objective evidence? Or subjective feelings? I think you know the answer already!
Also ask yourself, what is the probability that the event will actually occur? Are you just assuming it will happen? Has it ever happened to you in the past? If it did, what other factors need to be considered?
- Lastly, are your thoughts based on facts, or just your opinion? Look at the following statements – you’ll see the difference between a fact and an opinion.I’m a failure (opinion) vs I failed a test (fact)
- I’m lazy (opinion) vs I watched Netflix for 14 hours straight (fact)
- My best friend hates me (opinion) vs my best friend hasn’t called me for 3 days (fact)
As you can see, there is a HUGE difference between fact and fallacy. Make sure to read on to the summary and find my favourite trick to tell the difference between the two.
Final summary & action points
Here is your key take-home message
As we just learned, negative thinking can seep into our lives without us even realising, especially when it comes in the form of catastrophic thinking and overgeneralising. These two forms of thinking can be very beneficial to us as it provides a safety net of sorts, but it’s a false sense of security. The most important thing to realise is that just like it’s taken a while for negative thinking to be our norm, it will take a while (and lots of practice) to reverse our neurons into more positive thinking.
Here’s a little trick: pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes and you have to prove what you predict. For example, how would you prove that you’ll be single forever and surrounded by cats? If you had to prove this in a court of law, you wouldn’t rely on guesswork, you would need to rely on evidence. If you’re catastrophising or overgeneralising right now, how would you prove to your best friend, boss or partner that what you think is true actually is true?
Lastly, remember that sometimes things don’t go to plan the first time you try, but never forget the most important point: you gave it a shot! And the more you try something, the easier it gets.
I’d love to see how this has helped you become a more confident, happy and healthy human! If you haven’t already, join us via The Confidence Club, a free private group on Facebook. Not really into the group thing? Then I’d love to hear from you directly – I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.