I’ve seen positive thinking bring about amazing results in my life and that of my clients. I’ve also seen it produce feelings of guilt and anxiety, yielding the exact opposite of one’s desired outcome.
Why such dramatically different results? Because it all depends on what you believe. That’s the main problem with negative thoughts: you believe them. And when you believe them, you fulfill them (i.e. self-fulfilling prophecy).
In her book, How Emotions are Made, the Secret Life of the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett says that we look to past experiences that guide our actions. For example, you create a concept of weight loss, by categorizing past weight loss attempts. When you see that they “don’t work” or “I failed” you essentially predict failure the next time. You literally plan to fail.
Even if you gather up enough motivation to try again, your first skipped workout or trip through the drive-thru, builds on the case against your ability to lose weight.
(You may have similar experience in business or relationships…can you see the parallels?)
Now you might say, “but Heather, I believe my positive thoughts. Don’t they balance out the negative?”
It depends. If your belief in the negative feels really true, simply pasting on a happy face and insisting that “I know I can do anything I put my mind to…” will feel fake. And then it takes a lot of energy to pretend to yourself that you feel good about it. I also see positive thinking invoke guilt or shame for someone when her negative thoughts are persistent.
If you want positive thinking to work for you, use these 3 techniques:
- Gradually inch towards the positive. Take a persistent negative thought that you have and make it less negative. Like “I can never stick with an exercise plan” becomes “sometimes I’m consistent with exercise and sometimes I’m not.” Find something that feels just as true as your automatic thought and replace it when it pops up. Slowly move this negative thought towards neutral. Practice it enough and you’ll be ready to move it to positive.
- Notice how you feel. Just because a statement appears positive does not mean it will make you feel good. To be effective, a positive thought needs to invoke the feelings you want. Is it motivation, determination, confidence, excitement, calm? How do you need to feel to drive the actions you want to take? Find one key positive thought that feels genuinely good to you and practice it throughout each day.
- Track your daily wins. Especially the small ones. Helping your brain acknowledge that small successes are relevant to your long-term goals makes it more likely that you’ll be consistent. Because small steps lead to big results.
It’s okay – and totally normal – to feel negative. Like, when you don’t follow through on your healthy habits you probably want to feel disappointed. But don’t wallow in disappointment. Use these three techniques to move from negative to positive in a way that really works for you.
Hey, want to watch my video on how to change from a negative to positive mindset? You can watch it at my Facebook Group, here.