Why You’re Plagued By Negative Thoughts
Before booking a hotel, most people look through reviews on booking.com and Trip Advisor. They’ll check the star rating, read comments, and most likely check through photos. Flipping through, I’ll squint my eyes, checking out specific food at the breakfast buffet (I do this for my husband, he loves to make his money back on those.) I’ll marvel at the view from the balconies and try to get a feel for how big the room is.
But, for almost every hotel, there is that one customer who takes pictures of a chip in the wood on the nightstand, or a speck of paint chipping off the wall around the window frame. They’ll upload at least 20 photos of every minor defect, and I can only imagine how much time and energy this took from their vacation. This is also the kind of person who asks to see the manager, expecting special treatment over a coupon that expired 2 days ago.
In the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson writes, “You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in that short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact: and if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice-well, then you’re going to get fucked.”
Our Danger Detector and Negativity Bias
There is an almond-shaped area of our brains called the amygdala, and its job is to let us know when something is dangerous. Our caveman ancestors needed to be on high alert in case a lion or bear was waiting outside or if another caveman was trying to steal their girl and move into that cave and get her to cook for him too. However, these days, your amygdala is causing you to focus on all the negative things in your environment and your life.
Not only that, but human beings are also plagued by what is called negativity bias. This means that negative things like traumatic events, hurtful comments from your mother or the barista at Starbucks rolling his eyes at you will stick in your mind like double-sided tape, whereas someone complimenting your hair is more likely to be forgotten.
Our Perceptions Can Be Way Off
Let’s say you’re on a Tinder date and things are going great. You’ve ignored that just in case, “I had a fake car accident” phone call from your friend, you’re looking into each other’s eyes and the sexual tension could be cut with a fork (you don’t need a knife, it’s just that strong.) But, you make a comment about your friend getting engaged and suddenly your date breaks eye contact, looks around nervously, and runs to the bathroom.
Your thoughts start racing a mile a second, and you begin cursing your big mouth, absolutely sure you’ve scared them off and a little upset that the idea of commitment freaks them out so much. All the while, your date is in the bathroom with explosive diarrhea because they’re lactose intolerant but just couldn’t pass up that cream puff for dessert.
You’ll leave that date thinking only of the 3 second window when the person across the table looked nervous and forget about the fantastic conversation you just had. Your assumption about why they looked all shifty and weird was way off.
Our brains are hit by a double wammy of negativity and this can make day to day life hard to cope with unless we take conscious action to control our thoughts.
As Wayne Dyer so famously put it, “Change your thoughts, change your life.”
How can you overcome negative thinking?
1. Consciously look for the good in every situation, and person (including yourself)
As human beings we are extremely judgmental about everyone around us and ourselves. What is the first thing you do when you look in the mirror? I’m guessing you zero in on that zit on your nose or the extra skin on your stomach rather than appreciating how great your hair looks.
2. Practice gratitude
You’re probably rolling your eyes, because this is always the go-to advice for every problem we have in life, but when we think in a negative frame of mind, we forget about all the blessings we already have.
3. Every night, think of at least one great thing that happened that day
Because of our negativity bias, our brain stores negative events much easier than positive. When something good happens, you’ll need to replay it in your memory multiple times to make sure it sticks.
While our brains are wired to look for negative things or see events in a negative light, with conscious practice you can change your thoughts and see the world in a brighter light.