Have you ever considered whether you are a negativity magnet? Do you only focus on what isn’t going well? Seeing life through a negative mental filter is a major error that many people make. This happens when we overlook all the good things that are happening and get sucked into a victim mentality of “poor me, it’s not fair”.
It’s a recipe for disaster and will often result in stress and anxiety as well as a lower quality of life. Evolutionary Psychologists state that we are cognitively wired to detect threat and as a result it’s the way we are made that leads to a negative mental filter. Some people though tend to be far more cautious and ‘wired’ in a way that leaves them miserable and pessimistic. Being negatively wired can be overcome and here are a few tips on how to do this.
How to counteract the negative mental filter
It’s important to focus on the good stuff. Start a gratitude journal and write in it every day. Notice things during the day that made you smile. It could be something small – bird song, a stranger smiling at you or fun with friends. Sometimes you literally need to force yourself to look for the good things.
When you catch yourself spiralling downwards and catastrophising, remind yourself that you are living out the worst case scenarios in your head. Thoughts aren’t facts and they may never happen in reality.
When we feel stressed we tend to focus on how overwhelmed we feel and we oly make ourselves feel worse. Think about – we are often our own worst enemies. Stop the unhelpful behaviour! What’s the point of catastrophising when it may never happen? Why would you want to focus on the thoughts that drag you down – seems like unadulterated mental torture to me.
Figure out what your real worries are (current – such as losing your car keys or your partner dumping you) and what are hypothetical (What if…type worries) worries that might happen but then again, might not.
A real worry – you have been fired and need to find another job
Hypothetical worry – you feel incompetent at work and worry that you might be fired.
Focus on real worries and LET GO of what you can’t control in the here and now. Learn to accept what you can’t change.
Use this worry tree to help:
Confirmation bias causes us to focus more on certain things than others. For example – if you think that all dogs are dangerous, without realising it, you will focus more on information around you that confirms this belief. You will be more likely to focus on a story in the news of a dog that has bitten someone than to notice a story about a sweet dog that saved someone’s life. We all possess cognitive bias and a way to work around this is to be aware of it and make an effort to look for the opposite of what you tend to believe. The same goes for negativitiy – make an effort to look for positive stories of kindness and care in the world. Look for examples of positivity, inspiring stories that make you feel good.
It takes effort but it’s important to constantly be aware of your “mental diet” (the thoughts in your head that you ‘buy into’ and belief as the truth) and to pick out the thoughts that imporve your mood and that are helpful rather than the thoughts that promote self criticism, fear and anxiety.
Life isn’t all negative, it’s about a balance. You have the choice to focus on the happier more uplifting things around you and you can learn to dismiss the negatives and allow them to have far less head space.