“I was going to buy a copy of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and then I thought: what good would that do?” – Ronnie Shakes
What is Negative Thinking?
Thoughts bombard us all day long like the steady stream of uninteresting commercial messages on AM radio. Almost all radio spots are just noise, irrelevant and unimportant. The same is true with our own thoughts. A few of these thoughts are prompts for action, interesting points to be pondered, and encouraging messages to heed. But most are not. Most of what whirls through the busy, active mind is a smattering of demotivating, distracting, and unnecessary thoughts. Finding a positive thought for some people seems as difficult as trying to buy a few vegetables in a candy store. In the nervous and apprehensive mind there lies a huge array, an almost limitless variety, of undesirable thoughts.
The Hinge Pin
But of all the countless negative thoughts, there is one that I want to warn you about. This thought, when activated, poisons the mind, blocks your insight, and erodes common sense. It’s insidious power corrupts good judgement and brutally assassinates hope. Here it is: “positive thinking won’t work for me.” This sweeping negativity kills forward progress and keeps you stuck and locked in misery. It allows thinking like why bother getting out, getting up, or trying again: that wouldn’t work either. This is the kung fu master of all negativity. It is seductively simple, yet devastatingly powerful. It must be remedied.
Why it’s so Destructive
Negative thinking saps your creativity and reduces your motivation. It can be devastating to recovery and is common in substance use and mental health disorders. Pessimism drives hopelessness. “I’m never going to get better, I can never catch a break, and no one understands me.” Additionally, negative thinking also inhibits constructive actions. Hopelessness is a feeling, and helplessness is the action (or non-action) that comes out of the feeling of hopelessness. This negative line of thinking can also be contagious. It always seemed odd to me that health is not contagious. If you want to stay healthy you would have to do several health-related activities consistently. Getting sick is easier. Illness is contagious. Just hang around sick people for a while and you’re bound to end up infected. Similarly, pessimistic people pull others down and infect positive people with negativity.
Difficult to Decode
Most negative thoughts are thinly disguised concerns and kindhearted sounding apprehensions. At first glance, these thoughts appear protective and helpful, as though no one would fail to heed their warning. “Sit down, before you fall down.” “You’re skating on thin ice.” You’re just asking for trouble.” But behind the illusion of caution is something more sinister: You’re going to fall down, fall through the ice, and land in big trouble; you’re stupid and incapable of doing anything right. Once you buy the lie, negativity seems to harden quickly, like fast setting cement. The clever mind then accepts the lie as truth and stubbornly refuses to surrender its misperception.
Scan for Positives
There is a way to identify the lie and escape its grasp. Learn to scan for positives, ignore and dismiss the negatives. Thoughts entering your mind are both positive and negative. You could also make a case for neutral as well. These thoughts pile up by the bushel and must be sorted. The other day, in the grocery store, I bought 5 pears. Before me, in the store was a waist high display that contained several hundred pears. I picked five. Now, I saw over two hundred, looked at twenty, and selected a few. Thoughts, too, must be sorted. Negative thoughts can be identified, and either challenged or just ignored. Most of the pears in the pile received no attention whatsoever. Find the few appealing positive thoughts in the pile and act on them. You can quickly ignore the negative and focus your attention on the positive. Nurture those thoughts and choose to dwell on them; with growing self-confidence, turn them into actions that will strengthen your recovery.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!