In his book How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook, Lee Crutchley includes many valuable prompts. In one prompt he suggests listing 10 negative thoughts on one page, and then giving the thoughts a more positive spin on the opposite page.
Crutchley gives the example of turning “I hate being alone” to “I’d like to meet new people.”
This is an important revision, because the second thought leads to taking positive action. It gives you a hopeful perspective. It reminds you that you can do something healthy. It empowers you. The negative thought, as is, keeps you stuck.
That doesn’t mean that the negative thought is bad. In fact, it’s actually helpful information. It’s important to know that you don’t like being alone. But, again, left as is, the negative thought sinks your mood and keeps you in a negative space. Reframing it gives you a sense of direction. It helps you figure out the next (positive) step you’d like to take.
Below are other examples of turning negative thoughts into more positive ones, which then guide you to taking helpful actions.
- “I hate my body” to “I’d like to feel more comfortable in my own skin.” I’ll start by trying these activities, or practicing these meditations …
- “I hate exercise” to “I’d like to find ways to move my body that actually feel like fun, not like a chore or punishment; ways that give me energy and bring calm.” Let me research some fun activities… Let me see what physical activities might energize me … Let me see which activities might relax me …
- “I’m so stupid” to “I’d like to learn more about that topic” or “I made a mistake. I’d like to learn more about how to correct it.” I’ll look into reading more about … I’d like to practice this skill every day, which I’ll do by …
- “I hate my job” to “I’d like to enjoy work more than I do right now.” I could try to change my attitude and perspective. I could talk to my supervisor about certain changes, which would make things better. Or I could look for another position at a place that has X, Y and Z.
- “I’m a horrible anxious mess” to “I’d really like to work on my anxiety and feel better. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed lately.” Maybe the overwhelm is from having too much on my plate. Maybe I can ask for help with these tasks. Maybe I can find ways to relax my body and calm my mind. Maybe I can set up a few sessions with a therapist to explore what’s going on and get some guidance.
Today or this weekend take some time to identify the negative thoughts that commonly swirl in your mind. Write them down, one by one. Then give each thought a more positive spin. This isn’t about being in denial or being absurdly positive (i.e., “Everything is great!!!” when it really isn’t great at all).
Instead, it’s about acknowledging how you’re feeling (e.g., “I feel really stupid”). It’s about being honest with yourself (e.g., “Feeling stupid doesn’t mean I am stupid”). And it’s about thinking in helpful, constructive (versus destructive) ways (e.g., “I just don’t understand how this works” or “I simply need more help in this area, which I’ll ask for” or “I just need more practice” or “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m no exception. Let’s see how I can fix this”).
Negative thoughts can be informative. But by themselves they don’t move us forward. Rather, they make us feel like there’s nothing we can do. Which isn’t true. Because you can always take healthy, helpful action.
Negative thoughts also can make us feel terrible about ourselves, and, again, like we’re doomed to feel miserable forever. They can give us a very narrow and distorted view of life, our concerns and our circumstances. A view that simply isn’t true.
Putting a positive spin on a thought helps us see the possibility that really does exist. It helps us make improvements and positive changes. It helps us learn, explore and examine. It acts as an open door, an opportunity, an invitation. We can take a step, and walk right in.
What negative thoughts commonly come to mind? How can you make more positive revisions to these thoughts? What actions can you then take to support you?