Occasionally, we take a negative view of ourselves. The problem of having a negative self image-holds countless people back from achieving their full potential. If we aren’t careful, these negative thoughts can become a three-pronged pattern (known as the negative cognitive triad), that can lead to anxiety and depression. Control your mindset, and you can control your future.
Negative Thought Patterns
It happens to all of us. Sometimes we have negative thoughts about ourselves. It’s how we react to these thoughts—how we defeat these negative patterns—that determines our success. We have to make a conscious effort to avoid negative thought patterns, and break out of them when we feel them starting.
The Negative Cognitive Triad
There is a common phenomenon in psychology referred to as the Negative Cognitive Triad, or Beck’s Cognitive Triad, that describes how humans fall into patterns of catastrophic thinking. The process can be simplified down to this recurring thought pattern: “there are problems in my world (that are holding me back), these problems will persist in the future (or get worse), and these problems are caused by my shortcomings (which I can’t solve).” Often, it’s much more complex than this, with specific examples and justifications seemingly proving this thought pattern right. Our minds can actually trick and convince us that these things are true, if we aren’t careful.
When not checked, these thought patterns can manifest as debilitating stress, anxiety, and depression. These patterns generally crop up in response to a stressful event, when you are most vulnerable to falling into the cycle.
Beck’s research on negative thinking patterns in the 1970’s was groundbreaking, and many people today still don’t understand its implications. Beck’s research showed that these negative thought patterns are actually errors or distortions in an otherwise realistic worldview. These thoughts are simply untrue—and logically, we can see that. Falling into the negative cognitive triad forces your mind to abandon that logic, and process information in a different way. These distortions make it very difficult for a person to make a realistic judgement about their own experiences.
Your mind will actively avoid positive feedback, or distort it to the point that you don’t believe it or can’t trust it. The anxiety caused by this cognitive dissonance only adds to the uncomfortable feeling.
Avoiding Negative Thought Patterns
I’ve worked with individuals who have had repetitive issues with this, as well as others who have had this issue hit them out of the blue, or as a reaction to a stressful or traumatic event. Getting stuck in a negative rut can happen for a number of reasons, but no matter the cause, it is important to keep your mindset in focus, and keep making progress towards positivity.
As soon as you start to notice your morale sinking, and that negative voice cropping up in your head, make a conscious choice for positivity. Too often, we let these patterns go on until they start manifesting in other ways. We all handle stress differently, but generally, excessive stress is not healthy, or helpful to your career. Control your mindset before it starts controlling you.
One Step at a Time
In these times of our lives, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. One step at a time towards a more positive outlook is all it takes. Start by turning your negative thoughts around at their core. There are great things in your life, and great things about yourself that you should be focusing on, and building. Give yourself some credit!
Identify the seed that has caused these thoughts. Is it an event at work? Something that was said or overheard? Approach the issue with a growth-mindset. How can we treat this as an opportunity? If this is a repetitive situation, you will eventually need to find a solution to the underlying problem. Step one in finding that solution, is identifying the true source of the problem.
Once you’ve identified your underlying problem, you need to change the dialogue that you have with yourself. Even if the underlying problem is something inside yourself—a lack of skills or knowledge—it’s time to accept that no one is perfect, and everyone is capable of growth. Change the conversation in your head, until you realise that these “problems” are actually opportunities for you to show what you’re capable of, and for you to gain more marketable skills.
In addition to changing your thought pattern, you also need to break out of your physical and psychological funk! Be sure that you are taking care of yourself in healthy, productive ways. Here are some tactics that have helped my clients to find the positive side of their lives when they’re feeling low:
Exercise is proven to release endorphins, boost mood, and provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Sleep is a huge factor in our overall health and well-being—and one of the first things that goes out the window when we are stressed. Prioritise a good night of sleep, and do what you need to do to get a sufficient amount.
As with sleep, when we are stressed, we tend towards unhealthy eating habits. The quick and easy option might seem the best bet when you’re rushed and under pressure, but I encourage you to take the time to find something healthy and sustaining to fuel you through the day.
Meditation and mindfulness
Take some time out of each day to reflect. This doesn’t have to be an intense “meditation session,” it could be as simple as spending an extra 90 seconds in the shower to think over what you’ve learned in the past day.
Try something new!
Many of my clients have found that if they focus their attention on a new hobby, or a new skill they want to learn, they are re-energised to tackle something they might have been nervous of before.
Either with a licensed therapist or just a good friend, many people begin to feel better just by describing what’s happening. Sometimes we hear our own descriptions and realise that we might be treating ourselves unfairly.
Everyone has had problems with negative self-image. Negative thoughts are a natural part of life. What makes a difference is how we react when we feel these negative thoughts becoming a pattern. Be proactive about your mindset, and practice acts of positivity every day. Whichever you practice—negative thought patterns, or positive self-talk—will be that at which you excel.
Get in touch today and conquer your negative thought patterns before they get the best of you.