Most people know that negative thinking isn’t doing them any favors on the happiness front. However, fewer people realize that the patterns of their thinking, when habitually negative, could make them sick.

In an article for UCL News, Dr. Natalie Marchant discusses her research on the link between cognitive decline and negative thinking. She reveals that depression, anxiety, and PTSD are all risk factors for developing dementia. Furthermore, she notes that common to each of these conditions is a pattern of engaging in “Repetitive Negative Thinking.”*

You are not your negative thoughts!

The mechanism by which negative thinking causes physical harm to the body is thought to be through inducing stress which raises blood pressure and cortisol levels, among other less understood impacts. Fortunately, there are ways to break out of patterns and create new, healthier ones. The following six methods are a good place to start.


1.      Tune in

The first step in making any change is identifying what isn’t working. Until you do that, it’s woefully difficult to know where to begin. It helps to start by creating a habit of reflecting on the nature of your self-talk—the dialogue in your head that narrates what you’re doing and often has a value judgment attached to it.

At first, just identify patterns, note them, and reflect on how they make you feel. The more persistent the thoughts are, the more attention they should receive. If they’re both frequent and leave you feeling rotten, you’ve just identified a weed that needs pulling.

Once you establish that fact, you can begin incorporating a replacement positive thought each time the negative one emerges. Make it incremental and realistic. You cannot jump from frustration to pure joy in one giant leap. For example, if you habitually think, “I’m such an idiot!” It might not work to replace that thought with, “I’m such a genius!”

Your mind may convert that to sarcasm, undermining your effort. Instead, try something like, “I’m a work in progress.”  This is a true statement of any of us and promotes efficacy.

 Take Care

A simple way to improve the nature of your thoughts is to be mindful of how you’re treating yourself. If you eat low-quality food, don’t exercise, and get lousy sleep, your body and mind will not function at their best. In addition, those behaviors send the subconscious message that you do not value yourself. That alone can be the wellspring of negative thinking.

So, eat a balanced diet of the freshest, highest quality food you can get, prioritize moving every day, and get serious about your sleep hygiene. Do those three things, and your thoughts naturally turn in the right direction.

2.     Prioritize Relationships

The Blue Zone studies, which track some of the healthiest and longest-lived people globally, revealed nine consistent behaviors. Of those nine, four of them are related to relationships. These are moderate consumption of wine with friends, a shared faith-based community, prioritizing family, and a consistent long-term friend group.**

There is abundant additional evidence to support the value of forming and sustaining healthy relationships, but the simplest way to recognize the value is to try it. Connecting with others is very likely how we evolved our big brains. The more love you share, the more love you feel, perpetuating good emotions and a long life.

3.      Foster Gratitude

When negative thoughts start pounding in your head, pause and redirect. Think of one to three things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expansive, but it can be. You might start with being grateful that you woke up. From there, you had a bowel movement, that you could eat breakfast, that nobody is shooting at you, that someone loves you, etc.

The point is to start paying attention to things that are going right for you and acknowledging them. This creates a habit of seeing the good and can help crowd out the bad. In life, I have noticed that you get what you focus on.

4.      Be More Kind

This can begin with being nicer to yourself. However, it should extend to others as well. Few things get you out of your head faster than thinking about another being. Doing something thoughtful for someone is a way to promote surges of good chemicals (oxytocin, dopamine) and add value to your day.

Even little things—a call, a text, opening a door, rescuing a bird, watering a plant, asking an employee at your favorite grocery store about their day (and listening)—can all make a difference. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Also, it has the added benefit of making other people nicer to you. Try it; you’ll see. Can you do three acts of kindness each day? Make one of them for yourself.

5.     Don’t Take Things For Granted

You might not realize it, but ruminating on the past and worrying about the future are ways of getting outside of where you are. The more time you spend outside of the moment, the more likely you are to ignore what actually matters and what needs your attention in the here and now.

Life is fleeting, and we’re only here for a flash. Impermanence is something that we’d do our best not to forget. It’s not about morbidly pondering death but rather embracing each moment, living fully, and leaving nothing to regret. Live your life in the now and like you love to live, and it will love you back.



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