The secret to stopping negative thoughts
Are you your own biggest critic? Here, a couple of expert techniques that will help you to stop negative thoughts before they sabotage you (and your love life).
“I’m not good enough.”
“He/she won’t like me.”
“I’ve been hurt before. Will it happen again?”
“How do I know I’m even lovable?”
“I can’t do this.”
Do any of these thoughts look familiar? If they do, you’re not alone. Negative thinking is a pattern that so many of us slip into, often without realising it, and it can seriously impact our chances of finding contentment in life, love and relationships. But you can learn to overcome negative thoughts and the cycle of self-doubt they can lead to.
The first step is to understand where they come from in the first place. “Our brains are hard-wired to focus on negative things,” explains psychologist and relationship expert Melanie Schilling. “From an evolutionary perspective, our primitive cousins needed to be hyper-aware of threats and risks in their environment in order to survive and continue the species. Thus, our brains developed over time to be highly attuned to threats and negative stimuli in our world. This means that as modern humans, we are naturally inclined to look for negative cues and are biased toward the dark side.”
And when you’re putting yourself out there in the dating world, this negative thinking can become amplified to 11. “There’s a lot of pressure now to be responsive and make decisions really quickly,” says relationship counsellor Clinton Power. “If you’ve messaged someone and they don’t reply within six or even 12 hours, you start thinking the worst.” You might also have issues with self-esteem to begin with — especially if you were hurt in your last relationship or you’re re-entering the dating world for the first time in years and feel very unsure of how this new way of meeting people works.
Okay, that’s the bad part. The good news is that you can turn that negative thinking around. You can reclaim your sense of self-worth and reprogram yourself to look on the bright side.
Here are our expert tips for dealing with negative thoughts and learning how to think, feel and act in a positive way:
Accept your past
“Remember that your experiences have formed part of who you are today,” advises Schilling. “Look back and then decide what you need to learn. Write down all the things you have learned from your past relationships, and the things you will do differently in the future as a result of these experiences. It might be hard, but find a way to express gratitude for the lessons, despite the heartache. Read your list a few times and commit it to memory, and then destroy it. By doing this, you are symbolically clearing the space and moving your past relationships out of the way for new thoughts, feelings and ideas to come to the surface.”
Remember that you are not your thoughts
“You experience your thoughts like you experience your dreams,” notes relationship psychologist Toby Green, aka the 60 Second Shrink. “The more you resist your emotions and thoughts, the more they persist. So when those negative thoughts occur, stop and say to yourself, ‘This is the way I feel right now. I give myself permission to feel/think this way because I know it won’t stay this way.’ This acknowledgement allows you to detach yourself from the thoughts and feelings. They’re just a temporary state of mind and will move and change.”
Reframe your thinking
“Decide on the self-talk that will serve you in your dating life,” says Schilling. “Develop your own set of dating affirmations so that when negative thoughts come up – such as ‘all men cheat’ or ‘all women lie’ – replace that thought with something positive, such as ‘I am ready for love and have so much to offer my next partner’. Write your affirmation down and place it somewhere prominent – make it your screensaver or set it as a pop-up reminder on your device – so it becomes a part of your everyday thinking pattern.”
Challenge your negative beliefs
Just because you think it’s true doesn’t make it so. “A lot of negative thinking is purely irrational, so one way to deal with it is to write those thoughts down,” recommends Power. “When you externalise them, then you can start to challenge them and bring in some rational thinking. Ask yourself, ‘Is that true? Where is the evidence? Do I have proof of that?’” This will open the door to a clearer – and potentially more positive – perspective.
Get a little help from your friends
If you have a tendency to default to negative thinking the majority of the time, you really need to do some work on yourself before you even think of entering the dating arena. “Therapy is one option,” Power suggests. “But you might also try this exercise. Contact half a dozen or so close friends and family members and ask them to send back a message in response to the question, ‘What do you like or appreciate about me?’ Most people are more than happy to do this. Then collate those responses on a piece of paper that you keep in your wallet or stick to your bathroom mirror. Three times a day, look at those compliments and really take them in. By doing this, you’ll start to internalise and actually embody all the lovely things that other people appreciate about you. And any time you’re feeling down and low, you can go back to them.”
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