Let’s face it, we all have bad habits, for some it might be smoking or eating too many of the wrong foods. Maybe even biting your fingernails or swearing too much-habits really do come in all shapes and sizes and the outcome of these habits can transcend into our lives in different ways.
Smoking for example is bad for a person’s physical health, we all know this habit is associated with cancer, heart disease and numerous other health issues-but what about the habits that affect our mental health? What about the habits that we don’t even know we have because they have a clever way of sneaking into our minds, affecting how we think-and subsequently feel about ourselves.
Thinking negatively is one of these habits. Sure, we all have negative thoughts every now and then and sporadic feelings of failure or anxiety usually pose no mental health issues but fostering these negative thoughts can produce a failure mindset and ultimately stand in the way of your ability to succeed.
Thoughts that you’re a failure, not worthy or that your life is miserable and not going anywhere is a breeding ground for stress,anxiety and depression, not to mention a catalyst for interrupted sleep or prevention of going about your day-to-day activities. Left alone, these continual negative thoughts take over a person’s mindset and their beliefs will influence their actions.
A character of negative thinking is subconsciously dictating behaviour, by listening to that inner voice that says you cannot succeed. This is behaviour driven by emotions rather than fact and is where an endless cycle of negative thoughts lead to predicted outcomes and as a result, an unhealthy negative-thinking habit is born.
Now that we know what a negative-thinking habit is and looks like, how can we break one?
Why do we have bad habits?
First off, it’s important to understand why we have bad habits in the first place. Bad habits often occur as a coping mechanism during times of stress and worry, for instance, turning to cigarettes when stressed or comfort eating when feeling sad. With that in mind, these habits become a symptom of something else.
So what is the ‘something else’? It’s important to look at the bigger picture in order to get to the bottom of what’s causing a bad habit to present itself as a symptom. Science suggests that a person experiencing negative emotions is more susceptible to the ‘habit loop’, a neurological loop that governs any habit and consists of three elements, cue, routine, reward.
Ironically, these emotions often become the cues to the habit response themselves. It makes sense when you hear of someone reaching for their cigarettes because they’ve had a stressful morning at work, or wanting a takeaway because they’re too tired to cook. Similarly too, a negative-thinking habit is often caused by stress or sleep deprivation but also due to psychological reasons such as a fear of failure and rejection.
So how can you stop the vicious cycle of a negative thinking habit?
Well, rather than focus on the negative thoughts, get to the bottom of them, find out what’s causing them and tackle them head on with the help of this simple but effective writing exercise.
First, make a list of all the situations causing you any stress or worry at the moment. Ideally do this in writing on a piece of paper. Ask yourself what is it that you are thinking so negatively about? This may seem pretty straight forward but just by simply writing down and defining what your problem is can almost immediately offer some form of release.
Now, on the other side or on another piece of paper, write out the worst possible outcomes that could happen as a result. Really consider all potential results. It could be that you might lose your job or fall out with a close friend. Already you’ll start to feel better as by writing out the worst case scenario you’re rationalising your feelings with logical reasons.
Next, settle to accept the worst case scenario should it happen. By doing this you’re taking away the threat it posed in the first place. Now, once you have settled to accept the worst, should it actually happen, you won’t have anything to dwell upon. The worry that was caused by putting off facing up to what the worst could be, no longer exists.
4. Be constructive
Finally, now that you have accepted the worst case scenario, should it happen, really look at it. Sure, the worst case scenario might be truly devastating and therefore completely rational, but it might however not actually be that bad and recognizing this can really help.
If this is the case then you must be mindful when these thoughts pass through your head. Remember, we all have negative thoughts come and go every now and then but how we respond to them is incredibly important when it comes to how they can affect us. Ask yourself, are you accepting all these negative thoughts as facts? Are you harbouring these thoughts and allowing them to cloud your mind? Rather than letting these thoughts hold you hostage, be in control and let them enter- then exit your mind.
Eliminate the fear
However, If there is real rationale behind your negative thinking then it’s still okay because you are now in a better position to think more clearly to improve upon the worst. This is because the fear of ‘what if’ that was worrying you has been acknowledged and you are now more calm and clear to focus on doing something constructive. Instead of focusing on your negative thoughts you can now replace this habit by keeping busy by doing something about your situation so you don’t even have the time for negative thoughts to distract you from your ability to succeed.
Practice new behaviours
Try doing this exercise everytime you feel you are falling into the habit of fixating on your negative thoughts, just by getting out on paper- what’s inside your head, can on its own be really powerful. Be sure that your negative thoughts are not a reality, remind yourself that you are in control and remember in order to change your bad habit you do so by practising new behaviours.