It’s official: positive vibes not only feel great but serve an inherent evolutionary function. Following a landmark 2011 study, a team of psychologists concluded the following:
“Positive emotions feel good, and feelings like love, joy, and contentment can be valuable in and of themselves… These desirable states built resources that gave our ancestors’ an edge in circumstances that impinged on their survival.”
We stand to gain so much from simply being happy, from engaging positively with the world around us. So why, oh why do we beat ourselves up so much with negative thoughts and self-judgment?
Behold: six common negative thought patterns, and the ways you can rationalize your way out of them.
6 Of The Most Common Negative Thoughts and How To Combat Them
1. There Isn’t Enough Time
“Life moves so fast, I can’t keep up.”
“Life is frantic and uncontrollable.”
“I have too much to do!”
Time. For some of us, there’s too much of it, for others, too little. Both situations have their positives and negatives. It’s important to remember that, if the shoe were on the other foot, you’d probably still be complaining.
Being very busy doesn’t need to be a source of stress. So long as you keep things organized and look ahead, it can feel invigorating to be making the most of life. See the positives of a busy week or month: you are pushing yourself, rising to the challenge and striving onward. Sail in for that morning meeting with gusto.
Remember that, in 99% of cases, your commitments are yours to command. Cut back or pile it on as you wish. Either way, own your calendar. There’s power to be had in this.
2. I’m Totally Inadequate
“I should be more smart/attractive/successful/rich.”
“I’m not worthy of my success/position in life.”
“I should be more like that person.”
In the same way that we inevitably dissect a photo of ourselves more than we would another’s, we also subject ourselves to obscenely high standards. You cannot be the most attractive person in the world, let alone the most attractive, moneyed, smart, and charismatic.
Cut yourself a break already. You are human. You exist on a sliding scale of achievement and personal qualities. You’ll never be the best or the worst, so just concentrate on being.
In these days of social media, it’s particularly easy to “stalk” others online. Because nobody’s going to put up Facebook photos that are unflattering or even honest, this behavior is bound to foster feelings of insecurity. Don’t fall into the trap of envying those you see engaging on the net. In fact, studies show that frequent Facebook users have lower self-esteem and higher levels of neuroticism than those who use it less.
So forget about comparing yourself to others. You never know what keeps other people awake at night – their worries and fears and insecurities. For all you know, they’re feeling worse than you.
3. The World Is An Awful Place
“The world is a brutal, uncaring place.”
“Everyone is awful except me.”
“People are the worst.”
It’s easy to catastrophize about the human race when you see an unkind comment online, have a car accident on the way to work, or get rudely shoved aside by pavement-hoggers.
Remember that people are rarely “good” or “bad.” They just have good days and worse ones, like the rest of us. Try to empathize with the person you’ve taken exception to. At the very least, refrain from letting a negative encounter taint your entire day. Recover, freshen up and move on with a smile.
If you do come across somebody you genuinely don’t care for, there is no reason on earth that you should be forced to spend time with them. Even if it’s a colleague you take exception to, quitting or moving desks is probably within your capabilities. You are the captain of your ship. Take responsibility for it.
4. I’m A Humongous Failure
“I didn’t achieve x. I’m a failure/loser/pathetic.”
“I shouldn’t have done y.”
We all get those moments, late at night, lying in bed. The misdeeds of the past come flooding back. We remember in vivid detail that humiliating let-down, that embarrassing comment we made, that outrageous mistake. Sometimes, the inner monologue is so strong that it’s impossible to leave the past where it belongs.
If the sum of our past failures constituted our present selves, we would all be in a sorry state. Everyone – without exception – carries with them a long memory of missing the mark.
Here’s the newsflash: for 99% of the “embarrassing” things you’ve done nobody even cares about. Human memories are long, but only for personal issues. It is very uncommon for people to recall the failures of others, and even less for them to care.
Life goes on. Missed that promotion this time? Don’t dwell. Work towards getting it next time. Instead of recalling the “bad” things you’ve done, try to remember a good one – an occasion where you achieved something or made someone happy. You’ll feel better for it.
5. I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
“Where am I going with my life?”
“I feel like I’m getting nowhere.”
“What’s the point?”
Growing up, our lives are centered around achievements: learning to read and write, getting good grades, applying to schools and universities. But adult life – real, post-graduation life – has no clear end game. It can be disheartening to emerge from the meat grinder of education or a long-term job to discover that you don’t know what to do next week, let alone what you want to be doing in ten years.
The key to combatting listlessness is to take things one step at a time. Life is not a 100m race. It’s a marathon. Break it into chunks and deal with them one by one. Thanks to our status as three-dimensional beings moving through both time and space, the big picture will fall into place – whether you like it or not.
Relax, concentrate on the near future, and let the cosmos do its inexorable work. Things have a tendency of falling into place.
6. No One Cares About Me
“My partner/friend/family member is thoughtless and inconsiderate.”
“Nobody cares about me.”
“I am so lonely.”
Okay, first off, nobody spends all their time thinking about other people. Especially you. You could be the most selfless person in the world and you’d still be putting numero uno first. It’s natural and – in most cases – essential to the continuation of our great species.
If someone forgets to call, don’t hold it against them. They have a life to lead, and it has to come before you. Sure, there are certain things you can expect from a partner or sibling. But you aren’t entitled to people’s time or energy. It’s a gift, not a right to be demanded, and should be treated as such.
Feel neglected, rejected or otherwise estranged from someone? Seriously consider whether you’re over-reacting. Most of the time, they do care. It’s just that life happens to everyone, and it’s full of stuff to deal with.
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