Here’s the truth: Human beings are naturally negative. When you’re driving down the freeway and there’s a wreck, people will sit in a long line complaining about the people up ahead who are rubbernecking to get a look—but when those complainers get up there, they’re the ones doing the rubbernecking.
We used to have a dog named Izzy that we got from the pound. Izzy was a good dog, but he was an escape artist. Once he got out, there was no getting him back. He’d be gone for a while. I live on a 50-acre farm that backs up to a 400-acre dairy farm, and he would always run there and wallow in the smelliest, messiest stuff he could find—as anyone who’s ever lived in the country with a dog knows they are wont to do if they have the opportunity. When Izzy would come back, I’d have to put a clothespin on my nose to bathe him.
How to reduce negative thoughts
Humans are that way, too. I don’t know why, but negative gossip, sensational stories—that’s what people are attracted to. The first thing you need to understand about negativity is that you’re fighting against an ingrained habit, and you’ve got to fight it consistently if you want to win. Here are some ways to reduce negative thoughts:
1. Take control of what goes on in your brain.
When you wake up in the middle of the night feeling worried about something, you’ve got to wrestle back control of your thoughts and turn them around. Read something positive. Speak well about yourself and your circumstances. Fertilize the positive and weed out the negative self-talk.
2. Harness the power of association.
You’ve got to surround yourself with uplifting, positive people, because you are going to think like the people you’re around the most. If you’re spending your whole life around negative, sour, cynical people, guess what? You’re going to become negative, sour and cynical. If you want to reduce those negative thoughts, spend time with people who build you up.
3. Start right now being happy.
Life is short. If you’re waiting on circumstances to make you happy, you’ll always be disappointed. If you’re waiting to have plenty of money, get married or get the kids out of the house, you’re fooling yourself.
Just remember—the same circumstance you were all balled up and worried about five or 10 years ago, you probably can’t even remember now. I’m not saying there aren’t tragedies in life that take us out for a while, but those circumstances aren’t what many of us are dealing with. When I think about the happiest time in my adult life, it was when I was in my 30s. My kids were 2½ and 4 years old. They were so sweet at that age. My mom and dad were both healthy. I lived in a nice little house with a garden in the backyard. It was just an incredibly joyful time in my life.
I didn’t have much money. I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now, financially. It was tough living on one salary, and I’m sure I was worried about all kinds of things. But as I look back, I just remember being so happy. Life was great. My happiness had nothing to do with whether I could afford a nice car or jet off to Paris.
You’ve got to work on the realization that 90% of the stuff you worry about right now would be insignificant if you found out tomorrow was your last day on Earth. As long as I’m working to make a positive difference in the world, I’m happy. And you can be, too.
4. Act the way you want to feel and you’ll reduce negative thoughts.
You might be thinking, I’m just not that happy-go-lucky kind of a person. That’s fine. Just act like it for a while. I once had a pastor who said, “Act the way you want to feel and soon you’ll feel the way you act.” Give reprogramming yourself a try. Smile. Say nice things to other people. Even if you’re dealing with a horrible situation, you’ll be more successful in that battle if you’re positive. Get some objectivity about how big your problems really are in relation to the big picture. Then smile until you actually feel like smiling.
The most important thing you can do to reduce negative thoughts is recognize when you’re giving in to negativity. If you pay attention, you can work on yourself, change your self-talk, surround yourself with supportive people and let situations go rather than dwelling on them. Over time, your health, work and relationships will grow more positive.
This article was published in November 2016 and has been updated. Photo by shurkin_son/Shutterstock