The Antidote for Negative Thinking

Last week I shared a post about how to reframe your failures as a series of small wins. I want to continue that thought and share a really cool thing I’ve been doing lately that I’ve found to very helpful.

I recently came across an idea about how you can use statements of gratitude as an antidote for negative thinking. I thought it sounded interesting, gave it a shot and it’s been working very well.

*I would attribute the original article but I can’t remember where I saw it.

Negative Thinking

Like many people I have been plagued by a steady stream of negative thoughts from the time I was a little boy. The thoughts seem to come the most after something bad happens, or after I try something and fail at it.

For example, I recently lost some serious money while testing a campaign – my head said “Oh my God I lost so much money on this campaign, I must be an idiot!”.

It also comes in much lighter doses on a daily basis. For example “WTF! I only got X number of comments on this blog post! I guess no one cares…” or “My phone won’t stop! Everyone is driving me crazy!

All of these things are pretty simple situations that are going to happen over and over again throughout my life.

  • The phone will always ring
  • Some blog posts won’t be as popular as others
  • I’ll always lose money on new campaigns

So if I’m going to have to deal with all these things in the future, can I deal with them in a better way?

Two Statements in One

If you notice the way that these statements are phrased, they are actually two statements in one.

  1. There’s the first part, which deals with reality
  2. And a second part which is personal, negative and completely untrue.

realityvssomething Part 1: “Oh my God I lost so much money on this campaign!” (True)
Part 2: “I must be an idiot!” (Untrue)

Part 1: “WTF! I only got X number of comments on this blog post!” (True)
Part 2: “I guess no one cares…” (Untrue)

Part 1: “My phone won’t stop ringing!” (True)
Part 2: “Everyone is driving me crazy!” (Untrue)

In every instance the statement of reality is followed by some horrible thought about myself, other people or about life in general. This pattern turns a pretty common problem, like a ringing telephone into the end of the world.

What’s even worse is – it makes it feel like a personal defeat.

You can’t change the first part (reality) so why not work on the second part (the part you make up)? What would happen if you “tweak” the second half of the thought and add a statement of Gratitude? How different would that feel?

The Switch

Let’s look at the first example above about losing money on a campaign (an all too real problem that happens from time to time). What happens when we take the thought that is based in reality and end it with a statement of Gratitude?

Part 1: “Oh my God I lost so much money on this campaign!”
Part 2: “But I’m thankful that I work for myself and not someone else.

Woah. Huge difference right?

I’ve been doing this for a little while now and it completely changes the way I feel about my setbacks and failures.

Let’s look at the second statement:

Part 1: “WTF! I only got X number of comments on this blog post!”
Part 2: “But I’m glad that I hit my goal of two posts this week.”

And again with the phone:

Part 1: “My phone won’t stop ringing!”
Part 2: “But I’m glad I have people in my life that care and want to talk to me.

negative thoughts and gratitude statements
Statement of Gratitude taking over a bad thought

Adding a simple statement of Gratitude to the end of a negative thought cancels out the bad thing completely. As you say the statement of Gratitude in your mind you can feel the negative thought disappear.

Gratitude: A Scientific Theory

At Cornell and the University of Michigan, scientists are investigating the far reaching effects of Gratitude practiced regularly, like exercise.

Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas did a well documented study using three groups of people:

“The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day… the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences, and the last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy.

Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved.

McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another… McCullough suggests that anyone can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects just from counting their blessings.”

Every Day Examples and How To Begin

Here are a few more examples of appending good thoughts to the end of bad ones to turn every day problems into moments of Gratitude.

Part 1: “I didn’t lose any weight this week!”
Part 2: “But I’m glad I’m learning how diet and fitness works

Part 1: “Dammit my Grandpa died!”
Part 2: “But I’m glad we had such a good time together last summer.

Part 1: “I haven’t made any money online yet!”
Part 2: “But I’m glad I’m learning to work for myself

Perception Creates Reality

Adding a statement of Gratitude to the end of your negative thoughts about experiences in your life isn’t magic. It won’t change the fact that you didn’t lose weight or bring your Grandpa back to life.

What it does is change the way you feel about the situation and life in general. And as I’m learning more and more your perception creates your reality.

  • If you perceive that your life is ruined because you didn’t lose weight this week, then your life will be ruined.
  • If you feel good about continuing the learning process, weight loss or not, you’re going to feel good.

It’s up to you.

Take some time and think about it. What situation have you had recently that could be turned around by adding a statement of Gratitude to the end of it? Try it in your mind right now.

When you get done – let me know how it feels.

  • Reid Yamamoto

    I came to your blog for the CPA tips, but your mindset posts are pure gold. I like that you give us specific, actionable steps we can follow and apply in our lives.

    • Malan Darras

      Thanks Reid,
      it means a lot when people acknowledge the posts that don’t teach how to make $$$. The truth is there are so many other aspects to life. And all the money in the world won’t fix them. so thanks again.

  • Tom

    Love this, Malan. And looking forward to hearing you at the A4D event Saturday.

    • Malan Darras

      great Tom. see you tomorrow

  • Ting

    Great post. I can attest to this.. Used to be a very negative and depress person.. and then I discovered the power of Gratitude.. Totally changed my life. I used to do a list of 10things to be grateful for everyday. Even on bad days, i can be crying and be thankful for having eyes to cry.. haha. and I try to tell at least one person about one thing I’m thankful for when I have the chance everyday.

    Time to focus on Gratitude again. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      your welcome Ting and thanks for sharing your story. use the technique – it’s a big help for me.

  • birdwell

    I’m Guilty of this, but glad I change part 2… 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      we’re all guilty – but now we can do something about it 🙂

  • Debra

    Lots of people want to come over to swim today……initial response: I get nervous when people want to come over, they might stay too long, I’m too busy or tired.
    Grateful response: I’m glad I gave a pool to share, I’m thankful to get to know these people better, grateful for the company.
    Result: it was a long day, but felt good and I made a new friend.

    • Malan Darras

      perfect use of the system. it works every time. it’s really powerful

  • kNk

    Afrer reading your posts, I think you should pen a book. I am sure it will hit the new york times best seller list.

    BTW, your writing is superb. Can you recomend a few resources(like books, articles) to improve writing.

    • Malan Darras

      i’ve never read books on writing. all i’m doing is continuously writing twice per week. If the writing is getting better, it’s probably gonna be due to the repetitive practicing.

  • Paul Gray

    This is exactly what we have seen British Cycling doing with their athletes. Dr Steven Peters was instrumental in helping athletes reposition their negative experiences into positive ones. As you have highlighted, shit happens – it’s the attitude we have when we get back on the horse (or bike in the case of British Cycling) that counts.

    Another quality post!

    • Malan Darras

      thanks Paul, yeah it seems the attitude you take after shit happens, can actually dictate your reality of the situation. it’s magic like that

  • adler

    This is great article! The only thing is, I don’t know what to be grateful for. I can always say “well at least I’m alive/healthy” but sadly, that gets old quite quickly. Tips?

    • Malan Darras

      i can’t really answer that one for you adler. post an example you can’t think of here and maybe we can figure it out.

  • Kat

    I’m grateful for your weekly posts! Kat

    • Malan Darras

      thanks for reading Kat.

  • CZ_Voyager

    Thanks, Malan!

    I’ve been into a lot of problems recently and started going back into negative thinking again. Even though everything seems to be going wrong there are still a lot of things I can be grateful for!

    • Malan Darras

      right on CZ

  • Trung

    Hey Malan, i think this is called Affirmations. I try and think in the same way when things get tough….