We would like to think that our brains have our best interests in mind. After all, this spongy mass of fat and protein is a part of our body. If the body is put in danger, then the brain will also feel the effects of bad situations. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between what the mind considers as essential and what human beings crave. For the brain, survival matters at all costs, even if it will sacrifice the happiness of the host.
Jumping to conclusions, hyper-focusing on bad experiences, choosing the path of least resistance, and the list goes on. The mind is hardwired with a bias for the negativity that may have helped ancient humans survive in a harsh environment but has debilitating effects in the modern world. It thinks about the worst-case scenario even if the truth is not reflected in reality.
Doctor Karen Lawson from the University of Minnesota outlines the dangers of negative thinking to one’s health. The chronic stress coming from those feelings can upset the body’s hormone balance, damage the immune system, and increasing one’s risk to a variety of health conditions. It is vital then to overcome this negative filter for the good of one’s well-being. The first step to do that is by becoming aware of how your brain thinks. Are you guilty of these four common negative thinking patterns?
Everything is a disaster for the person prone to catastrophizing. They expect something horrible to happen even if reality says otherwise. When a person hears about a problem, they immediately go into worst-case scenario mode, coming up with a list of tragedies they can experience. For example, you might amplify the effects of a simple mistake, like forgetting to schedule the installation of central air conditioning after your mom’s reminders. You’ll think that your mom will hate you and never ask you to be responsible again, even if that is not the case.
It’s either perfection or failure for polarized thinkers; there’s no in-between. This kind of thinking places the world in either black or white and either situation. Having constant thoughts of “It should always be perfect or else” and “If I can’t do this, then I can’t do anything right.” only serves to compromise one’s success. The world is full of gray areas, and reaching one’s goals is a slow process of steps and not a giant leap to the finish line.
Personalization happens when a person thinks that everything other people do or say is a direct reaction to their lives. They take all things personally, becoming sensitive to a change in tone of voice, attitude, or decisions even if it is not related to them. People like this also see themselves as the cause of an external event they couldn’t have controlled or been responsible for. For example, they will think that the party was horrible because they didn’t bring enough chips and dips for the potluck.
Should haves, would haves, and could haves
People with this thinking take the quote, “Hindsight is 20/20” too seriously. They beat themselves up by alternate versions of the past they have no longer control over. Should statements also serve as their bible about how every person should conduct themselves, getting angry if they are not followed. Putting a premium on these statements only serves to highlight feelings of guilt, anxiety, and resentment.
Recognizing one’s negative thinking patterns can help a person find ways to combat them. This awareness is key to rewiring the brain’s bad habits that were passed down from a world that doesn’t exist anymore.