How to Avoid Negative Thoughts and Embrace Positivity

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your mind overwhelmed by negativity? Do you often find yourself slipping into negative thinking cycles, ruminating about the past, or imagining the worst-case scenarios in the future?

When you are in a negative state of mind, it’s pretty much impossible to slip out of it and attune yourself to a more positive frequency on demand. If you want to think and feel more positive, you need to make a conscious effort to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Here is how reflecting only on the facts can help you challenge your negative cognitions and see that they aren’t an accurate reflection of reality.

Practice Reflecting Only on the Facts

Your negativity is nothing to be ashamed of—you originally adopted it as a way to solve a problem or protect yourself from future failures. However, if you wish to move forward and create more success in your life, you need to challenge your negative thoughts by questioning where they stem from and whether they even have any ground in reality.

In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz argues that your negative feelings (anxiety, discomfort, lack of self-confidence) are not an indication of reality, just how you feel about reality—and those feelings are a result of your habitual thought process. That is, if you habitually think negative thoughts, you’ll often misunderstand events and draw false conclusions that keep you stuck in a negative feedback loop.

When you feel negative thoughts, feelings, or memories surface, choose to replace them with rational thoughts that encourage positive beliefs. For example, if you find yourself feeling insulted by someone’s comments, Maltz suggests that you ask the following questions:

  1. Is there a rational reason for believing that this person intends to insult you?
  2. Is it possible that you misinterpreted this person?
  3. If someone else had said the same thing, would you have assumed that they were trying to insult you?
  4. Is there a good enough reason to feel insulted? 

Similar to Maltz’s method, Byron Katie presents a process to question the rationality of the thoughts and emotions that hold you back from feeling happy and successful. Katie argues that the more you question the validity of your existing negative thoughts and behaviors, the more you free yourself from identifying with them and relying on them to protect you. Katie claims that following this process leads to inner peace and empowers you to become the person you want to be.

Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Challenge Your Negative Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people examine and challenge their uncomfortable thoughts so that they can find alternative ways to think about their triggers. The more you question the validity of your uncomfortable thoughts, the less likely you are to accept them as truth and allow them to rule your emotions.

Similar to Maltz’s method, CBT focuses on asking questions to assess the rationality of your uncomfortable thoughts and to explore other perspectives. Unlike Maltz’s general questions, CBT proposes a number of specific questions with concrete answers to help you more easily find clarity in the midst of discomfort:

Facts

  • What evidence is there to support your thoughts about this?
  • What evidence disproves or contradicts your thoughts about this?
  • Are your opinions getting in the way of the facts?

Other explanations

  • Can you think about this differently?
  • Is your mood impacting the way you’re thinking about this?
  • Are you likely to change your opinion about this over time?

Moving forward

  • What impact are these thoughts having on you?
  • Are these thoughts good for you or would you prefer to feel better?
  • What has helped you to feel positive after experiencing similar situations?
Challenge Negative Thoughts by Focusing on the Facts

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  • How to program your mind in the same way you’d program a machine
  • How your self-image and patterns of thinking impact everything you do
  • Five methods you can use to improve self-image and create success

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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