How to Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Soundtracks" by Jon Acuff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you in an unhappy place? How do you replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts?

If you’re down in the dumps, it’s hard to stay positive and move forward in life. In Soundtracks, Jon Acuff recommends that you replace your negative thoughts with positive thoughts that encourage you to take action toward your goals.

Keep reading to learn how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Strategies for Choosing Positive Thoughts

To maximize the power of positive overthinking, choose positive thoughts that relate directly to your goals. As Acuff writes, learning how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones helps empower you to perform better in the most important situations in your life.

For example, suppose you have an upcoming presentation at work that you’re worried about. Thinking generally positive thoughts about work is good, but thinking more specifically about the presentation is better. If you spend the week beforehand reminding yourself that you’re a well-prepared and skillful public speaker, it’ll help you carry yourself with confidence into your presentation.

(Shortform note: Acuff isn’t alone in his assertion that positive thinking has life-changing potential. In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale argues that your expectations determine the quality of your life—when you expect the best, you get the best, and when you expect the worst, you get the worst. While Peale doesn’t specify how positive thoughts lead to positive results, Acuff provides a more practical insight into how to make the most of positive thinking.)

Acuff notes that when choosing positive thoughts, you should focus on finding solutions to difficult situations and not on the situations themselves. This can be especially helpful when dealing with a situation that’s causing you mental stress and anxiety. Focusing on solutions helps you avoid anxiety and stay on task, whereas focusing too much on the situation will only make you more anxious.

For example, suppose you’re a writer and you can’t stop stressing about the deadline for your next draft. Instead of thinking about the deadline, you could think positively about solutions, remembering how you’ve succeeded in similar situations in the past. If you get stuck thinking about the deadline, saying to yourself “I have to get this done by Friday,” you’ll likely feel more anxious. On the other hand, if you think something positive and solutions-oriented, like “I successfully met my last deadline, so I can apply the strategy I used then to meet this one,” you’ll feel more confident and more ready to tackle your work head-on.

(Shortform note: While focusing on solutions can be a powerful motivational tool, it also comes with certain risks. Experts note that unchecked optimism in difficult situations can lead you to choose unnecessarily risky solutions. To prevent these kinds of situations, experts recommend that you balance optimism with realism when looking for solutions, carefully weighing the risks of different options.)

If you’re having trouble coming up with positive thoughts, Acuff suggests inverting old negative thoughts. This method can help you come up with positive thoughts that relate to any situation where you’ve previously struggled with overthinking.

For example, if you’re a distance runner, and one of your old negative thoughts was “I’ll never be able to run a marathon,” you could flip this thought upside-down. Your new line could be something like “I have what it takes to go the distance.”

(Shortform note: Some authors recommend that you write down negative thoughts that occur throughout the day so you can return later and turn them into positive ones. Writing down thoughts can be especially useful when you notice negative thoughts occurring in a busy moment, and you don’t have time to rework them. By keeping track of negative thoughts as they occur, you’ll ensure you’re able to address any recurring negative pattern of thought, regardless of when they pop up.)

In addition to inverting negative thoughts, you can borrow positive phrases from others. Acuff notes that positive thoughts can come from anywhere—friends, favorite books, even song lyrics. Coming up with your own positive thoughts can feel difficult at first, so it can help to outsource them, especially when you’re first getting started.

(Shortform note: While Acuff suggests that repeating positive phrases pulled from other sources can help motivate you, not everyone agrees with him. Some studies suggest that by repeatedly exposing yourself to the same positive ideas, you desensitize yourself to them, getting less and less motivation from them as time goes on. To counteract this effect, continually seek out new positive thoughts, to ensure that you’re always working with fresh and effective ideas.)

Build Positive Habits by Taking Action

According to Acuff, it’s important that you couple your new positive thoughts with action. As you take action toward accomplishing your goals and experience success, you’ll increase your confidence, which will help your positive thoughts work more effectively.

(Shortform note: As you begin the process of turning negative thoughts into positive ones, some writers believe it can be helpful to focus on smaller goals that can be accomplished in your daily life. When you accomplish these accessible, near-term goals, it’ll boost your confidence, which will enable you to tackle other daunting problems.)

Acuff recommends coupling rituals with your positive thoughts to help get in the habit of taking action. Anything you can do to create a positive association with a difficult task will help spur you to continued action. For example, if you’re struggling to make it to the gym, in addition to creating slogans around working out, you can also create rituals—for example, putting on your favorite workout gear, listening to energizing music, or taking a relaxing bath after working out. 

(Shortform note: As you build positive rituals to go with your new positive outlook, be sure to choose rituals that are fun. Studies have shown that when a new habit or activity is fun, you’re more likely to return to it and stick with it longer. By contrast, if your ritual is something unpleasant, you’re more likely to be discouraged and avoid returning to it in the future.)

How to Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jon Acuff's "Soundtracks" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Soundtracks summary:

  • A guide to stop overthinking and start chasing your goals
  • Why human brains are wired for overthinking
  • How to repeat positive thoughts until they become patterns

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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