How to Rewire Your Negative Thinking Patterns

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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Do you often catch yourself ruminating about the bad experiences from your past? Why do people tend to focus more on the negative and take the positive for granted?

People don’t choose to develop negative thinking patterns—they’ve simply developed the habit of dwelling more on the bad experiences in their lives. Psychologists refer to this tendency as negativity bias. Research shows that you’re hardwired to notice and dwell more on negative events than on positive ones.

In this article, you’ll learn how negative thought patterns develop, and how you can rewire your mind for positivity.

Your Negative Thinking Patterns Are the Result of Your Brain’s Hardwiring

Research shows that negative events have a greater impact on you than positive ones—your emotional responses are stronger for negative events than they are for positive ones. In other words, negative events feel more important to you than positive ones. Subsequently, negative events create a strong and vivid impression in your long-term memory, and they influence the decisions you make.

Consequently, you’re more likely to notice, react to, and remember:

  • Criticism more than praise: This leads you to focus only on feedback that reinforces your feelings of insecurity. As a result, you may feel like a victim (you blame others for criticizing you) and withdraw into self-pity, or you may end up lashing out at others in an attempt to release your feelings of resentment.
  • Sad memories more than happy memories: The habitual focus on sad events from the past makes it difficult to find reasons to be happy in the present moment. This can lead to apathy and depression.
  • Bad news more than good news: This tendency trains your mind to perceive situations as unjust or unfair, and often leaves you feeling fearful of taking action and moving forward in your life.
  • Your mistakes more than your successes: The more you focus on your mistakes, the more difficult you find it to accept yourself as you are—you reinforce the false belief that you should be better than you are.
  • Negative traits in others more than their positive traits: The tendency to focus on flaws in others makes it difficult for you to trust others and show them who you really are—if you can’t accept them as they are, how can they accept you? The more you restrict your self-expression, the more isolated you feel.

It’s possible that evolution hard-wired this bias into us to keep us safe from danger: In order to ensure survival, our ancestors had to pay more attention to the dangers and risks in their environment. However, even if it is a case of hardwiring, you can make the conscious decision to bypass this tendency, rewire your negative thinking patterns, and adopt a more positive approach to life.

How to Rewire Your Mind for Positivity

According to Maxwell Maltz, the author of Psycho-Cybernetics, you must imagine positive feelings that outweigh your negative feelings so that they can create a strong enough impression to replace your unwanted beliefs. However, when you’re in a state of anxiety or fear, it’s not so easy to jump to a positive thought. This is because your thoughts and your state of mind reinforce one another to create an internal feedback loop that’s difficult to break out of:

  • Your thoughts determine your state of mind: You think about the worst-case scenario so you feel anxious.
  • Your state of mind determines your thoughts: You feel anxious so you think about the worst-case scenario.

Further complicating the negative-to-positive switch is that, according to Abraham Hicks, your emotions aren’t just positive or negative—they’re a lot more complex than that. The emotional guidance scale lists 22 categories of emotions, ranging from despair to joy, to effectively describe your state of mind and the kinds of thoughts and feelings you’re “attracting.” 

Hicks argues that it’s impossible to jump from very negative emotions to very positive emotions, or vice-versa. If you want to think and feel more positive, you need to identify what you’re feeling and make a conscious effort to release your negative feelings and move up the scale of emotions one step at a time.

For example, imagine that you’re aware that you’re worried about a job interview. Hicks suggests that you first need to let go of your worries (imagining the worst-case scenario) and let yourself feel doubt. Next, you need to release your feelings of doubt (questioning whether you’re capable) and let yourself feel disappointment (you’re disappointed with yourself for feeling insecure), and so on until you eventually move towards more positive emotions.

How to Rewire Your Negative Thinking Patterns

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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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