A little bit of skepticism and paranoia is healthy. It's what keeps you alert and aware of bad things that could happen and protects you from being victimized and preyed upon. However, too much negative thinking can be just as enfeebling as walking around with pure naivety.
Research shows that if you grow up in a house with negative thinkers, you get trained from an early age to have that reaction. I know this all too well because I lived it firsthand. I'm a knee-jerk negative thinker because that's how my parents were. And even though I have never been able to shut off that reflex, I have learned how to pull my act together and work in a positive way to get over it. If that were not the case, I wouldn't be here talking to you because I never would have accomplished what I have with all the roadblocks one has as a female in higher education and the media.
Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you start having negative thoughts:
1. It's OK to have an initial, knee-jerk negative reaction, you just can't stay in that mindset.
Everyone deserves an opportunity to complain a little and blow off some steam. It's both calming and cleansing. However, you then have to turn it around and use it to kick ass. It's like driving a stick shift: You start off in a negative gear and then shift up to a positive gear.
2. Where you are now is not necessarily where you're going to end up.
The problem with negative thinking is that you don't look for options. It may be something only a millimeter better, but at least it's better. If you look for options instead of excuses, you can improve your situation.
3. Life is not a box of chocolates - it's flowers growing out of horse poop.
Sometimes it takes guts to stay even the slightest bit optimistic and positive through a setback. However, in order to make flowers grow in a field, you need fertilizer.
4. By only focusing on the failures and catastrophes, you don't notice the small, good things which are there all the time.
There are people who will betray you, screw you over, steal from you, lie, cheat, gossip, and try to maim you physically, emotionally and socially. But just because they're out there doesn't mean they're all that's out there.
5. If you think you're going to fail, you're probably right.
One thing I've learned from shooting pool is that if you have it in your head that you're going to miss a shot, you almost always do. Learn to expect the positives, not just the negatives. Instead of saying, "I'm sure I'm going to fail," say, "I'm scared, but I'm going to do my best and keep my toes crossed."
6. Celebrate the good stuff.
Don't minimize the positives. When good things happen, throw yourself a mental party, if not a real party.
7. It's not over 'til it's over.
Never stop trying hard because you figure it's over. I can't tell you how many times I've had a bad start, made a mistake, or been dead last in a sailboat race only to come back and win or place. At the end of the race, I feel like a moron for ever having allowed a negative thought to cross my mind. Out on the water, my mantra now is, "Do you see the finish line? No? Then it's not over."
8. Negativity is contagious.
Surround yourself with positive people and minimize your interaction with negative ones.
9. If you are thinking negatively about someone, ask yourself if it's because of a quirk or their character.
Many of you have very strong expectations about other people's behavior. I do too. However, by being too rigid, you're not going to have any friends. I accept all quirks that have nothing to do with character. We all have human frailties and things that could be improved upon. For example, I have a friend who smokes. He doesn't do it in my presence and he chews a ton of gum so I can't detect it. I'm friends with him because that's a quirk, not a character issue.
Character issues are where I draw the line. To me, one of the classiest things a person can do when they find out they've screwed up in any size, shape or form is to own it and say, "I'm sorry." In my opinion, that shows you are a person of character. Most people seem to have a very hard time owning their stuff.
For more advice on how to put an end to negative thinking, read my book, Stop Whining, Start Living.