Zach, Tim and Russ sat sharing a pitcher of beer and unwinding after a long work week, casually surfing the various screens surrounding them in their favorite sports bar. Tim spotted their co-worker Jack making his way over to them, and he rolled his eyes and moaned, “Here he comes.” Zach and Russ knew who “he” was based on Tim’s tone. Russ muttered in a whisper, “Let’s take bets to see how long it takes Jack to start griping about whatever his problem is today. Who’s in?”
Negative thinking is draining, limiting, and can even be contagious if we’re not careful. I really can’t think of any one good thing to say about thinking in a negative manner. The crazy thing about being human is negative thinking (at least in the first world) is a default mindset that we have to consciously work to overcome. Perhaps it’s just the byproduct of living in a broken world where life is just plain hard sometimes, and people and circumstances disappoint regularly.
No one likes to be around “that guy” who is quick to point out all the problems with an idea, come up with reasons “why we shouldn’t”, and remembers past events by recounting the negative parts. Negative thinking gets expressed as complaining, griping, and being over-the-top cautious. So how do we install a positive outlook in our emotional and spiritual hard drive and overcome negative thinking patterns that have taken root? It can be done, and the process will require pushing back.
Pushback #1: Inspect your expectations
Your expectations can create more problems than you might imagine. Many folks have never really thought through what kind of expectations are running around in their heads. They get there in all sorts of ways, and start firing when we encounter situations and people. For instance, if you expect the weather (or the traffic, or the spouse, or the kids) to be just like you want it to be every day, you’ll likely have a hard time dealing with disappointments when things and people don’t play nice. Ask yourself, “What do I expect when it comes to the people and situations around me? Do I allow that things will not go my way all that often, and what will I choose to think when those inevitable scenarios occur?”
Notice I said, “choose to think”. We can choose our thoughts. (That may be a new thought for you.) And if we take time to plan what thoughts we’d like to choose ahead of time, we’re on our way to overcoming that dreaded negative thinking habit.
Pushback #2: Implement healthier thoughts
This is an intentional move, to be sure. People who see the world with a bright positive outlook weren’t born that way. They made some thought choices, and worked to “fix” their thoughts in their thinking patterns until those thoughts became almost natural. You have probably heard, “you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten if you do what you’ve always done.” I would add this twist, “you will always get what you’ve always gotten if you think what you’ve always thought.” I had the pleasure of meeting a young vet recently who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I told him, “Wow, I know it must have been hard over there.” “He quickly smiled and said, “Not really, just another day in paradise.” I countered, “C’mon, I read about those 115 degree days in the desert.” “He said, “Aw, piece of cake.” And he wasn’t being sarcastic or flippant. I realized this guy had a great mindset that he had honed over time to enable him to deal with discomfort and shrug it off.
Pushback #3: Insulate yourself with positive people
Insulate: “to cover,We all admire people who have upbeat things to say, focus on the great things in life, and enjoy life. They got that way on purpose, and you can too.
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.