1. Start focusing on the area’s that fall between the extremes.
Life isn’t black or white – 100% of this or 100% of that – all or nothing. Thinking in extremes like this is a fast way to unhappiness. Negative thinking has a habit of making us believe that any situation that’s less than perfect is a failure.
Rather than slow traffic slowing down your commute home from work, instead it manifests into “that slow traffic wasted your whole evening and ruined your night!”
Instead of your business venture taking a while to grow and develop, the impatience turns into “it’s never going to work, and it’s going to completely ruin my financial future and I don’t know why I bother.”
Feeling nervous about meeting a new group of people can often turn into “I know these people are not going to like me so I am not going.”
Since 99.9% of all situations in life are less than perfect, black and white thinking tends to make us focus on the negative – the drama, the failures, and the worst-case scenarios. I am not saying that catastrophes don’t occur on occasion, of course they do and there is nothing we can do to change them, but contrary to what you many see on the evening news, read in the paper, download from the internet, most of life occurs between the extremes of extreme happiness and complete devastation.
2. Have a reality check and get some perspective.
If you struggle with seeing a situation as it really is, sit down with a pen and paper and follow these simple steps:
- Write down the best-case outcome
- Write down the worst-case outcome
- Write down at least one realistic outcome that falls between the two extremes.
For example, say you’ve been worrying about a new relationship, write down:
- Best-case outcome: The relationship is total bliss with zero arguments and we will be blissfully happy until the end of time.
- Worst-case outcome: The relationship is a total disaster that ends with two broken hearts, I will never get over it and be alone forever.
- Realistic-case outcome: There will be great times, good times, and not so good times, but we will work together, respect each other, and give our relationship a fair chance before drawing any conclusions.
Make the realistic-case outcome as detailed and long as you like, or list more than one realistic-case outcome. Give your mind more options to consider which will in turn help reduce extreme emotions and allow yourself to think less negatively and more realistically.
3. Stop looking for negative signs from others.
Too often we jump to conclusions, everybody does it. This way of thinking causes ourselves and others unnecessary worry, hurt, and anger. If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else. Yes, there will be times when their body language says something completely different than what is coming out of their mouths but again these are extremes, 99% of the time people say what they mean. If someone compliments you on an outfit, accept that compliment and believe it, why would they waste their time saying it if they didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t! If someone says nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation, sometimes people are afraid to compliment others for fear that their compliment will be revoked with a negative response. “ I love your outfit” “what this old thing, it was a cheapy from the market, why would you think it was nice?” sound familiar?
Thinking negatively will inevitably lead you to interpret everything another person does as being negative, especially when you are uncertain about what the other person is thinking. For instance, “John hasn’t called me back, so he must not want to talk to me,” or, “Jane only said that to be nice, but she doesn’t really mean it.”
Assigning meaning to a situation before you have the whole story makes you more likely to believe that the uncertainty you feel is a negative sign. When you think more positively, or simply more clearly about the facts, you’ll be able to evaluate all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones. For example; John hasn’t called me back… he must be:
- Busy at work
- Driving and I know he hasn’t got hands free
- At the Doctors, I know he said he was going this week
- Out of signal area which is why the call went to voicemail
You get the idea. None of these circumstances are negative and all are as plausible as any other possible explanation. It may be that John doesn’t want to talk to you but that is highly unlikely, there are so many more other explanations that don’t require you to use up so much emotion and energy thinking of the worst-case scenario. When we think negatively about something and then the reality is not so, the relief we feel is often overwhelming. Living your life to these extremes is emotionally and physically exhausting, imagine the good you could so with all that wasted emotion if you channeled it into something positive and fulfilling? (and if John doesn’t want to speak to you, he wasn’t good enough for you anyway!)
I hope this blog has helped, enjoy your week!