How To Retrain Your Brain To Think Positively

Constantly internalizing negative thoughts can be damaging to your overall well-being. Your thoughts impact how you interpret the world around you and how you feel about yourself. Regularly engaging in negative thinking patterns, also known as cognitive distortions, can lead to or worsen depression and anxiety, so it's crucial to work on overcoming negative thinking patterns. If you work on viewing life through a more positive lens, you can improve your mood and, therefore, are more likely to achieve happiness and reach your goals. This post discusses ways to stop negative thinking patterns and how to think more positively.

What Are Cognitive Distortions? 

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause individuals to view reality inaccurately and can lead to worsening negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. Since the way you communicate with yourself can have a significant impact on your mental health, it's essential to understand your thoughts and thought processes. David D. Burns, an adjunct professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, identified ten common cognitive distortions in his 1980 book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. With his book, Burns popularized the physiotherapy treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which takes a hands-on, practical approach to help individuals change their thinking and behavioral patterns. 

Below are the ten common cognitive distortions identified by Professor Burns: 

  1. Personalization and blame: You feel responsible for everything and blame yourself for events that you have no control over. E.g., My dog started limping because I'm a horrible caretaker. 
  2. Mental filter: You focus on a single negative detail of a situation. E.g., My cousin didn't sing happy birthday to me like everyone else, so he must be angry at me.
  3. Emotional reasoning: You assume that something is true based solely on the way you feel. E.g., I feel stupid for getting that answer wrong, so I must really be stupid.
  4. Overgeneralization: You apply the result of a single negative experience to all related experiences. E.g., Partners have left me in the past, so my current partner will also eventually leave me.
  5. All-or-nothing thinking: This is when you see a situation as either bad or good, with no middle ground. E.g., I didn't get the exact job offer I wanted, so it's a bad offer.
  6. Discounting the positive: You reject or minimize the positive aspects of situations. E.g., I'm a failure because I only read two chapters today instead of four as I had planned.
  7. Jumping to conclusions: Without sufficient information, you conclude how a situation will play out or how someone else feels. E.g., My sister didn't congratulate me on my new job offer because she doesn't think I deserve it.
  8. Magnification/minimization: You exaggerate or shrink the importance of something. E.g., I only won the award because I know one of the judges.
  9. "Should" statements: You criticize yourself or others using "should statements." E.g., I shouldn't have eaten that donut.
  10. Labeling: You assign a label to yourself or others based on an event or characteristic. E.g., She didn't want to go out with me again because I'm boring.

8 Ways To Retrain Your Brain For Positivity

The good news is, you can retrain your brain to think more positively. The following tips can help you curb negative thoughts and strengthen your relationship with yourself.

1. Be aware of your thoughts

Start by familiarizing yourself with common cognitive distortions. Practice identifying and labeling your negative thoughts so that you start to recognize your negative thinking patterns.

Consider spending time engaging in self-care practices such as mindfulness and mediation, which can help you develop greater self-awareness. Asking yourself self-discovery questions can also guide you in better understanding your thoughts and feelings.

2. Turn negatives into positives

By challenging your inner critic, you can replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, if you think to yourself, "I'll never get a promotion at work," try challenging this thought by replacing it with something positive, such as "My hard work will be recognized, and I will be rewarded for it." 

3. Understand your triggers

Since everyone is different, certain environments and interactions will invoke unique responses depending on who you are and what you can handle. No one can avoid their triggers 100% of the time, but being aware of what bothers you can help you prepare for these situations.

4. Find a personal mantra

Mantras, or positive affirmations, such as, "I will succeed" or "I choose to be happy," can help alter your perception. Try finding a couple that resonates with you and repeating them to yourself often.

5. Practice daily gratitude

Despite life's challenges, many of us have a lot to be thankful for. Research shows that developing a daily gratitude practice causes you to have higher levels of optimism, happiness, joy, and pleasure.

You can practice gratitude by keeping a journal where you write down what you are grateful for each day or express your thanks directly to others.

6. Help others

Not only do acts of kindness benefit others, but they can also help you feel more connected and confident. Consider volunteering for a cause that's important to you or just committing to doing a few small nice things a week for the individuals in your life or strangers you meet.

7. Consider your environment

Since your surroundings have a lot to do with how we feel, it's vital to choose environments that benefit you as much as possible. Spending more time in nature or around positive individuals can help you feel more optimistic. However, depending on what's going on in your life, you may need to consider making a more significant change, such as leaving an unhealthy relationship behind or seeking a new work environment.

8. Invest in a morning routine

Developing a routine full of healthy practices, particularly a morning routine, can improve mental health. Consider starting your day doing something you love or committing to a healthy practice such as meditation or yoga.

The visual below from the University of St. Augustine for Health Services describes common thinking patterns and outlines these eight great ways to retrain your brain.

Give these tips a try and see how your life improves day by day.

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