Overcoming Negative Thinking: How To Break Free From Self Defeating Thoughts By Identifying Errors Of Judgement & Changing Our Mindset
By Homaira Kabir
Habits are powerful in bringing about lasting change. In fact, studies show that instilling positive behaviors that move us in the direction of our goals helps us produce the results we want.
However, this is easier said than done. Sometimes we just can’t get around to changing our behaviors, despite the best intentions. There’s a reason for that—our large and subconscious mind. Our behaviors are the consequence of our thoughts, the inner chatter that happens largely out of conscious awareness. When this inner discourse is unhelpful and inaccurate, it can sabotage the best intentions.
By becoming aware of our self-talk, we can identify errors of judgment and change our mindset so that we break free from self-defeating patterns of behavior.
Can you identify yourself in any of these four most prevalent negative mindsets?
The Helpless Mindset
The helpless mindset has an exaggerated fear of losing control. It sees situations as far more catastrophic than they are, and underestimates its own capability to rise to face consequences or rise to challenges. This dual force leads to avoidance behaviors, fails to build mastery and turns into a perpetuating cycle of low-confidence.
Fix #1: Appreciate Your Strengths
The negativity bias that we inherited eons ago makes us minimize our successes and hang on to our failures. As a result, it fails to develop a library of inner resources that make us resilient. By appreciating our strengths and talents and reliving the moments that make us proud, we can develop a belief in our abilities.
Fix #2: Lean on Others
As social creatures, we are wired to find strength in social support. It calms the threat response and allows us to take on challenges. By seeing others as affiliates and not adversaries in our efforts, we can find the strength to face the uncertainties that are an essential part of life.
The Pessimistic Mindset
We know that pessimism is about seeing the world through gray-tinted glasses. As a consequence, we fail to appreciate our strengths and qualities and develop low self-worth as a result. We also see others as highly capable in comparison and close down in shame, which leads to depression. And we see the future as gloomy, blinding ourselves to opportunities that would bring out the best in us.
The Fix: Practice Self-compassion
Research has shown self-compassion to be one of the best interventions for pessimism and low self-worth. Self-compassion is not about self-pity. It’s about recognizing that the present moment is tough, and providing ourselves with the understanding we need. In this simple act, we find the courage to do the right thing.
The Fix: Turn to Passions
Researchers Ryan and Deci see autonomy as one of the three pathways to motivation in their Self-Determination theory. Given that pessimism turns us away from things we once enjoyed, we need to make a conscious effort to return to things we’re passionate about. Begin an art project if you’ve got a creative streak, or join the dance class you once enjoyed. In expressing your authenticity, you open up to the world and learn to look beyond the negative and into a hopeful future.
The Narcissistic Mindset
Narcissism, or the belief in one’s superiority, is undergirded by deep-seated insecurities. Sadly, studies show that narcissism is steadily on the rise—a result of a global culture of believing the best about ourselves without working hard for it. This sense of “being too good” leads to lowered performance, poor relationships and on-going bouts of self-doubt and depression.
Fix #1: Be Humble
When we widen our perspective and appreciate the efforts of those who are a part of our journey and/or success, we naturally shed some of our beliefs of superiority. Sure, it’s sometimes difficult—we’d rather claim all the laurels—but it is essential to recognizing our proper place in the scheme of things.
Fix #2: Let Go of Judgment
A belief in one’s superiority also keeps us isolated from the opportunities that life presents at the unlikeliest of places. Marketing strategy consultant Dorie Clark says that luck is a state of mind that can be cultivated by approaching others without judgment and expecting nothing in return from interactions. Who knows what lies around the corner?
The Fixed Mindset
The fixed mindset underlies our inability to change. It sees our traits as fixed and unalterable. We’ve heard people (perhaps ourselves) say something like “I’m a pessimist, I can’t help it”. Well, guess what—we can! Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that by developing a growth mindset—the belief that our traits are changeable through deliberate practice, we set ourselves up for success.
Fix #1: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
We never know our true capabilities until we test them. Hence the importance of taking risks and testing our limits, instead of shying away from experiences that scare us. Abraham Lincoln is known to have suffered from a fear of public speaking. And yet his speeches electrified his audiences and drew them to his message. His secret was that he was realistic in his expectations. By considering failure as an essential part of the journey, and approaching our fears in small increments that stretch us without paralyzing us, we can expand our comfort zone and build our competence.
Fix #2: Build Perspective
Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, says that in order to move away from rumination, we need to take things as less Personal, Permanent and Pervasive. We need to recognize multiple factors at play in the way things turn out, see situations as transient and understand that failing in one area of life has no bearing on the wholeness of our life.
No one mindset is applicable in every situation all the time. We often switch from one to another and display it to varying degrees, depending on the situation. But by recognizing the thought patterns that lead to self-defeating behaviors, we can change them in order to move towards upward spirals of growth and flourishing.
Now it’s your turn: is your mindset holding you back? What are some of the strategies you can use to change it?
About the author:
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose practice is founded on the science of positive psychology. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. To sign up to her free course on Finding Your Life’s Direction, visit her at www.homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.