Negative thoughts are normal. We all have them, and therefore we are used to them. Often we don’t realize how negative our inner worlds are until it becomes too much, taking over our lives and growing into a monster. Our loudest thoughts are almost never positive. We live day to day in the shadow of our minds, believing everything it says because simply, there is no reason to think otherwise.
“You’ll never be good enough”, “Get a real job”, “You are a failure”, “You are an awful Mom”, “You’ll never be a real man”, “This is all your fault”.
Meet Mr. Moon. He is the giver of negative thoughts in my mind. I started to become aware of him when I started going to therapy. My negative thoughts were being forced out of my mind as I talked through my hopes and fears with my therapist, and one day she came up with the idea of giving these negative thoughts a name. Mr. Moon. I picture him as a small old man, sitting alone on the blank face of the moon, all alone. He is lonely, so he decides to put these negative thoughts in my head. A bad mark on an exam? He will see that as an opportunity to flood my mind with negative thoughts. “You will never be smart”, “You will always fail”.
So why does Mr. Moon exist? We have a strong suspicion that it comes with our experiences growing up. A child with a relatively easy and happy childhood is less susceptible to having an onslaught of negative thoughts in their mind. The development in the brain thrives on our personal experiences, both good and bad. When we are happy, our brain forms different neuropathways than when we are scared or hurt. The quantity of these pathways dictates how we will think as we get older. The more happy pathways, the more positive thoughts will come into your mind during the day, and the more optimistic explanatory style you will have.
Of course, childhood experiences do not dictate all. It is also largely related to genetics and our decisions as we get older. Our brains continue to develop into our early 20’s, and that gives room to change who you have become and create new ways. Studies have related myelin, a plasma membrane extension that is laid down along axons of our nervous systems, to our core negative beliefs. It grows at different rates based on our neurons. When our neurons are firing faster (essentially when we are more stressed or on high alert), the myelin grows in different spots than when we are calm. This can relate to the increased rate of negative thoughts in our minds.
So no, you are not going crazy, and yes, there are definitely ways to change how you think.
The very first step to changing how you think is working with this amazing tool called Positive Affirmations. Positive Affirmations are phrases that you repeat to yourself, usually describing something you want to believe. Take confidence as an example. You may not feel very confident in front of a crowd, so a positive affirmation could be “I am confident with new people and great at speaking to a crowd.” When we first start working with affirmations, they may feel dumb. Hokey. Embarrassing. They are not designed to be true at the start. One by one, start taking your loudest negative thoughts and recreating them as an affirmation. Once you have a decent amount of affirmations written down, read through them, letting your negative thoughts run wild. Most likely your mind did not like reading those positive things, and it ended up blurting out thoughts like “Who are you kidding?… These will never be true… This is stupid”. That’s normal. Pay attention to these blurts. Do some detective work. Find out where these negative beliefs came from. Using a list of these blurts, scan your past for any possible sources for where these negative thoughts could have come from. Teachers? Mom? Friend? Once you can identify where the negativity came from, you can begin to undo it.
Go back to your list of positive affirmations every day for two weeks. Simply read it once a day, in-between jobs or right in the morning; anytime will do. You will find that the negative thoughts will become less as the positive thoughts get repeated over and over again. Imagine it as a path in a forest. When you use the negative path, it becomes well used and clearer. It’s the automatic route because you have gone that way before and you know where it leads. As you start to detour onto these positive paths, they may seem unfamiliar and scary. You feel as though you might get lost, and the path is overgrown with plants. But you make it out the other side, and realise that the positive path can work as well. In fact, it was faster and less painful than the negative path. You make the conscious decision to go down that overgrown positive path every day for two weeks, and it becomes more used and easier to walk through, meanwhile the negative path becomes messy with weeds. Finally, one day you find yourself automatically taking the positive path home from work. It has become normal and you no longer have to put conscious though into using it.
This is how it will change your negative voice. Yes, it takes conscious effort to read those positive affirmations daily, but soon enough it will become the default. You will start feeling more optimistic, happier, and in better mental spaces. Take it from me, changing your thoughts can change your existence. Mr. Moon no longer critiques my life in my head, and I take the beautiful positive path through the forest of life.