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How to reframe your negative thoughts

I can’t do this > I can learn how to do this

This is a disaster > What can I do to improve this situation?

Which statements feel better?

Two sides of a dice with one side showing an unhappy face and the other showing a smiling happy face

Those on the left use language that leaves little room for problem solving, the situation is what it is and it can’t be changed.

On the right, the language is more open and invites possibility. The situation isn’t, or doesn’t have to be, as black and white as it might currently seem.

What we think and say creates meaning and, from this, we create our emotions. Our emotions control our decisions and actions and therefore the results we get in our life.

Emotions that have a low vibrational energy (such as fear, anger, shame or frustration) can create internal resistance that prevent you from achieving what you want. In contrast, higher emotional vibrations of joy, peace and acceptance can do the opposite.

We all have habitual words and phrases we use without thinking. By becoming aware of our negative language habits, we can consciously move our lives in a direction that serves us better.

Simply telling yourself you’re happy when you’re not is almost guaranteed to make no difference to the way you feel. Rather than waiting until you’re already feeling low to try and turn your mood around, identifying patterns in your typical response will help reframe negative thoughts.


Three things determine how we feel in any situation

How we currently feel - When something happens, the way you’re already feeling is a significant factor in determining how you respond. If your mood is low to start with, your body is already under stress and less able to rationalise what you’re dealing with. You’ll then interpret things very differently than if you were feeling excited.

What we choose to focus on – Are you naturally more optimistic or pessimistic? If you tend to look for problems, you’ll always see problems. Let the reverse be true instead.

The meaning we attribute to a situation – Decide what meaning you want to attribute to a situation. Is it the end of your career or the beginning of a new challenge? Is it the end of a relationship or a chance to focus on yourself? If you think something is ‘the beginning’ you’ll have a completely different mindset and set of emotions and you’ll act differently than if you look at something as ‘the end’.

The habitual words we’ve all developed over time and attach to our experiences become our experience. If you constantly say, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’m pissed off’, ‘I’m bored’, ‘I’m in pain’, then that’s what happens in your reality.

Helpfully, the same principle allows us to change how we feel through our language. Changing just one word can really impact the way you feel and therefore the emotions that drive your decisions and actions.

For example…

Think how several people can all react differently in response to the same situation. Perhaps you, along with others, have just received some bad news. You might feel hurt, someone might be pissed off, another is disappointed. Everyone attributes a different word to reflect their experience and describe their emotions, even when receiving the same information. Some of the words magnify the feelings of despair or hurt or anger, while different language can help to soothe those feelings.

Take action

To identify your own thought patterns and habits of talking, take some time to create two lists. Become aware of the words you default to using about a situation when you’re mad, sad, or angry.

What are the words that put you in a lousy state? Think of the words you use when you’re stressed like “pissed off", “enraged” or “frustrated”. How do you feel in those situations? List them out.

Next, for each word in the list you’ve just written, think about different words you could use to reframe the way you feel about the same situation.

What are some alternatives you can use? Think of ones that would help you break a negative thought pattern, make you laugh, or change your state to a productive one. Instead of being “a disaster” it could simply be “inconvenient” or “fascinating”.

This works best if you can find other words that are silly, funny or unexpected that will act as a pattern interrupt and shock you out of your negative frame of mind.

As with anything, it will take conscious effort and practice to remember to reframe negative thoughts in the heat of the moment, but new habits will replace old over time. It will become easier to catch yourself before you spiral into negativity and then become second nature to react more positively when faced with challenges. You’ll notice a real shift in your mood, how you feel within yourself and the positive results you see in your life.

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