End the Negative-Thinking Game

A constant inner dialogue runs through your mind on a daily basis. Our minds don’t place any value on the content of these thoughts but does weigh them by volume. Unfortunately, research shows that humans have an inherent negativity bias that shapes perceptions about a variety of tasks and psychological situations.

This bias often creates intrusive and repetitive negative thoughts commonly referred to as Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). A baseball player who repetitively tells himself that he is “no good” or “letting his team down” every time he makes a fielding error is being bitten by ANTs.

An ANT is an intrusive idea or theme that often accompanies considerable negative emotion. The aforementioned baseball player likely leaves the field feeling frustrated, tense and apprehensive after making errors simply because of the feedback loop playing in his brain. The truth is that these thoughts rarely contain any validity.

Retro Vintage Motivational Quote Poster. No Negative Thoughts Allowed. Grunge effects can be easily removed for a cleaner look. Vector illustration
Research shows that negativity can affect your health.

Health Effects

Negative thinking can affect performance as well as overall health. Considerable evidence exists that negative thinking and negative emotions contribute to increased inflammation via a release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can make individuals more susceptible to illness and injury and slow healing.

Automatic and repetitive negative thinking also can affect the amount and quality of sleep. Research has shown significant deficits in college students who engaged in chronic negative thinking patterns.

Common Thought Patterns

Identification of your thinking patterns and uncovering ANTs is helpful in the reduction or elimination of these cognitive habits. While somewhat similar, these thought patterns fall into certain categories:

  • Overgeneralization is a skewed thought process where one negative event is extended beyond that single event. For example, being late to work produces thoughts like, “I can’t seem to get anything together; I’ll never be successful.”
  • Filtering is a bias toward only negative feedback. “My boss thought my report was good except he said I needed to check a couple numbers. He probably thinks I’m incompetent.”
  • Emotional reasoning is mistaking feelings for facts. For example, when someone “feels fat,” they automatically assume that they are overweight.

Strategies for Tackling Negativity

Do you ever have thoughts like these? Let’s take a look at a few strategies to change your cognitive approach and your health for the better. While these thought patterns may have some commonality, solutions are not necessarily “one size fits all.”

  • Mindfulness entails having an awareness of what you are thinking and feeling and beginning to look at thoughts and situations as just that. Thinking “I am worried” or “I am embarrassed” is a first step. I work with patients to teach them to accept feelings as they are and refocus on the task at hand in that moment.
  • Decentering acknowledges that we have negative thoughts, but we also have ones that are positive and neutral. We can learn to choose which thoughts to attend to and which ones don’t matter. Put the more helpful ones front and center while decentering what doesn’t actually belong. I suggest keeping a journal and reviewing the meaning, or lack thereof, of thoughts on a certain subject.
  • Restructuring recognizes an ANT or negative idea and disputes its validity; basically finding evidence or lack thereof for this belief.

The content and quality of one’s thoughts affects your overall outlook and well-being. I challenge you to start incorporating more positivity and mindfulness into your days. It just may improve your health.

Chocolate-covered mindfulness

fter celebrating love by indulging in creamy, dreamy chocolate over Valentine’s Day, many will struggle to tame their sweet tooth.  Those few divine pieces of chocolate left in the red heart-shaped box are hard to resist and leave you wanting more long after they’re gone.   Here’s some great news: You can have your chocolate and eat it too! In fact, it’s entirely possible to have less chocolate while enjoying it even more.  This is where the art of mindfulness come in.  Mindful eating is about slowing down and fully engaging your senses for a transcendent experience that derives maximum pleasure from food.  Here are three tips to heighten your chocolate satisfaction while cultivating mindfulness:

You Deserve the Best

High-quality chocolate will reward you with the richest and most complex flavors to revel in.  A smooth, shiny surface, even coloring and a clean break with no crumbling when the chocolate is snapped are just a few qualities of premium chocolate.  As with wine, the geographical origin of the cocoa beans used to make the chocolate will influence the flavors.  Commercial chocolates are highly processed and usually made with subpar ingredients, including corn syrup and artificial flavors, making them a less healthful choice.  While premium chocolate may cost a little more, treating yourself to it is a splurge you deserve! 

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the… Click To Tweet

Delight In Dark Chocolate

Stirring the souls of chocolate lovers is cutting-edge research demonstrating the health benefits of chocolate.  Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the brain and increase blood circulation.  The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids, therefore milk chocolate has minimal antioxidant activity and white chocolate has none.  Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power and note that high-quality dark chocolate will contain only one type of fat, cocoa butter.  Chocolate with a higher cacao content has less sugar, making it easier to be satisfied with less as added sugar in chocolate can mask other flavors and leave you craving more.

Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power! Click To Tweet

Slowly Savor

Quickly biting into chocolate and swallowing without fully experiencing its pleasures is a disservice to your senses. The essence of mindfulness is exploring details such as the aroma of the chocolate cupped in your hand and the smooth, sheen appearance.  Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on your tongue and swirl it around in your mouth to bathe all of your taste buds.  Note the texture as it may be silky, velvety or creamy.  The longer you allow the chocolate to melt, the more flavor notes will emerge.  Just like a fine wine, premium chocolate has different flavor stages including a beginning, middle and a finish.  Enjoy becoming a chocolate connoisseur and remember that no matter what you’re eating, the mindfulness skills you build will carry over!