How to Restructure Your Thought Patterns
In order to reach a positive mindset, sometimes it will require you to completely restructure your thought patterns. You need to recognize unhealthy thought patterns in order to replace them.
Understanding why positive thinking is crucial to success and happiness is the easy part. We can usually see the connection between positivity and happiness. Shifting your mindset to become more positive, on the other hand, can be extremely difficult.
Restructuring your thoughts isn’t easy, but it’s doable. We’re going to start by looking at negative thought patterns and why they can be difficult to break. Once you understand why it’s hard, you can learn not only how to change them but also how to recognize negative triggers. The goal is for you to start challenging your thinking and develop a much more positive mindset.
The Impact of Distorted Thinking on Thought Patterns
Distorted thinking, also referred to as cognitive distortion, is where we believe things that aren’t true. Our minds convince us that something is real when it isn’t. For example, a common distorted thought is that you always fail at the things you try, so you will fail whenever you try something new.
Distorted thoughts tend to reinforce negative thinking and the emotions that go along with it. They cause you to see things as black and white, with no room for any gray areas. It’s an all-or-nothing world. You will also overgeneralize things, so failing at a certain task is a sign of your own personal downfalls.
When you suffer from distorted thinking, it can greatly impact your thought patterns. Therefore, if you want to restructure your thought patterns from a negative mindset into a positive one, you need to understand how distorted thinking may be impacting you.
There are 6 main types of distorted thinking:
- Filtering – With filtering, you will focus only on negative details. For example, if you write an essay and the teacher tells you all the things you did really well and then critiques the essay to show what you need to correct, you focus on the mistakes. Rather than focusing on the praise, you will dwell on the negative issues. So, you will basically ignore the positive, focusing only on the negative.
- Jumping to conclusions – Do you often find you jump to conclusions? This type of distorted thinking makes you feel like you know what somebody else is feeling and thinking. You make assumptions, even though you’re not a mind reader. For example, you assume your new co-worker wouldn’t want to go out for drinks with you after work because she wears stylish new clothes and you buy yours from Target. (No, I’m not hating on Target, but it’s not designer-label – and neither am I). Just because she enjoys fancier clothes doesn’t mean she won’t like you. You’re making assumptions without talking to her at all. The conclusions you tend to jump to are always negative too, caused by how we feel about ourselves.
- Personalization – With personalization distortions, you think that everything other people do or say is directly related to you. You will take everything personally, even if it isn’t. If you suffer from this type of distorted thinking, you will also typically find you compare yourself to others a lot too. You know on Twitter when someone “subtweets”? They’re calling out behavior that someone did without naming the someone. If you suffer from personalization, the first thing you think is, “Oh my God! Is it me? Did I do that?” And then you start reliving every interaction you had with that person. Or maybe your boss makes a comment in a meeting that she knows people are taking longer lunch hours than they should. And you think she’s talking to you because you were five minutes late from lunch one day last month. Not everything’s about you, babe.
- Catastrophizing– One of the most common types of distorted thought patterns is catastrophizing. That is, where you imagine the worst possible outcome of a scenario. You expect things to go wrong and always think the worst. The “what if?” game here gets out of hand because you only go to the negative. What if I go to the party and everyone laughs at my outfit? What if I apply for a new job and my current boss finds out and fires me?
- Polarized thinking– With polarized thinking, there is no space for middle ground. Instead, you think in black-and-white terms. This means that you will typically see things in extremes. For you, tasks are impossible or a less-than-perfect project is a complete failure. This type of distorted thinking can hold you back, damage your relationships and disrupt healthy eating.
- Fairness– Do you find yourself feeling resentful because you feel a sense of injustice? Life isn’t always fair, but when we feel externally controlled, we often fall into the victim mentality. That is, you think you cannot change your situation because it is controlled by others or by circumstances. You can’t succeed because other people are holding you back. Or if only x, y, z happened, you could do it all. Life sometimes sucks and you can’t count on other people to make things happen for you, but you can’t hold others accountable for your life.
Many people struggle with distorted thinking of some kind. The list above is just some of the most common types. After you identify the type of distorted thoughts that trigger your negativity, you can work on changing them to restructure your thought patterns.
Identifying distorted thinking is the first step in figuring out how to restructure your thought patterns. Once you understand the distorted thinking patterns, you have to plan for the possible obstacles you’ll encounter when trying to change those patterns.
Obstacles to Restructuring Thought Patterns
Simply knowing how important positivity is to success and happiness, isn’t going to help you change how you think. You can’t snap your fingers and make it happen. (It would be awesome if we could, but I live in reality). Life always throws obstacles and challenges in our way.
If you want to change your mindset, keep an eye out for some common obstacles you might encounter. By being prepared, you’ll be able to better overcome any challenges that you face.
Negative emotions are both a powerful motivator and de-motivator
A big challenge for a lot of people is that negative emotions are a powerful motivator. In some cases, this can be a good thing. When you are focused on overcoming adversity, for example, negative emotions can help drive you to change. However, they can also work in the opposite way, too.
If you experience a lot of powerful negative emotions, you might start focusing more on what it is you’re doing wrong. The emotions that jeopardize our success most are fear and regret. If you’re trying to use them to change your thought patterns, they aren’t very effective motivators. When you allow yourself to be overtaken by negative emotions, it can really zap your motivation.
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Failing to practice
We live in an instantaneous society. We want everything now! Because of this, when we start to make changes in our life, we often expect immediate results. However, a major mindset shift, like changing your thought patterns isn’t something that happens overnight. In fact, it can take a long time to switch to a more positive mindset, depending on how long you have been indulging in negativity.
You’re going to need to practice whatever strategies you are using to convert your mindset. The most important thing is to have patience as you start your positivity journey.
Trying to change too many things at the same time
When you commit to making a change, you’ll find your motivation levels are super-high. This can cause you to try and take on too much too soon. That enthusiasm and motivation make you feel like you can change everything, right now. However, the truth is that if you do try to change too many things at the same time, you are more than likely going to fail. For people who have ADHD, they often experience this because they are interested/intrigued/passionate about many things. Most haven’t learned how to juggle multiple interests effectively—in fact, let’s be real many can’t juggle regular life expectations effectively. It’s probably part of the reason you’re here. It’s important to decide what you want to work on first—what is most important to you and focus on that.
Changing one habit and thought pattern is difficult enough. So, as much as you want to change everything right away, realize that being patient and doing it gradually is the key to success.
We lack the right tools to change
If you are looking to change your mindset, you’re going to need to utilize a few tools and resources. Fixing yourself is no different from fixing a car for example – you need the right tools to get the job done.
Say you want to change your diet. To do that, you need to have the knowledge of what a healthy diet includes. You will also need to put together a plan to start eating healthier. These are the tools you would use to change your eating habits.
Think about what it is you are trying to change. Then, consider all the tools you can take advantage of to help you achieve that change. Once you have the right tools, you will find it much easier to start adopting a more positive mindset.
You probably landed here because you struggle with positivity or mindset or you’re trying to get a grip on your executive functioning. Mindset is the foundation of my work as a coach. Without a growth mindset, real change is very difficult. Tools and strategies are the walls holding the house together. We need all of it to make a shelter.
Getting stuck in the same negative thinking patterns
Changing how we think isn’t always easy. In fact, it can sometimes feel impossible. Many people find they keep getting stuck in the same negative thinking patterns. Ironically, the thoughts you are trying to change could be the one thing that stops you from making the change.
For example, if you suffer from all-or-nothing distorted thinking, you could go into the changes thinking if they don’t work, you are a failure. The minute your new changes become hard, you fall into the old way of thinking. Rather than picking yourself up and starting again, you beat yourself up for not being able to do it.
If you don’t recognize that you are falling back into old thinking patterns, you could end up getting stuck in your negativity.
For people who struggle with executive functioning related to ADHD, anxiety, or depression, this is especially important to note. Depending on how long you’ve been beating yourself up for not being like other people, not being “normal,” not being able to do the seemingly simple things everyone else does, pulling yourself out of that vicious cycle of negativity can seem impossible. Knowing your triggers and either avoiding them or having strategies to combat them are important.
Inability to accept failure
This one almost feels like a personal attack. Is it me? Yes, yes, it is. I spent many years not doing anything unless I was sure I would be able to succeed. What many people tend to forget is that failure is pretty much a given. We aren’t going to succeed at everything we do. If you research the most successful people in the world, you will find they have suffered multiple failures along the way. What made them successful, was not giving up despite the failure. In theory, I understood this, but it wasn’t something I wanted to live.
If you find it difficult to accept failure, it’s going to put you off taking advantage of other opportunities. For example, you may get turned down for a job application, forcing you to avoid applying for another one out of fear of rejection.
I finally got over this fear by jumping into my love for writing. When I was at home with 3 small kids, I started writing romance novels. I knew nothing. But I took the time to learn and I met great people along the way. Part of my ability to accept failure there was that I met so many people—real people—who stumbled and fell were still successful. Rejection and failure are part of the publishing business. I wanted to be an author, so I had to risk it. Definitely a huge mindset shift moment for me.
You need to remember that failure isn’t the end. Instead, look at why you failed and then identify what you can do differently next time. If you can turn your failures into lessons, it’s going to go a long way to helping you achieve your goals. This is a big one. I’ve worked with so many clients who have failed and just assumed that they just couldn’t do the thing. But when you step back and try to figure out why you failed and what you can do differently, it opens doors.
Another common obstacle to restructuring your thought patterns can be the people you surround yourself with. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or colleague, if they don’t support you, it can hold you back. I think we’ve probably all had our fair share of toxic or at least unhealthy relationships. I know I have. Often, those unsupportive people make you force yourself to be smaller and less than you are or are capable of being.
Sometimes those people will try to tell you how to make the changes you want or they don’t feel like you need to change. Regardless of the reason, they aren’t on board with you trying to become more positive, it can hamper your progress.
Sometimes, part of restructuring our thought patterns means we must reassess who we allow in our lives.
Converting Negative Thoughts into Positive Ones
By being aware of the challenges involved, you’ll be able to pre-plan to combat them.
A key part of changing your mindset is to convert negative thoughts into positive ones. However, this is also one of the hardest things to do. It can take a lot of work to learn how to switch the negative into positives, especially if you’ve been thinking negatively for years.
How exactly can you turn negative thoughts into positive ones? Here are some useful tips to help you out.
Learn to identify negative thoughts
Before you can change negative thinking, you first need to be able to identify when you’re doing it. This can be harder than it sounds, especially if your negative thoughts have become automatic.
What to look for? Thoughts such as blaming yourself for something, searching for bad news, and assuming a worst-case scenario.
Once you can pinpoint when your negativity creeps in, you can then focus on changing it.
Accept and reject negative thoughts
It is important not to give too much focus to negative thoughts. It only takes about 30 seconds of dwelling on a negative thought for it to stick in the mind. If you don’t want to get stuck in the cycle of negativity, you need to move fast.
Accepting the thoughts is a key part of developing a more positive mindset. If you try and ignore them, they may build up and come out later in unhealthy ways. By accepting the negative thought, it has no power over you, and you can then let it go.
Write down your negative thoughts and counteract them with a positive
If you are struggling to let negative thoughts go, counteracting them with a positive can help. How? Write down the negative thoughts and then change them into positive statements.
Here’s an example:
Negative: “I always make mistakes”
Positive: “I do a lot of things well” or “I learn from experience”
By counteracting the negative with a positive, you train your brain to look at the good. The more you practice switching negative thoughts to positive ones, the easier it will become.
Recognizing and Dealing with Negative Triggers
The final step is learning how to recognize and deal with negative triggers. This will give you the knowledge you need to overcome the things that keep holding you back from a more positive life. Once you know how to recognize your triggers, you can take steps to combat them.
What are negative triggers?
Negative triggers are things that cause the negativity in your thought patterns. Many things can trigger negative emotions, so it’s different for each person. Your own life experiences and personality will determine what your triggers are.
If you don’t address negative triggers, you will suffer some consequences.
- It will affect your relationships
- You might have lower self-confidence and self-esteem
- You develop bad habits
- It can cause you to use more reactive behaviors
- It will hold you back from the life you want and deserve
Learning how to identify your negative triggers is essential for your happiness and well-being.
Recognizing negative triggers
If you want to become more aware of your negative triggers, there are things you can look out for.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Triggers might cause you to feel stressed or anxious. When this happens, think about what you were doing or who you were with. What was the trigger? A negative trigger is anything that causes negative feelings.
How to deal with negative triggers
Once you have identified your negative triggers, how should you deal with them?
- Avoiding negative triggers can work, but it isn’t the only way you can deal with them. Ideally, you’ll want to look for the source of the trigger. We already mentioned learning to recognize the trigger, but now you need to ask yourself why. What is it about a particular thing or person that triggers you? Where does your reaction to it come from? It could be that you are triggered due to past trauma. If this is the case, you may not have fully dealt with what happened. Undergoing therapy may help you to move on and eliminate the negative triggers completely.
- You should also think about whether you are projecting inner trauma onto others. For example, if you have experienced pain in a past relationship, you may expect it in any future relationships you have. This can lead you to become triggered by the pain you had in the past, projecting it onto your new love interest. By recognizing when you are projecting, it gives you the opportunity to see which issues you need to resolve.
- If your trigger is your own negative self-talk, you may find that relaxation techniques are the best way to overcome it. As soon as you notice your inner critic speaking up, practice deep breathing. This slows down the heart rate and calms the mind. If you can still hear that negative voice, bring your attention to the breath. You can also try counting backward from 10 to 1, or 20 to 1 if you feel overly stressed. I’ve mentioned the Take 5 method before. As you breathe in through your nose, trace up your thumb. Exhale through your mouth and trace back down. Do this for each finger to help calm your mind.
- You can also use positive affirmations. When the negative talk creeps in, remind yourself how awesome you are. For example, repeat to yourself affirmations such as “I am enough” and “I trust myself to do the best that I can.” It is surprising how this small act can cause you to relax and restructure your mind.
- If you find other people trigger your negative thinking, it’s important to prepare yourself for when you have to see them. Prep yourself with tools and strategies to help you hold on to your positivity. If you find it hard to ignore the person, leave before they can have a lasting impact on your mindset and thought patterns. Leaving the environment for even just five minutes can greatly help you to regain control over the mind.
Restructuring your thought patterns isn’t easy. However, it is possible to become a more positive person. By becoming more positive, you open opportunities for yourself for real self-growth to become the best version of you that you want to be.
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What can you do today—now—to put you on the path to positivity?