Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking

negative thinking
Negative thinking can be hard to break, but it's not impossible.

Failure. Disappointment. We’ve all seen it before. So many times, we start out with the best of intentions for change only to end up right where we started. No one ever said it was easy – real change takes dedication. But is there something else that is preventing our happiness besides laziness and a failure to commit?

Recent research suggests that our moods are directly linked with our memory – meaning, we think happy thoughts when we are happy and sad thoughts when we are sad, causing a slippery slope of negative thoughts if we’re not careful. [source: Bower, Gordon] Our emotions serve as units of memory, therefore, causing us to recall certain memories where we felt similar emotions.


Every time we face difficulties in life, our moods take a hit. Job loss, marital problems and difficulties with weight loss - they all can put us in a funk. And, if we hold on to those negative feelings, our minds will conjure up past bad experiences to help further continue the cycle. [source: Gotlib, Ian]

Feeding fuel to the fire is further research that explains how we decide whether something is positive or negative – that determination is caused by, you guessed it, your mood. [source: Bargh, John] Meaning, once we are in a bad mood, our minds will choose to view future events more negatively than if we were in a good mood. Theoretically, once you slip into a bad mood, you could view other seemingly positive things as negative and further recall negative memories. Sounds pretty hard to escape right?

It may seem next to impossible to turn it around when your facing tough times, but here are three simple steps to help break the chain of negative thinking.


Positive Changes You Can Make

positive thinking
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can open your mind to a whole new perspective.
Thinkstock/Siri Stafford

Make Small Changes

It takes more than just a verbal approach to change. “I’m going to lose weight,” is a lot less effective than taking action in that direction. [source: Blakeslee, Thomas] By achieving small, attainable behavioral changes, your overall attitude will change in time. Replace your morning bagel and cream cheese with fruit. Use your lunch break to take a walk with colleagues on Tuesdays. Experience success, and you’ll have your motivation to continue in the right direction.

Meet New People

Humans are social creatures. We long to form connections – to feel accepted [source: Blakeslee, Thomas]. Meeting new people and forming new bonds and relationships can not only expose us to new cultures and ways of living, but it can also give us a sense of belonging [source: Oz, Lisa].


Human connections also allow us an outlet for those negative feelings. Having someone to vent to can help us release those negative emotions, preventing a whirlwind of negative thoughts [source: Oz, Lisa].

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Pushing your comfort zone can make you feel uncomfortable, but it can also help to change your perspective of your life and the world around you [source: Blakeslee, Thomas]. Doing the same old, same old will only help to further a cycle of similarity.

Breaking free of the daily grind will help you experience new things, new people and will give you a whole new set of happy memories.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bargh, John A.; Lombardi, Wendy J.; Higgins, E. Tory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 55(4), Oct 1988, 599-605. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.55.4.599
  • Blakeslee, Thomas R. The Attitude Factor: Extend Your Life By Changing The Way You Think.
  • Bower, Gordon H. American Psychologist, Vol 36(2), Feb 1981, 129-148. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.36.2.129.
  • Gotlib, Ian; Cane, Douglas B. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 96(3), Aug 1987, 199-204. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.96.3.199.
  • Oz, Lisa. Us: Transforming Yourself and the Relationships that Matter Most. Free Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-2392-8.