In this article, I want to talk about automatic negative thoughts. Have you ever found yourself in an escalating process of negative emotions? Several studies showed that automatic negative thinking could lead to depression, self-destruction, and life failure. As founder and CEO, I experience lots of ups and downs and I have to deal with all kind of emotions, from ecstatic to very disappointing. I know how easy it can be to enter a negative spiral when things go wrong.
Now, the question could be "how do we prevent negative thinking from popping up?". The answer is "we can't". The trick is to recognize when negative thoughts try to emerge and learn to deal with them before they propagate. The following steps describe the technique I use, they can be summarized as record, rationalize and replace. This process should be done regularly, possibly daily.
Record the negative thought
In this first step, you have to learn to recognize negative events. For instance, before going to bed, write down the negative thoughts you had during the day. These can be of a great variety:
- a rejection from a potential new client leads to: "I'll never be able to sell enough products", "I'll go bankrupt", or "my wife will leave me", etc.
- an email from an angry customer can leads to: "I'll never build something meaningful", "this thing will eventually fail", or "people will blame me", etc.
- a competitor threatening to sue you and you think: "I'll never be able to overcome that", "I'll lose my company", or "I'll be poor", etc.
All these situations can trigger a negative spiral and can eventually lead to you being unable to act properly.
Rationalize the negative thought
The second step is to realize that there is a solution to each problem, but you have to think positive and in a constructive way for you to find it. Here is the moment where you have to rationalize your thinking. Take the examples in the previous step.
- A rejection from a potential client can be seen as an opportunity to ask for feedback. If you understand what is holding them back from purchasing your product (or service), you are one step further in building a successfull product.
- An email from an angry client can be the chance to establish a deeper connection with your customer. Everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody can fix them. If you solve the issue for your customer now, he'll remember that, and he'll be even more loyal to you in the future.
- A competitor threatening to sue you can be seen as a proof that you are doing something meaningful, and that he is afraid of you winning the market. Don't be scared of that. Just analyze the situation, and decide with rational thinking.
To find these rationalizations, you can use different techniques. First, you can ask yourself what is the evidence of your negative thinking? is it supported by any logic? second, you can think of what you'd tell your friend if he was in the same situation.
Replace your thinking
As time goes on and you'are getting used to rationalize and responding to your negative thinking you might eventually understand that it's always a matter of perception. I think that whatever happens in life is "neutral", and it's you to decide if you want to give it a positive or negative value.
Think of the case of your business failing. You can be very depressed, and never do anything in your life again thinking that you are a total failure. Or you can learn from why your business failed, capitalize on that, and build a better business that will bring you all the success you want and deserve.
In a future article, I'll talk about how to use neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a way to improve your cognitive abilities.