How to Use Your Negative Thoughts for Good

Think of it as a little mental judo.

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could just wave a magic wand and banish negative thoughts from your head? Most of us have more than our fair share of critical, pessimistic, or fearful thoughts banging around in our brains. Sometimes they’re merited. Often they aren’t.

But merited or not, when it comes to pursuing passion in our careers, habitual negativity can be toxic. At best it contributes nothing to our well-being. At worst it blocks us from even attempting to take any kind of action.

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While no magic-wand solution exists, you can shift the balance towards the positive, starting right now. You can do that by putting those negative thoughts to work in your favor, using them to help you shift your focus to the positive. Think of it as a little mental judo, using the momentum of your nonconstructive thoughts to propel you towards more constructive ones.

The basic idea is simple. Instead of following those negative thoughts down a rabbit hole, use them as a signal that it’s time to practice shifting your focus. Then focus on something positive.

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Try a one-week experiment. Every time you find yourself thinking a negative thought (e.g., "I hate it when...."  Or, "I'll never be able to..." And, "It's so stupid that..."), use it as a launch pad for a positive perspective. Stop and ask, "What's good in my life right now? What do I appreciate? How am I fortunate? What has happened today that's good? What do I like about myself."

Three things will happen. First, you'll interrupt your negative flow so it can't keep running roughshod over your mind. Second, it will replace the negative thought with something positive. And third, it will force you to look for the positives in your life.

It may feel a little clumsy at first. Your inner critic may shout, “What a load of crap!” That’s OK. Just stick with the experiment. Slowly, over time you will find it easier to make that switch. You may find that it starts to happen automatically. Eventually, if you keep at it, you might even find yourself cutting the negative thinking off before it even happens, because your brain knows it’s not going to get to wallow there anyway.

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Will negative thoughts still come up? Yes. Of course. And honestly, negative thoughts have their place. The intent of this experiment isn’t to paint a permanent grin on your face (I don’t happen to subscribe to the “just smile and everything in the world will be golden” philosophy). But if you automatically follow those negative thoughts where they lead whenever they come up, then they are in control, not you. The purpose of this experiment is to explore a way to start taking that control back so you, not your negative thoughts, are in charge.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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