Negativity is one of the most self-defeating habits we have as humans. It’s our natural tendency to dwell on our mistakes, second guess our intuition, and avoid taking the bold and risky actions that enable us to become our best possible selves.
Personally, negative thinking has manifest itself in my life as paralyzing social anxiety. Still, it can arise for others as a reluctance to take risks, an aversion to even the simplest of tasks, and feelings of being “stuck” in life situations from which you’d like to move on.
Building positive habits that enable you to avoid negative thinking patterns will enable you to get out of your own way. When you stop second-guessing yourself and holding yourself back, you begin to feel more comfortable taking risks and reaching for your dreams.
But avoiding negative energy is more easily said than done. Almost every aspect of society reinforces negative thinking in one way or another. This is a phenomenon that’s only become more prevalent in the digital world.
The truth is, negative thought is an unavoidable aspect of human nature. However, it’s what we do in response to them that determines whether they’re ever going to hurt us or not. There are a variety of strategies that can help us deal with negativity more effectively. In this article, I hope to share the most helped me and others avoid negativity and cultivate a happier, more purposeful life.
Why Are We So Negative?
I’ve spent the better part of my adult life studying, trialing, and perfecting strategies to avoid negative thinking. I’m sure you have, too, even if not consciously. All of us naturally seek happiness.
But the hard truth is that negative thoughts are simply an unavoidable part of being human. Our brains naturally react adversely to negative experiences and negative people to avoid them in the future.
We develop a mental habit out of our evolutionary desire to avoid danger and seek out safety. This was a useful tendency when humans had to avoid predatory animals and quickly find shelter in storms.
But now, the negative experiences we have are far less life-threatening. The problem is, our brains are still conditioned to avoid them. This fear of negative experiences leads us to take fewer risks and ultimately miss out on a more fulfilling life.
7 Ways to Avoid Negativity
Thankfully, we are not beholden to our thoughts and feelings unless we allow ourselves to be. By adopting simple daily positive habits, we can train our minds to avoid negativity and embrace a happier, more purposeful life.
1. Practice gratitude
When you feel down, it’s likely because your brain is focused on missing things in your life rather than things you already have.
Gratitude, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect. It forces your attention to the things in life that you already have and appreciate.
Taking a minute or two each day to reflect on these things is a powerful way to ground your thoughts in the positive, silencing your negative voice inside.
We recommend making it part of your morning routine, as the activities you do in the morning are the ones you tend to get done most consistently. It’s also a great way to start your day off on a positive note.
I recommend incorporating a simple gratitude journal to track your consistency and to have a record to look back upon when you’re in a bad mood.
Not sure where to begin? Start with the basics, like your health and your family. Most of us have something in these categories to be thankful for, even if it is a simple fact of being alive.
Over time, you’ll likely start to notice that you pay more attention to the small things that bring you joy in life to keep them top of mind for your daily ritual. As you do this, you’ll naturally begin to find places of gratitude in all kinds of areas of your life—even in those areas that appear to be bringing you down the most today.
2. Practice radical forgiveness
Forgiveness is essential to cultivating a positive mindset that stays away from negativity. When we refuse to forgive, we are holding onto anger and resentment. These negative emotions chip away at our sense of security and self-esteem. They keep our guards raised and our minds closed.
But when we choose to forgive, we can finally let go of the hurt and begin the process of moving on.
Most of us are slow to forgive as doing so can seem as if it’s letting the object of our anger “off the hook,” allowing them to “get away” with the harm they’ve inflicted.
But the truth is, forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves. When we forgive, it means letting go of the pain and anger caused by what someone has done so we can move forward in our lives, no longer weighed down by negativity.
Radical forgiveness is the process of forgiving someone who’s done something deeply hurtful without expecting them to change their behavior or provide an apology. Radical forgiveness is a choice you can make to release yourself from the negative feelings you’ve been holding onto.
It’s important to note that radical forgiveness takes time and concerted effort. Past pain takes time to process and come to terms with. Then, you might seek the help of a therapist or a neutral friend to help you work through your emotions.
Depending on the magnitude of the hurt, this can be no small task. If you feel yourself getting stuck, remind yourself that you’re doing this for yourself and not the person who harmed you. You deserve to be happy and free from hurt.
3. Live in the moment
When we are truly present, our focus isn’t on regrets about the past or anxieties about the future. Instead, it is on what is happening right now—objectively and authentically.
Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment. It’s been shown to be effective in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. When we fully experience the moment, we begin to see that there is nothing inherently negative about any given experience. Rather, it is the negative filter our minds apply that creates negativity.
Living in the moment is simple, but it’s not always easy to do without a little practice. One technique for practicing mindfulness is meditation. For centuries, Buddhist monks have practiced mindful meditation to cultivate a so-called empty mind. This empty mind allows them to stay present and avoid the negative thoughts that often arise.
Meditation is an effective way to cultivate mindfulness. First, find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Then, direct your attention to the physical sensation of your breath entering and exiting your body. Mentally counting your inhales and exhales may help keep your attention focused on the breathing sensation.
When your mind inevitably drifts from your counting of the breath, make a note of the thought without judgment and return your attention to the breath. Your mind will wander. That’s the point. When it does, make a mental note and bring your attention back to the breath.
Sitting in silent meditation for as few as 5-10 minutes a day will gradually change how your mind reacts to thoughts, creating a sense of distance from them that allows you to let them go.
You can even start by simply observing what you’re telling yourself throughout the day without judgment or reacting negatively. Notice any patterns in how a particular type of thought affects you emotionally.
4. Cut ties with toxic people
One important way to avoid negativity is to limit the amount of time you spend with people who bring you down, hold you back or cause you to take negative points of view.
Have you ever had an overly critical friend? Toxic friends are among the most insidious types to have in your life. They aren’t good for you in the long run, but they make you feel good at the moment.
If someone in your life consistently tries to make you feel bad about yourself or undermines your goals and dreams, it may be time for a change.
You probably already know if there’s a person in your life who constantly criticizes everyone around them. What you might not yet know is that simply being around this person can begin to affect how you see other people.
When you avoid toxic people, you avoid the negativity they bring into your life and begin to see the beauty in yourself.
5. Reduce screen time
We’re all guilty of it. The average person spends three hours a day watching television, scrolling through social media feeds on their phone or tablet, and checking email at work. Studies show that this time spent in front of screens is correlated with feelings of depression and loneliness and reduced cognitive function due to the blue light emitted by these devices.
Screen time holds us back from positivity in several ways:
- It distracts us from the present moment. (See #3.)
- It leads us to compulsively compare our lives to the idyllic images with which we are presented online.
- It distracts us from our thoughts and feelings about significant things in our lives.
- It reduces our attention span and causes us to demand instant gratification in other areas of life.
- If you want to avoid negativity in modern life, you need to avoid screen time. Limit TV watching and scrolling through your phone or tablet so that you can stay present in the moment.
You don’t have to turn off all screens forever. Be more mindful of how often you engage in them and avoid using screens to escape your life. Both iPhone and Android Phones have digital wellness features that can help avoid screen time.
Exercise is one of the most reliable ways to avoid negativity. When we exercise, our brains release endorphins that make us feel good and reduce stress levels.
Studies show that people who work out regularly are happier than those who don’t—even when they’re in pain. This is because exercise increases serotonin production, which makes us feel happier.
Exercise also has the gradual effect of making us stronger and more fit, thus improving our self-confidence and helping avoid negativity about ourselves and our body image.
The most important thing with exercise is consistency—showing up even on those days you really don’t feel like it. I do my exercise routine in the early morning hours because it happens before I have a chance to get caught up in the craziness of the day.
Even if it’s a 5-10 minute walk around the block after putting the kids down to sleep, a daily habit of exercise and movement will build your confidence and also release activate those mood-enhancing endorphins.
7. Keep a journal
Writing for just a few minutes each day has been shown to have dramatically positive results on our mental health. The act of writing things down increases our sense of self-awareness and helps us put the events of our lives into a narrative that ties things together and enables us to makes sense of them.
One of my favorite aspects of journaling is that it forces us to put our thoughts down on paper so they can be reviewed objectively, rather than stew in the subjective, chaotic mess in our minds. Journaling provides a risk-free place to dump your thoughts and feelings, clearing them out of your mind so that you can focus on more positive things in the future.
Journaling also provides a vibrant record of our lives that we can revisit in the future. I use the Day One app for my journaling, and it includes a handy “On This Day” feature that surfaces journal entries from years ago on the anniversary of the day they were written.
I’ve been journaling for over 15 years, and in that time, I’ve built up a catalog of memories and reflections that I can revisit, reframe, and process.
You can’t avoid negativity and adopt a positive attitude overnight. Instead, you need to make a concerted effort to adopt habits that cultivate positive thinking, reinforcing positive expectations.
The best way to avoid negativity is by gradually making small changes in your life that add up over time. If you try to kill all negative self-talk and adopt a fully positive outlook overnight, you’re likely to become overwhelmed or burnt out.
The most important thing to remember is to live mindfully and identify the things that emit negative energy in your life. Then, with practice, you can gradually design your life to eschew those things and embrace positive thoughts and positive people more naturally.