We all know what negative emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, pessimism and anxiety feel like. Many of us may even experience one or more of these on a daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with negative emotions themselves. Usually, they come and go, and it’s no big deal. However, a problem arises when negative and positive emotions become imbalanced and negativity begins to take over our lives. When this happens, we may feel anxious, depressed, hopeless or angry not just from time to time, but the majority of the time.
One way to invite positivity back into our lives is to practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. Although you may have never heard the term CBT, you’ve probably heard of the technique or some examples of it, as it’s one of the most common therapies used to treat mental-health conditions like depression and anxiety.
How it works
When something happens to us, we have thoughts, perceptions and interpretations about it. If these thoughts and perceptions are positive, then we also feel positively about the event. If our interpretation of the event is negative, the way we feel will reflect that. An example of this is hearing the door open. Reactions to this can range from happy: “My partner must be home,” to worried: “My partner came home early — I hope everything’s okay,” or even scared: “I thought I locked the door — it must be a burglar.” As the variety of possible responses shows, it’s not the event itself that triggers positive or negative emotions; instead, it’s the way we interpret the event. CBT techniques seek to help us identify the negative thoughts and associations we have, and encourage more positive ones.
Here are three simple-to-implement CBT techniques anyone can use to retrain their thoughts and become more positive.
Find more opportunities to be positive
We often react negatively to certain situations but then don’t react positively when the opposite happens. A good example is getting angry or frustrated at red lights, or feeling like you’ve “hit every red light.” When we only notice the negative things that happen to us and not the positive, it becomes easy to get stuck in seemingly endless cycles of negativity. One strategy to counteract chronic negative responses like these is to literally celebrate — with a cheer, smile or fist pump, for example — at green lights. It may sound silly, but it’s actually just as logical as being angry at red lights, and it also makes you feel a lot better.
Keep a gratitude journal
Writing down the things we are most thankful for at the end of each day is a great way to remind yourself of what’s going well in your life, rather than what you perceive to be going wrong. Bonus: It’s also good for your health!
Come up with statements to counteract negative thoughts
If negative statements like, “I’m really terrible at my job,” or “I’m the worst parent ever” are stuck on repeat in your mind, try to counteract these by writing down or repeating (more) positive ones. These are sometimes called affirmations. Remember, for affirmations to work they need to be realistic and you need to believe them. You are not likely to believe the statement “I’m awesome at my job” if you’re convinced you’re terrible at it, so a more effective and authentic statement with a positive spin might be something like: “My job is challenging and allows me to learn something new every day.”
“If you begin to notice or to celebrate even the small little moments — the small little green lights in life — life starts to look much better, much brighter.”
– Dr. Joshua Levitt