Can a Negative Thinker Choose to Be Positive?

Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
—Victor Frankel

I love Victor Frankel’s quote, but it is true? Many diverse thinkers, including me, struggle with negative thoughts and emotions. Learning disabilities, autism, depression, ADHD, and other brain differences can make every day functioning more challenging for us. But can we learn to be more positive? Should we try?

Some research has been done to try to determine if we’re born with negative or positive tendencies or if they develop as a result of our experiences. The answer seems to be… both. The research also suggests what can be done about it if you are a negative thinker.  I’ve provided below links to two really helpful articles on this subject. “Are We Hard Wired to Be Positive or Negative” and “7 Ways to Manage Negative Thoughts and Emotions,” both by Ray Williams and published in Psychology Today.

A few things in the research cited in these articles jumped out at me. First, it seems that EVERYONE’s thoughts tend toward the negative. One estimate is that 80% of our thoughts are negative….and it’s suggested that may be a defensive mechanism allowing us to perceive and address danger or risk. Also, there are more negative emotion words (62%) in the English language than positive ones (32%). Other revelations for me in these articles are that negative experiences have more impact on people than positive ones….it takes 5 to 10 positive experiences to counterbalance one negative one. Also, a negative perspective is more contagious than a positive one.

So if you find yourself in a negative head space, don’t beat yourself up. It’s perfectly normal.

But it’s also not good to stay there.  Negativity can harm your physical and mental health, kill your motivation, and wreck your social life.  Here are some tips from the articles that can help.

  • Don’t ruminate on negative experiences or circumstances.  You’ll get stuck in a loop. And don’t tell yourself just to “think positively”. That will only make you feel worse. Instead, focus on what can you can do to make the circumstances better, avoid repeating the experience, and move past it.
  • Savor positive experiences.  Tell people about them. Play them over and over in your head. If it takes up to 10 positive experiences to outweigh a negative one, then maybe spending 10 times more energy thinking about them will help!
  • Limit your exposure to negative people.  Negativity is too contagious, and too toxic!

It may not be easy, but Victor is right. We DO have the freedom to choose our own way!


Two really helpful articles on this topic are:

Our Brain’s Negative Bias

7 Ways to Deal With Negative Thoughts


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