The Power of Negative Thinking: The Upside of Negative Thoughts

By Val Silver

The power of negative thinking can be a force to be reckoned with or fleeting clouds crossing your mind with scarcely a notice. They can provide fodder for the raging fires of fury or act as shackles trapping you in the mires of depression. Negative thoughts have the power to stop you in your tracks before you put yourself in harm's way or when you want to go on an exciting adventure.

In recent years, it has become faddish to believe that all negative thoughts are bad and that we should deny, suppress, and cancel them no matter what. Otherwise, the Law of Attraction will bring you the unwanted things you think about.

But is it true that all negative thinking is bad?

Is negative thinking always bad?

The answer is a surprising, "No."

When observed with awareness, discernment, and intent, thinking negative thoughts has value as an aid to achieving health and life goals. With all the attention on positive thinking and law of attraction, the upside of negative thinking often gets overlooked and disregarded. In truth, learning to tap into its wisdom can be enlightening, instructive, and even motivating.

A fair amount of pessimism is normal and healthy. Your subconscious mind has a natural bent for the negative; it is hard-wired to alert you to to danger and to keep you safely in your comfort zones. This part of your brain is more likely to pay attention when something seems unsafe or wrong and to seek out negatives. It remembers them and give them more weight than positives that may also be present in your reality. 

On the other hand, habitual negative thinking patterns may also be common, yet unhealthy. They serve more as an unconscious strategy for playing small and staying stuck instead of a strategy for stepping up, taking responsibility and risks, and making things happen.  

There is a big difference between habitual thinking patterns that put you (and others) down and do nothing to make your life better, and using the power of negative thinking to your advantage for healing and facing upcoming situations. That is the focus of this article.

The Positive Power of Negative Thinking

 Instead of ignoring, suppressing or feeling bad about these thoughts and feelings, explore what they are trying to tell you. Learn from them. Accept them. Then decide if you should hold yourself back because you truly are in danger or if you would do well to adjust your unhelpful "stinkin' thinkin" in order to move forward with more ease and enjoyment. 

4 Benefits of Negative Thoughts

  • Thoughts are indicators of your beliefs, self-esteem, your disposition and personality. Your thinking patterns and your emotions are windows into your sometimes elusive subconscious mind. For example, constantly telling yourself, "I don't deserve, am not worthy, or good things are for other people, not me" reveal limiting, painful beliefs about yourself and your world. Talking to yourself this way demonstrates the power of negative thinking gone awry. Bring these thoughts into your awareness so that you can shift them to better feeling thoughts and heal those wounded parts of yourself. 
  • Negative emotions point to distress about past and current situations in your life.  If there is a mismatch between how you would like a relationship, job, health, or financial situation to be and how it actually is, your internal wisdom will alert you, and keep alerting you, to this gap in hopes that you will become uncomfortable enough with the situation to make different choices. This is kind of a double-edged sword. One part of you knows you have to make changes and the other part wants to keep you in the familiar which it deems as safe even if it isn't good for you long-term. 
  •  Negative thoughts alert you to real risks you may have to face. The human brain is wired to protect you from taking steps outside your comfort zone. It is not trying to hold you back from the good life. It is trying to keep you safe. It is normal to have anxious feelings, doubts and fears when you take risks or things don't go the way you want them to. When explored and understood, your fears and doubts act as a positive starting point to prepare you for safe, wise actions. Defensive pessimism strategies can help you make good decisions, reduce risk, and get better results.  
  • Strong emotions can be energizing. Have you ever felt so angry or disgusted by something that you power-cleaned your home, left a miserable relationship, or changed your lifestyle in a way you never thought you could? If so, you were able to leverage the discord between your  emotion-fueled desires versus what wasn't working. When the energy of strong emotions (even those deemed negative) is channeled in a positive direction,  you feel empowered to step beyond your comfort zone toward something better. 

Two Awareness Exercises 

The following exercises will expand your awareness of your thought patterns and how you are using them to foster well-being or not.

When you observe your thoughts, you can put the power of negative thinking to work for you in a positive way. Practicing awareness reveals emotional wounds that need healing, limiting beliefs that hold you back, stinking thinking patterns that interfere with your well-being, and negativity that can be upgraded to serve rather than hinder you.  

Note: If you have persistent dark thoughts, thoughts about hurting yourself or others, or suffered a severe emotional trauma, please consult a medical professional before doing these self-exploration exercises. They may not be right for you at this time 

Exercise One: Observe Your Troublesome Self Talk

the power of negative thinking

For a week or two, jot down as much of your negative self talk and comments made to others as you can. Record the feelings and emotions that accompany them. You may want to carry a small notebook or voice recorder with you so you can journal throughout the day.

Observe your thoughts without judgment. Do not censor or try to change them. Think of this exercise as an exploration and a learning experience. 

  • Record when and why you felt angry, sad, frustrated, unworthy, disgusted with yourself, with someone else, or with a situation. 
  • What did you say to yourself? To them? 
  • Is what you said to yourself (or someone else) really true? If not, why did you say it. What is the truth?

After that period, read over your journal and look for patterns.  Notice how you view life, what you say to yourself and others, and your states of mind. Your focus for this reflection is your habits of unhealthy, unproductive thinking patterns, not occasional, random thoughts. 

Exercise Two: Explore the Positive Side of a Negative Situation

The power of negative thinking can damage your mental health when you obsess over troubling past events and let the memories of them sap the joy out of your present and future.

If you are ruminating over a past situation that you would like to feel better about (or at least less negative about), try this exercise. Use an experience from the first exercise or start anew.

Ask yourself the following questions. Record your answers and/or talk them over with a trusted friend, therapist or coach:

thinking negative thoughts
  • What do you tell yourself about this event? Write it down, get it all out. The positive power of negative thinking lies in your willingness to listen to the message your mind is giving you, and using your inner talk to your advantage. Dig deep.
  • What did this experience teach you about life? 
  • Is what you learned really accurate or is it a perception? Give evidence.
  • How did your thoughts and behaviors change in response to this event? 
  • How did those responses benefit or hinder you in your life? 
  • Are they still useful or are they limiting you? IE: How do they affect your relationships, career, happiness, finances and health?
  • Do the thoughts and feelings you carried forward into your present reveal parts of yourself that need healing? Which parts?
  • What do you want instead?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes to change your thoughts and your situation?  If so, what first steps will you take? When?

Doing this kind of reflection is powerful. It is a stepping stone for healing and a tool for learning about yourself and moving forward with intention. 

When you have completed your exploration and feel ready, you can begin to release and shift to more positive, productive thoughts.  Many people report relief from physical and mental distress when they take steps to release their limiting beliefs and negative emotions.

Summary of The Power of Negative Thinking

There is a positive side to thinking negative thoughts. When you tune into unpleasant mental chatter with nonjudgmental awareness and intention, you learn a lot about yourself. What you hear yourself saying alerts you to what parts of your life are not working, what parts need healing or change, and what you want moving forward. 

When you realize that your brain is only trying to keep you safe, even if misguided, you realize that your thoughts and emotions as allies instead of enemies. As crazy as this may sound, you can accept having negative thoughts, sometimes fleeting and sometimes insistent, and still have a positive mindset about them. 

With this attitude, you are in a position to use the power of negative thinking to your advantage. You have the option to glean wisdom from your thoughts so you are in a better position to face potential mishaps and danger zone. You are empowered to identify and upgrade or delete outdated programs that drive debasing, critical thoughts that harm more than help. And you can recognize self-talk that compels you toward needed healing or a much-needed insight and where a burst of motivation and action may in order. In this light, it is easy to see how the power of negative thinking can be a positive force for promoting emotional and mental well-being. 

The Power of Negative Thinking page updated 12/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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