How to Move Past Negativity in 3 Simple Steps, According to Science

At the risk of sounding, well, negative, humans are naturally predisposed to negative thinking over positive thinking. Identified as an “evolutionary adaptation that helps us avoid danger and react quickly in a crisis” by The New York Times, negative thinking could be considered essential to the survival of the human species.

But when excessive negativity in the modern age leads to obsession, rumination, and low self-esteem, it can erode your overall happiness and quality of life. So how can you move past negative thinking and take control of your thoughts once and for all? Psychologist Judith Beck, president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, discusses a simple three-step system for moving past negativity with the Times: Accept your negative thoughts, challenge them, and take action to counteract them.

“Worry and obsession get worse when you try to control your thoughts,” Beck tells the paper. Instead, simply acknowledge that you are in a negative thought pattern and tell yourself I’m obsessing about my bad review or I’m obsessing about the election.

Once you’ve accepted your negative thoughts for what they are, challenge them. “Imagine that your friend is the one who received the bad news. What advice would you give him or her? Now think of how that advice might apply to you,” the Times writes. This so-called Socratic method of questioning helps people view their thoughts from a more realistic perspective and examine the validity of those thoughts in the process.

Finally, take action to diffuse the negative thoughts. If you feel unloved, for example, reach out to loving friends or family members instead of ruminating on this negativity. “Perhaps ask your best friend to write you a letter telling you all the ways in which you are a good, kind person. Reread the letter daily,” writes the Times.

What’s your trick for breaking negative thought patterns? Share your thoughts below, and head over to The New York Times for more.