How to reframe negative thoughts

I can’t do this


I can learn how to do this

This is a disaster


What can I do to improve the situation?

Which statements feel better? Those on the left use language that leaves little room for problem solving, the situation is what it is and it can’t be changed. On the right, the language is more open and invites possibility. The situation isn’t as black and white as it might initially seem. Here’s how you can reframe negative thoughts.

What we think and say creates meaning, and, from this, we create our emotions which control all our decisions, our actions, and therefore the results we get in our life.

Emotions with low vibrational energy (like anger, shame or frustration) create internal resistance that prevents you achieving what you want. In contrast, high emotional vibrations of joy, peace and acceptance do the opposite.

Simply telling yourself you’re happy when you’re not is almost guaranteed to make no difference to the way you feel. But we don’t need to wait until we feel low to change our mood. We all have habitual words we use and by becoming aware of our language habits, we can consciously move our lives in a more positive direction.

Three things determine how we feel in any situation
  • How we currently feel – When something happens, the way you’re already feeling is a significant factor in determining how you respond. If mood is low to start with, the body is already under stress and less able to rationalise what you’re dealing with. You’ll then interpret things very differently than if you were feeling excited.
  • What we choose to focus on – Are you naturally more optimistic or pessimistic?  If you tend to look for problems, you’ll always see problems. Let the reverse be true instead.
  • The meaning we attribute to a situation – Decide what meaning you want to attribute to a situation. Is it the end of your career or the beginning of a new challenge? Is it the end of a relationship or a chance to focus on yourself? If you think something is ‘the beginning’ you’ll have a completely different mindset and set of emotions and you’ll act differently than if you look at something as ‘the end’.

The habitual words we’ve all developed over time and attach to our experiences become our experience. If you constantly say, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’m pissed off’, ‘I’m bored’, ‘I’m in pain’, that’s what you find in reality.

Helpfully, the same principle allows us to change how we feel through our language. Changing just one word can really impact the way you feel and therefore the emotions that drive decisions and actions.

For example…

Think how several people can all react differently in response to the same situation. Perhaps you and a few others have just received some bad news. You might feel hurt, someone else might be pissed off, another is disappointed. Everyone attributes a different word to reflect their experience and describe their emotions, even when receiving the same information. Some of the words magnify the feelings of despair or hurt or anger, while different language helps soothe those feelings.

Take action to reframe negative thoughts

To identify your own thought patterns and habits of talking, take some time to create two lists. Over a day or two, take note of the words you default to using about a situation when you’re mad, or sad, or angry.

What are the words that put you in a lousy state? Think of the words you use when you’re stressed like “pissed off,” “humiliated, “enraged,” or “frustrated”. List them out. How do you feel in those situations?

Next, for each word in the list you’ve just written, think about different words you could use to reframe the way you feel about the same situation.

What are some alternatives you can use? Think of ones that would help you break a negative thought pattern, make you laugh, or change your state to a productive one. Instead of being  “a disaster” it could simply be “inconvenient” or ““fascinating”.

As with anything, it takes conscious effort and practice to remember to reframe negative thoughts in the heat of the moment. Over time, new habits will replace old ones. It will become easier and easier to catch yourself before spiralling into negativity and then become second nature to react more positively when faced with challenges. You’ll notice a real shift in your mood, how you feel within yourself and the positive results you see in your life.