How to think more positively after 18 months of setbacks

It’s been hard to see the positives over the past year (Picture: Getty)

We’ve been inundated with bad news over the past 18 months. 

Even optimists have felt bogged down with all the negativity. 

But as we slowly emerge out the other side of the pandemic, it’s important not to let the events of the last year have a long-term impact on our minds.

After all, positive thinking can be an incredibly powerful tool and can make us a lot happier day-to-day.

Mentor Natalie Trice tells ‘18 months is a long time for us to live in a state of instability and fear, so it’s hardly surprising that people are finding it hard to be positive.

‘Yes, there is a chance that you will be “pinged”, that your holiday might be cancelled, work might let you go, or you catch Covid – but we can’t let this take over our lives completely.’

We’ve asked experts how to stop negative thoughts from consuming us and what can be done to get back on track to achieving more positive outlooks.

Acknowledge but don’t accept

Firstly, as with any feeling, the most important thing to do is to accept it. 

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says: ‘Mastering our thoughts is one of the most powerful things we can do if we want to take ownership over our lives. 

‘After such a challenging period of time, some people may have found that their negative thoughts have started to spiral. 

‘When this happens, it’s possible to fall into something we call “thinking traps” in psychology. Thinking traps are patterns of thought which are distorted and prevent us from seeing things as they really are.’

So while we might acknowledge our brains are thinking about something in a certain way, we don’t have to accept that is how it is.

Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist at Private Therapy Clinic, says: ‘Know that you have the power to change your negative thoughts by being aware of them rather than consumed by them. 

‘Recognise them but take a step back and ask yourself what is going through your mind at the time you feel that emotion. It might be a negative statement, commentary, image or belief.’

Challenge it

Young annoyed female character, sceptical face expression

Remember, your thoughts are not facts (Picture: Getty)

‘Once you’ve identified an unhelpful thought, try challenging it with questions like: “Is there any evidence for this thought I’m having?” and “is this thought a fact or is it an opinion?”’ adds Dr Elena. 

‘Most thoughts are opinions rather than facts and not all thoughts should be taken seriously.’

Also, think about what a loved one would say if you spoke to them about it – as this might help you see a more balanced, rational and kind way of viewing yourself and the situation. 

Dr Becky says: ‘Ask yourself what would a specific, positive friend say in response to the situation or whether it’ll still really matter as much in a day, a week or even a year. 

‘Challenge your negative thoughts, rather than simply accepting them. Remember, they may just be your perception rather than the reality.’

Imagine a courtroom set-up

There’s no denying that putting a positive slant on things and hushing negative voices takes practice. 

However, Dr Becky has a creative way of executing it.

She says: ‘A good exercise is to imagine yourself taking your thoughts to court and analysing the actual facts of the situation, based on the evidence collected. 

‘If there are no facts or evidence, then it is obvious you’ve simply made an assumption which may or may not be accurate.

‘On that basis, conclude that it simply isn’t worth spending so much time being miserable while you go over your negative thoughts again and again – when there can be no solid outcome.

‘Instead, try to come up with a positive slant for the situation, allowing you to move on and avoid being consumed by negativity.’

Start small

We often take small everyday things for granted – so it’s vital we appreciate them more regularly.

Doing this will help train our brains to recognise positivity – and writing these things down will help reinforce it.

Natalie adds: ‘Our brains will have got into the habit of looking for the bad in each day, so try to look for the good instead.

‘I am not talking about big wins like getting a new job or moving into your dream home (although those can totally go on the list), but the smaller things that can show you that – despite still living through a pandemic – there are good things happening. 

‘Maybe you caught up with a friend, went on a date, got to the gym, or even drank a hot latte in your favourite coffee shop. 

‘By jotting these down at the end of the day you start to build evidence that good things are happening, that you can be positive and before long you will be looking to collect these little gems throughout your day – rather than focussing on the bad and expecting the worst to happen.’

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