Mental health expert Alice Boyes offers simple strategies to beat negative thinking.
1. Understand and moderate your self-sabotaging habits.
Accurately diagnosing your patterns of self-sabotage is key to mental health. Let’s unpack a common example of how this can go wrong. Perfectionists typically think that all their problems will be solved by working harder or being more self-disciplined. However, overworking and being excessively self-critical are often the cause of perfectionists’ self-sabotage rather than the solution. If you’re stuck in self-defeating habits, experiment with whether looking at your patterns in a fundamentally different way helps you come up with more fruitful potential solutions.
2. Find your favorite strategies for overcoming procrastination.
Avoidance increases anxiety and is implicated in most of the common mental health problems, including anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders. For optimal mental health, everyone needs a set of strategies for overcoming procrastination and avoidance. In my book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit, I give 21 options so readers can build a personalized toolkit of the six to seven strategies that suit them best. For example, I like the strategy of “last things first,” which is that I sometimes do the last steps of a project first, since these can be easier than the initial steps.
3. Correct your thinking errors.
We all have thinking biases. If you know what your typical biases are, you can mentally correct for them. An extremely common bias is blaming others. When we’re in a negative cycle of interaction, we usually see the other person as the cause of the cycle and overlook our own role. Another common thinking error is jumping to negative conclusions in ambiguous situations. For instance, you send an email but don’t get a reply. You get stressed out that the lack of reply is indicative of a problem rather than assuming a more benign explanation, like the person didn’t get your message or forgot to respond. When you know your biases, you can recognize when these occur and consider alternative explanations for situations.
4. In relationships, focus on frequent, simple positive interactions.
When it comes to relationships, a common sabotaging pattern is that unhappy people tend to over focus on reducing arguments and under focus on increasing their positive interactions. Many types of relationship tension never get resolved (like arguments over your partner always running late). When you know how to keep your level of positive interactions high, you’ll have a more cooperative spirit for dealing with recurring conflicts. Simple positive interactions like reminiscing about good times, using affectionate nicknames and expressing admiration and appreciation make the world of difference to the emotional tone of a relationship.
5. Understand the psychology of money.
Smart money decisions can reduce your stress and anxiety and increase your happiness. The most important money psychology principle to understand is probably loss aversion. This principle is what makes us scared to invest in assets that may lose value (e.g., stocks) but it also plays out in much smaller ways. For instance, it’s psychologically very difficult to cancel a subscription because we tend to overvalue anything we already possess. Understanding loss aversion may make you think twice about signing up for free trials or absurdly low-priced introductory offers, or at least make you turn off auto renew as soon as you start your trial.