How to Break A Negative Mindset

Falling into a negative frame of mind is easily done, and can be difficult to climb out of. Clare, a Clinical Psychologist, offers a small mindfulness exercise that might make a big difference.

Much of the bread and butter of my work is supporting people who feel unhappy, yet can't pinpoint exactly why. On the face of things, all is seemingly well. In some cases, it's because, without realising it, we get 'stuck' on thinking about the negative. We've removed the rose-tinted glasses, and in response to a comment such as 'it's a lovely day', we may think, 'well, it won't last'.

Loop of negativity

We are all prone to ruminating from time to time, going over and over in our heads a conversation with a work colleague, or family member - wishing we said or did something different. It's those middle-of-the-night thoughts that seem to ping us wide-awake.

Sometimes worrying is helpful - if it points us to the changes we can make in our lives. But, when we get stuck in that loop of negative thinking, it's hard to get out, and it affects our mood and can make us feel varying levels of lousy!

Breaking the pattern

It's well known that we are creatures of habit. We're hard-wired to follow the same patterns and routines. This applies to our thought processes just as much as the times of the day we make a cuppa, or take a particular carriage on the train. So when we get into a pattern of thinking negatively, we have to break that pattern.

There is a lot of literature around about gratitude - that is focusing on the things we feel grateful for - and it has been well evidenced that gratitude produces serotonin, a feel-good hormone which in turn improves our mood.

A mindfulness exercise

Here's a quick exercise to give you an idea. Grab some paper and think about some of the things you are feeling grateful for today. It doesn't have to be big things, but things that you genuinely feel grateful for in the moment: maybe a smile from a stranger, or a good night's kip.

Most people are grateful for the big things - their family or friends - but think in more detail, try writing five things down. Here's my attempt:

  1. Whilst wrestling my son down for his nap he told me he loved me for the first time. It was an effective diversion tactic but felt wonderful nevertheless
  2. I had a fun night out on the dance floor with some old girlfriends
  3. I'm loving my book and look forward to an early night to find out what happens next
  4. My husband and I had a date night - it's been a while - so it was great to hang out a deux
  5. My new tumble dryer - sad but true. It has literally changed my life (did I really just share that?).

Taking a few moments to do this regularly can shift the way we look at our world, and when we least feel like doing it, is when we need it most.

Take a moment

As I write this, the Christmas season is approaching. It can be a highly emotive time: the preparation, the planning and the expectation. Then it's over, which can leave us feeling flat or fed up, swiftly followed by New Year with promises of fresh starts and resolutions. And the cycle begins again!

If you can then, if it all gets a bit much, take a moment, step back and think of those things you are grateful for, there will be plenty of them, you just need to start looking.


Clare Crawford, Clinical Psychologist