Tag: negative thinking

People often ask if your glass half full or half empty. This rhetorical question may actually be better referred to as a “loaded question.” When it comes to human behavior, our ability to make logical, sound reactions to the world around us is harder than what one may think. People have a tendency to not only focus on negative experiences, but to cling to them as well. Psychology has defined this tendency within its styles of negative thinking as negative filtering. The concept goes something like this: You have a tendency to focus on the negative. You may have a great performance with plenty of positive feedback from teammates, coaches and fans but one is mildly critical and you become all-consumed by this one reaction. You ignore all the positive feedback and focus primarily on the singular negative comment. If while reading this you could not relate to this concept of negative filtering, you have mastered a skill that very few have. However, more likely than not, this statement rung true to your experiences at some point or another. Looking at the initial question of our glasses being half full or half empty leads to an even better question: How do we defy our human tendencies toward the negative and consistently see our glasses as half full?

Allison Ledgerwood is a social psychologist that decided to tackle this question. She sought out to answer why it is that we let rejection and failure stick in our minds and let the positives pass quickly. She designed an experiment that intended to shed some light on the subject. The experiment consisted of two groups that were told about a new surgical procedure. Group 1 was initially told that the success rate of the procedure was 70% while Group 2 was told that the procedure had a 30% failure rate. Not surprisingly, Group 1 liked the procedure and Group 2 disliked it. It was then presented to Group 1 that they could think of the procedure as having a 30% failure rate. Conversely, Group 2 was told that they could view the procedure as having a 70% success rate. So what happened next? Group 1 changed their opinions and no longer liked the idea of the procedure, while Group 2 stuck to their initial opinion and still did not like the procedure. The study demonstrated that when a negative thought seeps into our brain, we have an extremely hard time seeing the positive. These results led researchers to believe that our minds naturally convert toward the negative implications of a situation…but just how easy is it to convert from negative to positive or vice versa?

In an extension of the initial study, participants were asked to solve a simple math problem. Again, two groups were formed but asked the same question two different ways:

Group 1: If 100 lives are saved, how many will be lost?

Group 2: If 100 lives are lost, how many will be saved?

The time it took for participants to solve the problem that went from gain to loss took around 7 seconds (Group 1). However, when calculating losses to gains, it took closer to 11 seconds (Group 2). This provides insight that our brains have an easier time processing loss/negatives but a much slower recovery when going from negatives to positives. For example, an athlete may be having the best game of their life and score a big goal and feel ecstatic about it. That same athlete could still be having the best game of their life but have one small mistake preceding their big goal. All of a sudden, the mentality has changed from, “Wow what a great goal–I am so happy!” to something more like, “It was the least I could have done after making a mistake.” While our brains may have a genetic disposition to find negatives and hold on to them, there are small steps we can take to find the positive out of situations as well. Perhaps that means letting our negative thoughts and judgments come and go. Maybe it means replacing negative self-talk with positive feedback. Next time, when you are confronted with a situation where it appears that your glass may be half full or half empty, remember that your perception is a choice. Your instinct may gear you toward the negative, but your mental strength can rebound you to see the positive.

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We’ve all been there: a negative state of mind when the game isn’t going well. It’s easy to get to that place, too. It starts with an error, a bad play, or some missed shots. Before you know it, your athletes are walking away from the competition with their heads hung low. If there’s anything that has the ability to spread quickly and to set in and take hold in our minds, it’s negative thinking. However, there is a silver lining. Dr. Justin Anderson, a licensed sport psychologist, has some key advice for coaches:

“The best thing that you can do for your athletes when they’ve hit a rough patch is to simplify the game. Give them one task to focus on; one goal that they can attain. It’s important to bring their minds back to one task that is important now.”

He suggests that instead of focusing on the end result, a win, break it down by giving your athletes a goal: getting positive yardage on the next drive or a defensive stand before the period runs out. When your athletes are in the moment and focusing on what they need to do right then and there, they’re going to perform much differently. When athletes have goals to build on, they can start building some really good momentum. He furthers this with a couple of quotes from Coach John Wooden, who is not only famous for his NCAA wins, but also for his many poignant, inspiring words:

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

In his years of being an athlete and a sport psychologist, Dr. Justin knows how easy it is for an athlete to get overwhelmed. Coaches sometimes focus too much on the negative. It’s obvious that as a coach, your goals for your athletes are to have them compete well and to hopefully win, but it doesn’t always improve your athletes’ performance when they’re being drilled on what they’re doing wrong.

“The players already know that they aren’t supposed to fumble or that they’re supposed to make their shots. As a coach, you need to make a point to tell them what to do instead of what not to do.”

Next time your athletes are down, take a deep breath, and bring them back up. Give them a moment to be in. Know that your athletes have the ability to perform better and that looking toward success instead of pointing out failures is what can bring out the best in them. Small victories can easily boost morale and be a huge game changer. Keep the goal simple, but make sure that it’s something they can build on–getting that positive momentum going can be crucial.

You know that voice inside your head? The one that reminds you of something negative at the most inopportune moment? We’ve all got it. Those voices are our minds at work. Over the course of our existence, our minds have developed to keep us safe by solving problems. However, while they strive to keep us safe, they don’t always do so honestly. That’s right: our minds sometimes tell us things that aren’t true or helpful in order to solve problems.

If you’ve ever been reminded of the last shot you missed while standing at the free-throw line, or the last pass you bombed the moment you were throwing the ball, you’ll surely be aware of the effects it can have on your performance. While it might not make sense that these thoughts would “help” us, our minds are trying to remind us of these old actions in hopes that we might not repeat them. (This goes back to those old survival instincts where repeating the same action twice might result in death.) While we can’t stop our minds from their constant input, we can train ourselves to place that input on the back burner when we really need to. Here are 3 tips from psychotherapist Bobbi Emel:

  1. Thank your mind. When that little voice starts telling you that your shirt is so last year, just acknowledge it. Tell your mind that you appreciate that it is looking out for your best interests, but that you’re fine. Soon, you will be able to separate yourself from your thoughts, and see that those thoughts aren’t you.
  2. Become aware that some of the thoughts your mind produces may not be true.  Your hair does look fine. You will make that next shot. Your next time will be better. You’re mind is simply worried that once you reach good enough that you won’t strive to do better. Again, all you need to do us understand that your mind is trying to solve problems. After you do that, just tell yourself that it’s not true and move on.
  3. Label thoughts as stories. Our minds create patterns of thoughts that are like stories. Recognizing that not all of those stories are true is key. Once you do that, you can take a step back from your own thought process and allow yourself to be more objective. Not all stories are true.

At first glance, it may seem a bit difficult to turn down the volume on your own thoughts. The important thing to remember is that like any sport or skill, it takes time to learn, practice and apply. With enough work, you will be able to apply these with ease and focus on what’s really important: the moment you’re in right then and there.

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