Stinkin’ Thinkin’: 4 Ways Your Brain is Hardwired to Think Negative Thoughts


The following article is excerpted from Healthy Aging® Magazine. To continue reading this article and more like it, subscribe to Healthy Aging® Magazine, the lifestyle magazine that is all about following your passion and what you can do rather than what you can’t.

We’re all wired to want to grow toward the highest version of ourselves. There are many components involved in moving your life forward. Growing toward our goals is much like driving a car.

There are seemingly infinite moving parts involved in keeping your car on the road. Well, negative thought patterns are like the pesky check engine light that alerts you to a problem but doesn’t help you fix it. Or maybe you don’t notice—or try to ignore —the light, until the car sputters or, worse, stalls.

We readily accept that we can’t drive a car without oil or gas or even a driver’s license, registration, and insurance. It’s the same when we expect something from ourselves that doesn’t exist or when we undervalue the truth that we know about ourselves. When we disconnect and begin sputtering through life, we impede our ability to achieve our goals.

We cannot always immediately pinpoint why we feel disconnected. But there is a solution—if you’re willing to do the work. There is a proven way to create meaningful, lasting, transformative change. It starts with resolving unresolved childhood memories, unlearning early learning patterns, and reprogramming the thinking and behaviors we’ve picked up along the road of life.

Where Our Beliefs Begin

As children, we are told bedtime stories of people performing great feats of supernatural strength, knights in shining armor riding horseback, pumpkins turning into carriages, and talking frogs.

They are stories of good versus evil to remind us of the rewards of healthy behavior. We tell stories to make sense of the world. Since there is no escape from life’s negative or painful experiences, we form certain curious beliefs about ourselves to help us understand what’s happening around us and how to get our needs met.

So much of what happens in our early years is unconscious and involuntary, so we as humans have developed a set of survival skills to fill in the gaps that our parents or primary caregivers couldn’t, or didn’t, explain to us.

“The soul is a recorder of all memories,” said Transformational Guide Jaime B. Haas, known for her methods to silence the inner critical voice so you can finally break free from negative thoughts and limiting beliefs. “The subconscious mind holds on to messages that were told to you as a child that you not only held on to but created a belief system that you shaped your life around to make sense of the world.”

According to Haas, much of our early learning patterns are layered with assumptions and messages that have been reinforced over time.

“The key to personal growth is to stop placing our wellbeing on external factors and deal with the core wounds that inform our limiting, negative, fear-based beliefs,” she says. “It’s critical to find the painful, harmful thought patterns and behaviors from years of programming and painful experiences. It is in identifying exactly what you are thinking and doing and deciding to take action that the greatest change and healing starts to happen in your life.”

The Great Transformation

Each of us is presented with invitations to keep growing. The battle is if we choose to accept them. We are constantly presented with situations that we don’t want or don’t make us feel good or whole. We either turn it against ourselves, against others, or we awaken to the opportunity to change.

Anxiety and fear of the unknown are manifestations of how we are hardwired to perpetuate the task-and-reward system that we learned as children. We want to make someone else the bad guy—or at least the reason for our discontent—or worse, we turn on ourselves and create more problems. Bottom line: We’re uncomfortable with the silence that accompanies reflection that leads to change, so we don’t take the brave, solitary journey inward.

Growth, or the great transformation, happens when the desire to change becomes greater than the fear of change. In other words, it’s when you are so uncomfortable and unhappy with the way things are or that they are trending that the fear of change no longer has a grip on you. You are willing to do what it takes to make the necessary changes, even if we don’t know what to do first.

The Power of Pattern Work

According to Haas, there are at least four reasons you can’t stop thinking negative thoughts about who you are, your ability to get what you want out of life, and how capable you are of achieving your goals. Haas’s proven approach is like taking your car through a multi-point inspection. You’ll need to address all the reasons why your negative thoughts trap you.

“We know we have to do more than buy shiny new hubcaps, or get a new paint job, or go through the car wash to keep a car running safely on the road toward a destination,” Haas said. “We also know these actions don’t fix the car, and they certainly can’t help get you to your desired destination.”

It’s important to address all four reasons because if you arbitrarily eliminate one or two, you won’t have the scaffolding to support your new framework. One or more old habits will creep back into your thoughts, conversations, and behaviors.

“These four reasons are just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “But the things you learn when you address them become the building blocks to achieving the quality of life you desire.”

1. Fears or Limiting Beliefs

Fears or limiting beliefs keep you stuck. To kick off the work, you will need to identify and reprogram any negative belief patterns by replacing them with positive and affirming thoughts and actions. You’ll also be challenged to stop listening to the voices in your head telling you the lies about yourself and leading to your misperception of the world. It is about reprogramming your mind for the better by thinking and behaving in ways that create a more positive, loving way of seeing yourself and the world.

In other words, do you build yourself up or beat yourself up? When you detach from negative thoughts, you will be able to cultivate more joy, envision more, or greater, possibilities for your life, and be more present. It all starts with making small changes, such as how you talk to yourself and what you were taught to believe.

2. Negative Manifestation Compulsion (NMC)

Do you constantly criticize or judge yourself or others? If you were raised in a household where finding fault was common behavior, your brain was likely programmed to interpret your negative thoughts as literal truths. When you begin to question the source of these false “truths,” you start to engage in rituals, behaviors, and actions to create a different experience.

“The transformation begins when you take positive action to stop living in old, critical belief systems,” Haas said. “My method helps you address why you might be holding on to negative thoughts. You will learn how to unpack them, which involves replacing them with new, positive thoughts, reciting affirmations that resonate with your new experience, and showing up differently in your life.”

3. Your Perception of Self

If you are very harsh on yourself and focus on all your missed opportunities, weaknesses, and perceived flaws, you’re not alone. Research shows that struggling with, arguing with, and trying to drown out or push away negative thoughts about yourself only amplifies the problems and makes them worse. The dilemma is not that we have negative thoughts. It comes when we begin to believe those thoughts and cannot evolve. It’s about building self-love from within ourselves.

“It’s a multi-faceted process that involves finding your feelings, affirming the good about yourself, practicing meditation and self-care, showing up present, authentic and honest in your life, and doing more things that bring you joy,” Haas said. “There is no quick-fix or magic bullet. It is a holistic set of actions.”

4. Focusing on the Outside to Fix the Inside

“You are the greatest project you’ll ever work on,” Haas said. “But if you’ve done everything to change the outside, from pursuing a degree, changing jobs, and relocating to a new city; to fixing your body or changing your wardrobe, and you still haven’t gotten what you want in life, that means it’s time to look inward.”

When we seek external sources to validate our sense of self, we empower that thing or person outside to be the source of our identity and well-being.

“When we give all our power to other people to make us feel better about ourselves, we will never feel OK on our own,” Haas said. “We begin to crave that hit to fix us, or that crumb of love, attention, or affection to feed us, but it’s just a temporary fix. It’s never enough, or it never feels right, so we go back out on the hunt for the next hit, repeating patterns of behavior or thinking that don’t serve us.”

The work is about discovering, nurturing, and excavating our well-being from within ourselves. To do that effectively, we must find a connection with an infinite power source, so we are content, no matter what happens in, to, and around us externally.

According to Haas, many self-help ‘gurus’ suggest there’s just one thing on which you should focus.

“They tell us that positivity or meditation, for example, is the key to solving our problems when they are just parts of the solution,” Haas said. The most helpful, beneficial practice is holistic, dynamic, and prescriptive.

The objective is to identify and address the root causes or triggers of your negative thinking, so you can fundamentally change your relationship with your thoughts, yourself, and the world. It’s uncomfortable to relive the dynamics surrounding our core wounds.

Most people get stuck on autopilot to avoid the discomfort, and they stay there. We get stuck on autopilot and don’t even know it, despite feeling the discomfort and drowning in the unwanted results. We don’t even recognize it because these feelings are familiar, and there is comfort in the familiar. When we take a completely different approach, we will truly have a new experience.”

The change process may feel scary and uncomfortable—and the process takes time—but it’s actually the point, according to Haas.

“If you are comfortable, you are not changing,” Haas said. “It is when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, commit to doing things differently, feel the fear but do it anyway, that’s the great awakening. Life becomes a lot better than the stories we tell about it. Our brains are hardwired to keep us ‘safe’ and avoid perceived harm, but you should never confuse what’s ‘safe’ with what’s best for you. We all want to stay safe, but playing it safe is not actually changing.”

One thing is sure. There is no straight line to healing. When you engage in this work pattern, Haas warns, sometimes you will feel that you’re going backward, and you might not want to stay the course as a result. It’s important to pinpoint the exact thinking and behaviors that are keeping you stuck in repetitive experiences. When you do, you’ll have the insights to change your life.

“The grounding that accompanies pattern work helps you manage the moments when you feel defeated,” Haas said. “You need to address these foundational truths to help you move forward because this transformation will take commitment and work.”

In all, Haas’s advocates for a trifecta of awareness, affirmations, and deliberate actions, because the way we end patterns is by doing things differently.

Richelle Payne is a brand strategist and writer based in Philadelphia.
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