Analytical Thinking vs. Negative Thinking

The Basics

Analyzing something is quite different from negative thinking (judgement based thinking). The former requires taking what you know about what has happened in the past and what you believe will happen in the future based on past results, and projecting them into a comprehensive statement about whether this is something that you want or whether you would rather have a different outcome. It’s non-judgmental in nature, and it requires very little emotional involvement. When you are analyzing, you don’t need to spend time figuring out whether it’s “good” or “bad”. Instead, you spend your time projecting. You project what you know about your habits, your circumstances and your life into the future. Like the old adage says, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” So analysis doesn’t need any judgments, it’s simply a statement of what is.

Negative thinking based thinking, on the other hand, is emotional in nature and results in fear based thinking. Negative thinking almost always has judgments included in it. For instance, when I’m thinking about something that I don’t want to continue doing, I will say, “If I continue down this road, I will not reach my goals.” That part is the analysis we talked about, but if I were to follow it up with “Not reaching my goals is bad, and it means that I’m lazy and worthless.” I am now judging myself, and harshly. I have taken an analysis and made it into a judgment. I am giving myself value based on what I’m doing. I am negating my inherent value with these judgments, and doing myself and the people I could potentially help a disservice. These judgments are not helpful, and can be very harmful.

I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy experiencing negative emotions. Negative emotions are not fun at all. If I were given a choice, I would choose a positive emotion every single day of the week. Judgments create these negative emotions. They can create positive emotions too, have no doubt about that. If I’m thinking about how I just cleaned the entire house, and so therefore I’m a good person, that is a judgment that may make me feel good. Judgments aren’t inherently good or bad, and ironically if you try to classify them as good or bad, you will be falling into the trap of judging your judgments.

This is bad compared to what?

Relativity is important when we’re talking about judgments and negative thinking. Take a minute to reflect on the nature of positive and negative in the world. The earth has a positive magnetic pole and a negative one. Car batteries have a positive terminal and a negative terminal. In order to have one, you MUST have the other. If you were to take a sheet of paper and cut off all of the right side, you would be left with no paper, because if you did manage to cut off all the right side, you would have cut off the left side as well. This is why trying to avoid negativity is nothing more than escapism and denial. You can’t have positive thoughts if you couldn’t create negative thoughts. Without negative thoughts, you wouldn’t even know that you would rather have positive thoughts.

You can’t judge something as good without also being able to judge the exact same thing as bad, for equal but opposite reasons. I’ll use a personal example to illustrate my point. I was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in 2004, a chronic illness that has symptoms similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My initial reaction to being diagnosed could have been that it’s HORRIBLE. I’d have less energy than other people my age, joint pain, dietary restrictions, exercising too much can make me sick for days (usually 4). None of these are inherently good or bad. They just are, and I could have easily taken the attitude that everything was horrible and my life sucked. I also could judge all those symptoms as good. Instead of it being “bad” that I have to monitor my diet, I now get a crash course of how to take excellent care of my body, which will allow me to happily live longer than most of my “healthy” peers. Instead of seeing my low energy as a bad thing, now I no longer have to do anything that I don’t really want to do. There’s no point in wasting my precious energy, so I have the opportunity to cut out the things in my life that I was only kind of happy with. I could get rid of a ton of fluff. Do you see what I mean? If it can be bad, it can be good.

A New Approach

Noticing negative thoughts and calling out falsehoods is the best way to approach them, in my opinion. In the past, I have used the flip method, where you identify a negative or judgmental thought, then replace it with a positive thought, but the downside to this approach is that at the end of the day you just had twice as many thoughts. It can be a very useful approach, if you schedule specific time to do this with some thoughts that you notice are chronically negative, but for everyday waking life, I find it to be more of a hassle than it’s worth. I would much rather notice the judgments, and then call them out if they are lies. Yesterday I had the perfect example. I was walking around the house aimlessly, and when I stopped to observe my thoughts, I noticed I was beating myself up for all the things that weren’t done. The floor needed vacuuming, the pictures needed to be hung up, and the toilet could use a good scrubbing. Instead of noticing these things, though, I was making judgments about how lazy and worthless I was based on the things I was observing. I stopped for a second, and just watched it happen. Then allowed the judgments to be without trying to force them in or out. When I noticed they weren’t helpful, I said to myself, “No, this is not true. I am not a bad person because I haven’t yet done these things.” I didn’t say the thoughts were bad, and I did make a correction, but the correction was based on analysis rather than denial or hype. Instantly, I started to feel better and the internal judgments stopped.

What do you do to improve your thinking?

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