Thinking positively is easier said than done. Life isn’t perfect, nor are we. Things can and often do go wrong. Negative experiences are an inevitable part of existence—it’s simply part of the deal.
A large percentage of popular mental health advice centers around the opposite: positivity. We’re supposed to practice self-compassion, talk highly of ourselves, and avoid negative statements.
While that sounds good on paper, these trite quips usually come up short in real life. The hollow positive talk only emphasizes how much we’d like to stay on the negative, and the cycle continues.
And according to TikToker and certified mental health coach Amanda Armstrong, there’s a reason why all of that positivity hasn’t been helping you.
Take Baby Steps, Not Giant Leaps
Positive thinking requires the individual to ignore reality. If you can’t readily find the positive in a situation, there might not be any. Some situations have little positivity to share, which makes overt optimism look like a lie.
Moreover, positivity can quickly become dismissive, turning into “toxic positivity.” Toxic positivity is generally well-intentioned, but it doesn’t come from an empathetic place. It focuses on removing or avoiding negativity at all costs, which, unfortunately, is impossible.
“Going from a negative to a positive thought is too big a leap,” Armstrong explains. “Your brain has way too much evidence that your negative thought is more true. Instead, try making a neutral observation statement.
Don’t Think Positive, Think Neutral
These neutral observation statements have several benefits. To start, neutrality is closer to negativity than positivity. Since the shift in mindset is smaller, it can feel more manageable. When your brain is in fight or flight mode, easier is always best.
Additionally, a neutral statement adds objectivity to a situation. Positive and negative self-talk is inherently emotional—there’s no way around it. Neutrality, however, is impartial. It’s easier to see the bigger picture from this faraway perspective.
So, what does a neutral observation statement sound like?
Keep It Simple And Straightforward
“If your brain says, ‘I hate my body,’ replace that thought with, ‘I have a body,’” Armstrong says. “If your brain thinks, ‘I’m just never going to get over anxiety,’ think, ‘this is a high anxiety moment.’”
“Ugh, this is the worst day!” She suggests changing it to “‘I just had a hard conversation with my boss.’ If you can take a moment to catch that thought, regulate by taking a deep breath or distracting yourself for a moment, and then turn it into a neutral observation statement, you can stop that downward spiral.”
In a culture that denounces negativity while simultaneously exacerbating it, feeling like you’re “failing” at your mental health is all too easy. And truthfully, a life without any negativity would probably be insufferably bland.
But when that negativity gets to be too much, don’t think positive; think neutral.