Changing negative thinking patterns

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The 7 day positivity challenge is all the rage on social media at the moment. i.e List 3 things you are grateful for every day for 7 days and then nominate someone else to do the same. Is it just a bit of fluff or is there actually something worthwhile that can come out of it?

What we now know about the brain is that the more we focus on positive aspects of our lives the more likely it is that we will change the way we think and thus the way we behave.

Have a look at this 3.12 minute video that explains this process:

In other words, the mind has a habit of distorting reality to confirm what it wants to believe. The more negatively you think, the more examples your mind will discover to confirm that belief. Thus sending us down a path of lifelong bad habits. The earlier we can help our teens to change the way they think, the better it is for them in the long term. Hence, the Facebook positivity challenge may be a good place to start.

Training brains out of negative thought patterns.

There are 3 reasons we think negatively:
1. Lack of confidence
2. Focusing on fears
3. Loss of perspective

Boosting Confidence

When teenagers (and adults) focus is dominated by past failures and personal weaknesses, this causes a lack of confidence. It’s the should haves or don’t haves, while neglecting thoughts about strengths they already have, that create a destructive pattern of self belief. For example, jealousy of peers at school or focusing on how other students are doing a better job in Maths class, is followed by making excuses for why the teen can’t succeed.

We tend to take our strengths for granted and dwell on our failures.


Some things you could help your teen to do:

  • Verbalise strengths, past successes, and current advantages by asking, “What did you do well at today?” or “Who were you kind to today?”
  • Practice gratitude. (Saying thank you, expressing thankfulness)
  • Pay attention to everyone with a positive influence on his life.
  • List of 3: Write three positive aspects of her life and place it on the mirror.  (Make a new list every month, for a while)

Fight the fears

We have an unhelpful automatic habit of thinking in terms of fear. For example, I’m afraid of being poor, I’m afraid no one will respect me, I’m afraid of being alone, of failing a subject, etc. Instead of doing something about the fear, it feeds on itself, drains motivation and this becomes paralysing.

If teens are caught up in fear based thinking, the first step is focusing that ‘fear-based’ energy on a well-defined goal. Something (realistic) they can and would like to change.


  • Talk with a counsellor or older mentor about fears. Verbalising fears often helps to bring them into perspective.
  • Discuss clear short-term steps toward getting to a goal.
  • Maintain order (a disorganised teen is a stressed teen) – Get all the mundane tasks set out the night before e.g clothes, breakfast bowls, bags packed and so on. Help set out and plan homework tasks.
  • Homework struggles – Start with easier tasks, something your teen knows and can achieve. This helps teens feel productive and creates a positive momentum. Talk to the school about reducing the load for a period, if necessary.
  • Friendship concerns – Listen to your teen daily and don’t trivialise their worries. Join groups or clubs with like-minded teenagers.

Maintain Perspective

Keep life events in perspective. Some days or weeks are certainly tough, but they do eventually pass.


  • Go out for a short brisk walk in the morning or bike ride in the afternoon. Exercise increases blood flow, which helps to elevate mood.
  • Get out into the sunshine for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Sunlight increases Vitamin D levels and serotonin (among other things) which are known to reduce symptoms of depression. 

By focusing the mind on goals and positive aspects of life, teens can become motivated to take practical action, but they often need help with the steps.

Have you done the 7 day positivity challenge yet?
Train your brain. Change your brain.
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  1. Gratitude journaling is empirically supported as a positive psychology technique that increases well being. How fun to see it growing through social media!

  2. I found maintaining perspective was so important in my struggles with emotional balance. A friend said something that I used as my rubber band trigger – “In ten years time, will it matter?” That really helped and still does.

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