by Siti Suhaily Md Idris

It’s often when you’re alone that negativity slowly starts to tighten its grip on you: the voices in your head remind you about your mountains of work and your crippling inadequacy, anticipating others’ disappointment at your failure to deliver:

“There’s too much to do and too little time. I can’t do it”
“I’ve never done a presentation before. How do I even begin?”
“What if people don’t like my ideas and think I’m incompetent?”
“Why bother, who cares? No one, much less my boss, will notice what I’m doing.”
“I have no opportunities in my position.”

Your mind darkens, shrouded by ominous typhoon clouds; the pressure builds up in your brain as you hear the voices playback over and over again, getting louder & louder each time. All you want to do is curl up into a ball, squeezing really tight; willing the voices to just… STOP!

If this sounds relate-able to you, and you’re looking for some small glimmer of hope, we’re reaching out. Here are a few strategies that could help you keep those negative thoughts at bay, and start you on your journey towards a more positive & healthy mindset.  

1. Size it Up – Recognise the Difference between “Having” & Dwelling

First, some assurance: merely having negative thoughts every now and then is normal. It’s part and parcel of the ups and downs of being human, and doesn’t automatically mean you have clinical depression.

It is only when you dwell on these thoughts & start thinking that you have no control over them that, if not addressed, could become a serious problem, affecting not just yourself but also the people you relate to. 

2. Think it Through – Identify the Cause(s)

Start a thought diary. This will help shed some light on how you think (ie. patterns or links) and make you more aware of the situations or circumstances that sometimes trigger your negative thoughts. Armed with that knowledge, you can be more mindful about when you need to put your mental guards up.   

3. Switch it Out – Believe that You Can Overcome! 

A fixed mindset is part negative thinking – the idea that you can’t do anything to change your situation; the idea that the only way to silence the voices in your head is to turn off your brain by going to sleep. This requires a change of mindset. “There’s nothing I can do about it” is only true if you are convinced it is. You are not powerless against your negative thoughts. You can take control of them. You can change your outlook.  

Don’t think… Instead think…
“There’s too much to do, and too little time.” Stop over-thinking. Start doing.
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how.” This is an opportunity to learn something new! Ask a colleague, or google for help.
“What if people don’t like my ideas and think I’m incompetent?” or “I will never win.” There’s always lessons to learn from failure. 
“Why bother, who cares? No one will notice.” If you care, someone else will too.
“I have no opportunities in my position.” Focus on your passion, not your position. 

4. Break it Down – Get Organised, then Live in the Moment

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer mountain-load of things you need to get done. But worrying about it isn’t going to help you make that mountain any smaller. Take a step back, clear your head. Think about what tasks you have on your plate, and break them down into small, practical, do-able steps detailing how you are going to tackle each task.

Having a good to-do list in writing will show you a clear path and a better sense of direction – where to start (ie. step one. What you can do now), and how to progress from there. As you work through your list, you will feel more on-top of things and motivated to get things done, one checkbox at a time. 

5. Live It Up – Spirit Uplifters

Yes, trying to change a negative mindset takes a lot of time, effort, and brain power. So here’s some things to give you an energy boost to take on the challenge:  

5.1 Count Your Blessings

It may sound cliche, but everyday for a week, write down three things (even if they are tiny things) that you are grateful for, and you’ll be surprised to see how your perception changes.

And if you want to take it to an extreme, even on the seemingly worst days, there are basic provisions that we often take for granted:

  • A house to live in, protecting us from the cold, the wind, the rain, and the sun; while the homeless have to sleep on hard pavements with cardboard blankets.
  • Clean water to drink, cook and wash your clothes; while some people (you don’t have to look any further than Kuala Lumpur) have no access to potable water. 
  • Waking up to a new day; while others may never take another breath.

5.2 Bring Positivity into Someone Else’s Life

Don’t stay lost in your own thoughts all the time! There’s so much more to life than “me, myself and I”. Divert your attention to bringing joy and encouragement to someone else: help an “ah ma” cross the road, offer assistance to a colleague who is swamped with work, lend your ears to a friend who is struggling through a break up. 

There’s a sense of fulfilment in carrying out an act of kindness for someone else; a sense of peace in knowing that you can find meaning & purpose outside your own mind; a sense of comfort in being part of something bigger than yourself.

5.3 Have A Side Gig / Get A Hobby

If you are an average person, staying positive at work doesn’t come naturally because it isn’t your dream job. That’s why outside of work, it’s so important to recharge by doing things that you love. Channeling all of your focus on a hobby will also refresh your mind for when you return to work-mode. 

Set aside time every week to really get stuck into something that sparks the excitement of a child in you: tend a garden, read a book, hike a hill, play a board game, take a walk, learn a new skill or musical instrument. Even better if you pursue these hobbies with your friends! 

6. Give It Time

Lastly, just know that attempting to alter your default mindset (from one that perceives everything through grey-tinted lenses, to a more positive point of view) will take time. As much as we’d like it to, it can’t happen overnight. 

So don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t feel like your situation is improving right away. Persist, and hang in there! Evaluate after a week or two, and you’ll see that things will start looking up. 

P.s. if you’re still struggling to handle those negative thoughts alone, we encourage you to reach out to a professional.