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Negative or dysfunctional thinking patterns interfere with your overall well-being and can squash your attempts to live up to your true potential. Negative thinking patterns can stimulate or exacerbate mental health problems like depression, according to an April 3, 2012 article in "Science Daily." Changing negative thinking patterns can be a bit of a struggle at first. However, you can learn to replace negative thoughts with more constructive, realistic thoughts through persistence, determination and the use of proven cognitive-behavioral methods.
Identifying and replacing negative thought patterns can improve your mental health and produce long-lasting physical benefits. Research on the effects of positive thinking has discovered that optimism is one of the key mechanisms of reducing stress, improving mood and possibly enhancing the functioning of your immune system. According to a study published in the June 1998 issue of the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," research participants with an optimistic attitude displayed higher numbers of helper T cells and higher natural killer cell cytotoxicity -- an increase in the immune functioning of the cells that kill viruses and other damaged cells -- as well as less perceived stress than those participants with a negative outlook. The Mayo Clinic reports several potential benefits of positive thinking, including a longer life span and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
You may have trouble identifying negative thinking patterns because they have become so ingrained into your subconscious. The four main types of negative thinking patterns include filtering, meaning that you see only negative aspects of a situation and "filter out" the positives; personalizing, meaning that you blame yourself for everything bad that happens; catastrophizing, meaning that you always expect the worst; and polarizing, meaning that you see everything in terms of black and white, all good or all bad. However, learning to identify these dysfunctional thinking patterns is only half the battle.
Replacing negative thought patterns with more constructive, positive thoughts is the second -- and usually more challenging -- part of the battle. After you've identified the thoughts you'd like to change, you must adopt a more positive, realistic replacement thought. For example, if you find yourself constantly thinking, "I'm no good, I'll never be any good," you might replace this thought with, "No one is all bad, I'm working on becoming a healthier, happier person." Everyone has a mixture of positive and negative traits. Evaluate the validity of your thoughts from a rational standpoint and ask yourself if your thoughts are truly based in reality. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend, avoid putting yourself down and mentally affirm your positive traits.
If your negative thinking patterns won't budge despite your best efforts, it may be time to seek professional help. Working with a trained cognitive-behavioral therapist can provide extra support as you work toward developing a more optimistic, realistic attitude. Cognitive-behavioral therapy -- or CBT -- is a proven therapeutic technique that works to change dysfunctional thought patterns and replace underlying, negative beliefs about the self. Unlike many other types of therapy, CBT is generally focused on solving specific problems, goal-oriented and designed to produce results in a relatively short time period.