I’m enthusiastic to share a tool with you that helps people redirect negative thoughts to a more positive outlook, rather than just trying to suppress them. Many people report that using this tool is an effective way to feel and perform better quickly, and builds their resilience.
Studies show that our attempts to “stuff” negative thoughts can actually result in a preoccupation with the very thoughts we are trying to suppress. Ruminating thoughts tend to go around in circles, and typically don’t subside until we take some form of action, like deep breathing techniques or listening to uplifting music to change our focus. Another key to transforming a negative thought is to replace it with something empowering, such as focusing on our character strengths. Research reveals that when we intentionally cultivate positive emotions it has an “undoing effect” on negative emotions, which in turn broadens our capacity to find solutions.
The simple tool I’ve developed below offers an easy-to-remember, three-step process to do just that—helping you to transform those negative thoughts. I call it the “strong thoughts tool” because it leverages your strengths of character in creating a more positive perspective on challenges you may face.
Strong Thoughts© Tool
Step 1: Observe
Observe how negative thoughts make you feel. For example:
- “I’m a failure.”
- “I can’t believe I dropped the ball on that project!”
- “They are always undermining me!”
Those negative thoughts and negative self-talk cause stress chemicals to be released in your body. You may notice this through a faster heart rate, muscle tension, shallow breathing, sweating, dizziness, lack of awareness, foggy thinking, etc.
In contrast, pay attention to how positive thoughts affect your body. When you are in a positive frame of mind you tend to feel relaxed, your heart rate is more coherent, your breathing is effortless and deeper. You typically experience greater energy, increased awareness and better focus.
Step 2: Replace
Replace unproductive, negative thoughts quickly with objective language that utilizes your strengths best suited to the situation. In other words, observe the situation as if you were coaching yourself. Identify some of your top character strengths that can help you better deal with or solve the issue.
- “I’m using my strengths of self-regulation, social intelligence and teamwork to build my relationships.”
- “I’m learning and growing from this experience.”
- “I’m taking responsibility in a way that fosters trust in myself and elicits trust from others.”
Step 3: Affirm
Affirm this authentic view of yourself, elevated by your character strengths. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize yourself using the strengths you just called forth for the challenging situation. See yourself behaving in this higher, more ennobling and more productive way. Continue to affirm these strengths in yourself until you feel more optimistic about the situation and your ability to positively influence it.
Envision the details of the action you will take (i.e., the constructive conversation that you will have to boost the relationship you are trying to build), creating in your mind the outcome you want. Reflect on how you will better appreciate yourself and others while contributing your talents—embracing an attitude of growth. Replay that in your mind until you crystalize and affirm a positive outcome.
How did that go for you? What did you gain from practicing this self-empowering tool? Quickly shifting from a deflating thought to a “strong thought” can significantly increase your energy, resilience and overall well-being.
 Wegner, Daniel M., David J. Scheider, Samuel R. Carter, and Teri L. White. “Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53, no. 1, (1987): 5-13.
 Fredrickson, Barbara L., R. A. Mancuso, C. Branigan, and M. M. Tugade. “The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions.” Motiv Emot. 24 no. 4 (2000):237-258.