Reverse Your Buts to Banish Negative Thinking

24 August, 2020
Negative thoughts are rarely helpful. Instead, they fill you with doubts and worries. Today, psychologist Marcelo Ceberio explains a useful technique to get rid of negative thought patterns.
 

There’s still no definitive answer as to why humans tend towards negative and catastrophic thinking about ourselves and those around us. If positive thinking is better for us, why do negative thought patterns persist? Today, we’ll talk about this phenomenon and give you a helpful technique that can change your thinking. Are you ready to reverse your buts?

Think of all your strengths; bring to mind everything you like about yourself. All of your skills, abilities, and valuable attributes. Now think about the fact that, instead of emphasizing that side of yourself, you often dwell on your weaknesses, character flaws, and the skills you lack. Most people do this, which leads to feelings of worthlessness.

The cognitive creature we call thought

Some of the behavior that develops around these feelings, what cognitive psychologists call “cognitive distortions“, relate to each other in spite of some subtle differences. The important thing is the degree of negativity and devaluing that prevails in cognition, emotions, and actions.

Many of these ideas sneak up on you and spread like wildfire. They creep into your mind and take over.

  • For example, thoughts associated with helplessness, such as “I won’t be able to do it”, “I’m not capable”, or “This isn’t for me, it’s too much”.
  • Beliefs about what other people are thinking, as if you could read their minds. For example, “That person is staring at me. They probably don’t like my outfit” or “Those people are talking about me”.
 
  • There are also people who let a tiny negative event or comment suck any good out of what’s already happened.
  • People who obsessively ruminate on what they “could’ve” or “should’ve” done about something that already happened.
  • Thoughts that predict a negative or catastrophic future.
  • People who continually compare themselves to others and people who discount the good things that happen to them, as if they were the fruit of the arbitrary nature of life.

Essentially, many beliefs lead to self-devaluation. Also, they often result in seeing flaws and unhappy aspects of yourself and others.

The thing is that this catastrophic kind of cognition doesn’t stop with thinking. Instead, it quickly and inevitably translates to action and the resulting emotions. From there, a beautiful and unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy is born.

But…

Going through life obsessing over what others think about you and imagining that everyone is against you isn’t healthy. It’s no wonder that negative ruminators are mistrustful and sometimes paranoid.

The word “but” is one of the keywords in their vocabulary. This linguistic formula applies to most of the things they say. “But“, “It’s a shame that…”, or “Even though…”. All of these interjections cancel out affirmations. It’s a real trap.

“But” is a rigid word that breaks up a positive sentence. Let’s take a look at some examples. “She’s a really good person and usually does things well, but when she gets angry it’s awful” or “We had a great time this weekend, we didn’t even argue. But she has a bad personality and is kind of rude”.

 

The “but” completely negates any positive aspects stated in the first part of the sentence.

Negative and catastrophic people are generally hard-pressed to see things in a positive light. When they do try to say something positive, they usually end up undoing it at the end of the sentence. This description completely devalues what they first said.

It’s important to remember that this “but” can be directed towards yourself as well. For example, “I’m glad I did the homework quickly, but I always do it last minute” or “I study hard, but it’s a shame I still can’t speak the language fluently”.

Breaking the habit of using “but” in this way is hard because it always steers your thoughts towards negativity. It’s like an unstoppable machine that makes everything repeat itself. It perpetuates a negative point. Negative thinking has a lot of inertia, which makes a one-hundred-and-eight-degree change difficult, but not impossible.

Reverse your buts

One of the most effective ways to go about this is to do it step by step and use the reverse your buts technique. This probably sounds funny, but it can be extremely useful. The magic of it is that it doesn’t require you to try and squash your negative thoughts. On the contrary, you can let them flow, release them, and say them out loud. The difference here is that, once you’ve said your negative thoughts, you use the word “but” to direct the idea in a positive way.

This mechanism is similar to what you’ve been doing, but it turns your negativity into positivity. Here are some examples to illustrate what we’re talking about:

 
  • “My bronchitis was awful and I couldn’t work for several days, BUT I was able to rest. It was a mini-vacation that I deserved.”
  • “I should’ve realized she was a bad person. I fell for her scam in the end and lost some money, BUT it’s good I didn’t risk more of my money. This teaches me to be more careful in the future.”
  • “Everyone’s staring at me because I’m wearing this flowery shirt. They’ll probably say I look ridiculous, BUT it’s great to dress exactly how I want. I’m free. Let them stare, I don’t care. I need to focus on myself and worry less about what others think.”

What can I learn from this?

The “reverse your buts” technique involves finding a lesson in every situation. It’s like asking yourself “What’s this idea trying to teach me?”, “What message is this situation trying to communicate?”, or “What can I learn from this scenario?”

This simple technique triggers a kind of negotiation between undervaluing yourself and encouraging feelings of self-worth. It’s difficult to suddenly dismantle a habit that you’ve had for a long time, so reversing your buts is a step you can take towards realizing that not everything is a catastrophe. With the “reverse your buts” technique, you’ll see that things aren’t inherently negative. Instead, it’s all about how you perceive them.

Now it’s your turn! Try coming up with three “positive buts” and see how you feel!