Thinking Bad or Thinking Good

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Mug of coffee with quote "What good shall I do this day?"

Negative thinking increases stress and too much stress can lead to anxiety, depression, anger and other negative emotions. Negative emotions can then lead to negative thinking patterns again. And so the vicious circle repeats itself yet again.

When you drink your cup of coffee in the morning, do you spend your time appreciating the taste or are you worrying about the amount of work you have to do that day. Every week I see clients suffering from anxiety. The first question I ask them is, “What’s been good this week?” I want them to break the vicious circle.

There is growing evidence that negative thinking can have a negative impact on our brains, and may even increase our risk of developing dementia.

The Science Behind Repetitive Negative Thinking and a Decline in Brain Function

Okay – this is going to get complicated, so bear with me …

Some people engage in what is known as repetitive negative thinking (RNT) – that is a pattern of thinking that involves dwelling on negative thoughts about the past, present or future. It can include rumination, worry and catastrophising. It’s that focus some people put on the bad things that are happening in life and all around them, while minimising the good.

It has long been suspected that RNT is associated with an increased chance of general decline in the brain function and also developing Alzheimer’s in later life. In 2020, a scientific study reported concrete evidence that repetitive negative thinking is associated with cognitive decline.

So before you start worrying about that, let’s get two things straight:

  1. If your thinking patterns include RNT – this does not mean that you will definitely get Alzheimer’s. It only means that you are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s … and the vast majority of people do not develop Alzheimer’s anyway, whether or not they have RNT.
  2. The science does not say that RNT causes Alzheimer’s – it just says it’s associated with Alzheimer’s. For example, they don’t know if there is another factor that causes both RNT and Alzheimer’s.

So don’t go and start worrying that all the negative thinking you are doing will definitely damage your brain. However, do be aware that the general consensus is that too much negative thinking will have a negative impact on your brain.

The Brain Likes to Learn Patterns

The brain learns patterns of behaviour and tends to stick with them – because it’s easier to stick with what you know than learn something new.

Most people who drive to work every day will be able to do so without remembering the journey at all – their brain has repeated a pattern that it has learnt. If you always have your breakfast at exactly 8 o’clock – you will very quickly find yourself longing for breakfast if you are even a few minutes late – because your brain has learnt a pattern. If you are always checking to see what your friends are doing on social media, your brain will encourage you to check them out even more.

… And if you constantly think about the negative things in your life, your brain will seek those negative things out for you to think about.

Think Positive

So practice thinking positively. Bad things happen in our lives, and we cannot ignore them – we have to deal with them, but once we have dealt with them, we can leave them behind. Positive and negative thinking is all a question of balance.

Even the small positive things are worth spending time thinking about. I love my coffee in the morning and so focus all my attention on it while I am drinking. I spend a few minutes each day thinking about the positive impact I am having with my clients – even those who are hard work. I consciously spend time thinking about the things I am grateful for every day.

Thinking positively takes work. You need to practice so that your brain learns the positive thinking pattern.

So think positive where you can. Acknowledge the good things in your life. Maybe keep a journal of the positive things that have happened to you each day. And above all – enjoy your life … as much as you can.


Repetitive negative thinking is associated with amyloid, tau, and cognitive decline
This is the original scientific paper – if you find it difficult to read (I did) try the next article

Repetitive negative thinking linked to dementia risk
This is a summary article – easier to read than the first.

Negative Thinking Speeds Up Brain Decline and Raises Dementia Risk
This is probably the easiest description to read.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Tim Maude

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