Is Negative Thinking Bad For Your Brain?

Jun 05, 2015 2 Min Read
watch your thoughts including negative thoughts

Leaderonomics Archives: Focus on the Brain

If You do a Lot of Negative Thinking, Your Brain Wires to be Good at Producing Negative Thoughts

When was the last time you thought about your thinking? How much of your thinking is positive? Negative?

‘Well-known neurologist’ Willie Nelson said:

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.

It turns out that this is true where your brain health is concerned.

Is negative thinking bad for your brain?

Scientists seem to think that it is. Researchers at King’s College London found that repetitive negative thinking may increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease). Remember, at this time there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, so this deserves your attention. 

The study found that a habit of prolonged negative thinking diminishes your brain’s ability to think, reason, and form memories, essentially draining your brain’s resources.

Another study reported in the Journal of American Academy of Neurology found that cynical thinking also produces a greater dementia risk.

Remember, brains get good at what they do. Negative thoughts create ‘channels’ in your brain. This way of thinking can become your default. If you do a lot of negative thinking, your brain wires to be good at producing negative thoughts. Your brain also gets good at seeing things to think negatively about.

One of the byproducts of negative thinking is stress, which then leads to more negative thinking.

A “sure fire” stress buster

Here’s a suggestion:
When negative thoughts come, and they will, don’t just ignore them. Pay attention. Stop what you are doing. Close your eyes if you need to. Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. Hold the positive thought in your brain for a full minute, or more.

When you do this, neuroplasticity starts to work in your favour. The two keys are attention density, and holding the thought long enough for your brain to begin to create new ‘channels’. Scientists refer to this as quantum zeno effect.

You become a sculptor of your own brain. How cool is that?

A good book to read on self-directed neuroplasticity is You are Not Your Brain, Jeffrey Schwartz. When you change your habits of mind, your life changes.

Tom Hopkins once said: “Being miserable is a habit; being happy is a habit; and the choice is yours”. There is some truth to this.

One more suggestion:

Go for a whole week without complaining. Not even once. Log it. If you relapse, start your week over. Back to day one. Go for a week without complaining… and watch the people around you change. Such is the power of mirror neurons.

This article was first published on

This article is also available in Chinese.

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Tags: Brain Bulletin

Terry Small is a brain expert who resides in Canada and believes that anyone can learn how to learn easier, better, and faster; and that learning to learn is the most important skill a person can acquire.

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