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“If only,” two words that can make you feel like a victim and keep you stuck in negativity the rest of your life.  If only I was 3 inches taller, 30 pounds thinner, and could sing and dance like Beyonce! It goes on and on and on.  When your happiness is reliant on the external instead of the internal you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Seeing everything through a negative lens robs you of joy, zaps your enthusiasm and leaves you feeling as if something is always missing or not quite right.

Don’t feel disheartened or hopeless if you identify with what I’m saying. We all have some degree of negative bias, it’s part of our survival mechanism. We are built to remember the bad so we don’t repeat mistakes and hurt ourselves. Like, “Oh, I’d better not go down that road, it’s always filled with traffic and causes me to be late.” The mind also makes mistakes and can exaggerate negative thoughts while ignoring the positive. “I can never be on time, I’m such a loser.” This disproportionate thinking can make you susceptible to cultivating patterns of negative thinking. A system that is put into place to protect you quickly turns into one that harms you if not used properly. Snow tires are great in a snowstorm, they may even save your life, but do you really want to put them on your car when it’s 95 degrees out there? Not necessary. So getting smart about letting go of unnecessary negative thoughts is going to help you stay positive, grounded in reality and more resilient to your daily obstacles. If you don’t want to limit your potential and get in the way of achieving your goals, and stop feeling lousy to boot, here are five ways to stop negative thinking.

1. Catch negative thoughts and transform them into positive ones.

Be invested in catching yourself when you go down the negative path. Just observe what you’re thinking, don’t judge. After you’ve observed your thoughts, let them go. Don’t add any extra negative comments. Once you’ve observed your negative thoughts, accept them, then give them a positive spin. Rather than saying to yourself, “That film I was in is a real flop and I’ll never work again.” Transform it into, “The film didn’t get rave reviews, but it certainly gave me a great experience to practice what I love and have my work be seen by lots of people. Who knows where that could lead, the future is wide open.”

The first negative comment felt claustrophobic with nowhere to go but down. However, putting a positive spin on your experience leaves everything wide open with an abundance of possibilities.

2. Create personalized positive affirmations.

I am a big believer in no BS, staying down to earth and being truthful. So, sugary affirmations that just cement over reality are not my cup of tea. On the other hand, if you have a tendency to be negative all the time, well that’s not reality either. In order to even out the playing field, repeating what is positive in your life just keeps things more balanced. For example, if you tend to feel that you are broken and unfixable, it is extremely helpful to list all your capabilities in order to loosen the hold of those negative thoughts. Keep it real. For example, “I am honest, faithful and reliable with my friends and family.” Make your affirmations specific and let them target the negative thoughts. Start your day with a positive affirmation and reflect on it throughout the day.

I just bought a wonderful handmade bracelet with the words, “The journey awakens the soul,” so I can be reminded of the adventure that each day holds. Be creative and have fun with it.

3. Find meaning in your life.

If you are not happy and don’t look forward to waking up every morning, maybe you need something to wake up for. Have you discovered your purpose? If you go to work and feel like a robot, it’s time to seek joyful work. Don’t just settle. Find something you care about.

Get involved, make a difference in the world, it will make a difference in how you feel about yourself.

4. Meditate.

Meditation will help you let go of thoughts by learning how to focus on your breath. Take a quick look here for more info. Research shows that meditation can help you feel calmer and more positive. When I work with patients and teach them how to handle difficult emotions through meditation, they not only learn a skill to help themselves through the rough spots, but they gain confidence and resilience to bounce back faster.

Give it a try and commit to having patience, it’s the gift that never stops giving.

5. Surround yourself with positive people.

We all know someone who has the middle name, “yeah, but.” They are the people who constantly poke you for advice but rarely put it to use. They are more invested in staying stuck in their wounds and blaming others rather than changing. It’s about  being right and making everyone else wrong. It might be time to recreate a more positive group around yourself. If you are stuck with someone like that, try and avoid the negative talk so you don’t spiral down. Instead, have compassion for them and hold them in the sunshine of your positive thoughts. Maybe it will rub off.

As the venerable monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Yes, wonderful things can happen in your life that make you light up with joy, but you also have the ability to light up with joy even when great things are not happening on the outside.  I hope this information will plant some seeds of positivity within you and in time will blossom. Let the journey awaken your “positive” soul.

I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop

Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.

Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website.