Wright Team | September 2, 2021

Stuck in Stinking Thinking: What to Do When Negative Thinking Sabotages Success

What’s holding you back from living the life you want? We’ve all experienced negative thinking; it happens all the time.

Break free of the negative thinking that sabotages your success.


Do you not have enough money? Time? Talent?

Do you lack social support? Is it your friends’ fault?

Does it seem too hard? Is the life you want out of your reach?

Does life seem unfair, like the universe never works out in your favor?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be displaying negative thinking, or what we like to call stinking thinking. Are you ready to stop getting in your own way? Here’s how to shift your negative thinking and stop sabotaging your success.

Where Does Stinking Thinking Come From?

Why the funny name for negative thinking? Because it stinks! Stinking thinking sabotages our success and creates self-imposed roadblocks. We may use denial, justification, and avoidance tactics to shift the blame and avoid responsibilities—essentially getting in our own way.

What’s more, stinking thinking is the opposite of positive thinking. Rather than intending and believing we’re moving toward a life we want, negative thinking leads to disempowerment. Stinking thinking leaves us in a place where we’re shooting ourselves right in the foot.

Stinking thinking feels good because nothing is our fault. We don’t need to move forward because we’ve come up with the perfect excuse—it’s too hard; I’m too tired; the chips didn’t fall in my favor.

The outcome is out of our hands and beyond our control. Stinking thinking gives us an out. It also holds us out of getting what we want.

So why do we do it? Why do we engage in negative thinking patterns? Like many of our thoughts and actions, stinking thinking is a big part of our personality makeup. It’s not something we can simply switch on and off. The thoughts are deeply rooted in family patterns set for us in our childhood.

As a child, were you ever told you were too emotional? Too sensitive? Too much? Not enough? Did you start to believe what you heard about yourself? These beliefs can all lead to stinking thinking.

You see, over time, the lies and warnings we’re told about ourselves stick. Imagine the little cartoon devil on your shoulder whispering in your ear and repeating these mistaken beliefs. Eventually, these thoughts even become habitual.

We may believe we’re unsafe in the world because we were unsafe as children.

We may be hyper-self-conscious because we were constantly asked, “what will the others think?”

We may have been raised to believe the world is hostile.

We might believe we don’t possess the innate talent of a sibling or friend, or to believe things come easy for others but don’t come easy for us. We weren’t “born with it.”

We may paint the world with a rosy brush because we have a deep-seated need to use over-optimism to make everything okay.

These negative thought patterns are deep within us, and they become our “normal.” Because we’ve repeated them for years, they eventually lead to limiting beliefs. These were reinforced by behaviors and actions that we took, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. People treat us like we’re “not enough” because we walk in a room without confidence, believing that we’re going to be rejected, with our shoulders down and our heads hung. We don’t speak up because we think we have nothing to share. Then when people see how we present ourselves, they believe it too. Our belief is reinforced.

These limiting beliefs hold us back and keep us from what we want and are constantly reinforced by our own stinking thinking.

Denial: Not a Just a River in Egypt

Stinking thinking and negative thinking patterns can lead us to a place where we feel unfulfilled, disengaged, and disempowered. We may feel stuck in our circumstances, but we also believe that we are helpless to change them.

For many people, this disengagement and denial cause us to seek ways to “zone out.” So, instead of grabbing life by the horns, we seek ways to fill the emptiness inside. We give ourselves an excuse to indulge in soft addictions—things that bring us a temporary boost but then leave us feeling worse than before.

Soft addictions are little habits we all undertake to self-sabotage. If you binge-watch Netflix, endlessly scroll through social media, overeat, shop more than you can afford, or constantly “lose yourself” in activities (even socializing or working), you might be looking at a soft addiction.

These addictions aren’t limited to activities either. We can become addicted to gambling, seeking danger, making deals, playing dumb, constantly being late, flirting, gum chewing, nail-biting, over-exercising…and the list goes on. We can even become addicted to moods and ways of being, such as hiding behind sarcasm, moping, being a people-pleaser, or a perfectionist. Our soft addictions take up our time and brainpower to avoid the negative thinking that we feel powerless to change.

We all use stinking thinking and denial to justify our behavior, avoid feelings, and con others as well as ourselves. Denial, defensiveness, overgeneralization, minimizing, blaming, and jumping to conclusions several examples of the stinking thinking to which we are vulnerable. When we don’t think clearly and cleanly, we are likely to minimize or even deny that our soft addictions pose problems. Stinking thinking prevents us from viewing our routines objectively and honestly.

Stinking thinking is so pervasive we often don’t realize it exists. We think our stinking thoughts are facts, not arbitrary decisions based on faulty beliefs. Our distorted thoughts normalize our soft addiction routines.

Stinking thinking becomes like a sea we live in. We’re like fish, not knowing water exists around them until they’re caught. Stinking thoughts lead us to indulge in soft addictions, defend the behavior, and deny any problem with our actions. Stinking thinking becomes a sort of soft addiction in itself—a habitual thought pattern that we return to repeatedly for diminishing returns.

Soft addictions function as a filter of our experience, screening out useful input. As we enmesh ourselves in shopping, gossiping, and daydreaming routines, we fail to feel the pain that could guide us toward the right action. Without feeling our pain, we more easily deny that anything is wrong.

The vicious cycle, of course, is that we engage in soft addictions precisely because we don’t want to feel pain. Without the ability to see our lives clearly and feel the pain completely, we can convince ourselves that our soft addictions are harmless or even that they are good for us.

That’s when we deny with comments like: What problem? What pain? What do you mean this is a problem? I can’t see it as a problem.

The Soft Addiction Solution

Denial comes in many forms—minimizing, lying, rationalizing, and comparing (one of the sneakiest forms). See, we figure if everyone else is doing it, it’s okay we’re doing it too. We feel safe in our negative thoughts and actions because they’re ubiquitous—everyone does it. But when we step back and look at the facts, we may realize those we surround ourselves with also give way to their own stinking thinking.

It’s not a coincidence that negative thinking attracts more negative thinkers. We might see it as conspiring or coming together to commiserate, but we’re commiserating in misery. We’re surrounding ourselves with negative thinking patterns because they feel familiar and even “safe.”

These fellow stinking thinkers serve as living examples of how our own thoughts and behaviors are okay (others are doing it too!) even though, deep down inside, we know that it’s holding us back.

We may even realize that scrolling through social media for hours or retail therapy with money we don’t have is hurting us. We may also know that eating ice cream for dinner or ordering pizza isn’t the ideal way to nourish our bodies, but it makes us feel better in the moment. We’re numb to the real hunger that’s beneath the surface of our actions—we may not realize that we really long to be loved, to connect with others, to matter, to feel fulfilled.

The good news is that one of the best ways to reverse the trend in our negative thinking is to catch ourselves doing it. When we start to notice our stinking thinking, we stop ourselves from living in the land of denial. Awareness of how these thoughts are hurting, not helping us offers big motivation to change them. As they say, “awareness is half the battle,” and with stinking thinking, it’s true.

Catching Your Negative Thinking

We challenge our students at Wright Graduate University to become experts at catching stinking thinking and breaking those negative thinking patterns. Reversing our negative thinking is one of the biggest keys to shifting our direction in life—taking back power and realizing that we’re in control of our behaviors and outcomes.

Even during our weekend workshops and More Life Training, we often encourage the awareness and identification of stinking thinking by passing out tokens to participants. Each time they notice a group member (or themselves) exhibiting stinking thoughts, they hand over a token. Since this is done in good humor, it’s not unusual to see participants laugh out loud at themselves, especially when they realize how silly and stinky their denial, excuses, and rationalizations sound aloud.

When we realize that we have the power within ourselves to change our lives, regardless of our circumstances, inherent talents, job, financial status, or other external factors, it’s energizing. We are not stuck in our stinking thinking! Our stinking thoughts aren’t true, and we can break those negative thinking patterns and move forward.

Identifying our stinking thinking patterns is the best way to break them. In fact, stepping back and even laughing a little at the ridiculousness of our stinking thoughts helps us realize how unfrightening they are. Humor and compassion are anecdotes to our not-so-great thoughts. Guess what? We’re all human! Occasionally, we have to laugh at ourselves.

So often, when it comes to working on personal growth and transformation, we approach it with a seriousness and direness that counteracts the goal. If you want to live a life of more play, more joy, and more vitality, you aren’t going to get there by taking life too seriously.

Handing out tokens, laughing at ourselves, and even reading humorous books and watching movies where we can identify stinking thinking (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Austin Powers, and Monty Python’s Holy Grail are a few that come to mind), can help us realize how irrational our rationalization is!

As you work to overcome your limiting beliefs and stinking thinking, don’t forget to approach it with a sense of humor. Identify your stinky thoughts and turn them on their head. If you are worried about what others think, do something ridiculous and goofy. If you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself, get up there and do it anyway.

Balzac said our greatest fears lie in anticipation, and it’s true. What’s the worst that could occur? Could you live with it? Imagine what could be possible if you stopped believing you couldn’t and started believing you could?

For more ways to get the life you want, don’t miss our courses on Wright Now. We have an array of classes that can help you get MORE from your relationships, career, and yourself. Empower yourself to live a life that’s full of joy and satisfaction today!


The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.