Wright Foundation | December 15, 2016

Overcoming Negative Thinking:
Adjust Your Inner GPS

Think back to the last time you used your GPS to drive somewhere new. When you took a wrong turn, did your GPS yell at you? Did it tell you you’re a bad person? Did it reference all the times you’ve been lost before?

Overcoming negative thinking is hard to achieve. But by adjusting your inner GPS, you can beat that negativity and live a happier life.


No, of course not! (If it did, highways would be littered with sassy GPS units thrown from car windows.) When you get lost or go the wrong way, your GPS doesn’t tell you that you’re “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, it politely adjusts and recalculates, then provides instructions for how to correct your course. It doesn’t harp on your mistakes or judge you, it simply accommodates.

Is your inner GPS just as understanding, patient and kind?

How many of us struggle with a tiny Negative Narrator in our head? She says things like, “You shouldn’t have said that,” “You’re wrong,” and “Why did you do that??” Sometimes she’s constantly demeaning us and we just can’t shake her unhelpful pessimism.

This internal monologue is the voice of our beliefs—and for many of us, these deep-seated beliefs limit our potential as human beings. These beliefs hold us back, resulting in that nagging self-critical voice who too often demeans us or sets off internal alarms when we step out of our comfort zone.

We call these “limiting beliefs” and they make up our inner GPS.

What if your inner GPS was a little nicer, more patient, more understanding? How can we adjust our inner GPS to eliminate negative thinking, feel better about ourselves every day, and help us accomplish our dreams and goals without looking back?

Flipping the Switch on Your Internal Critic

Neuroscience is increasingly showing us ways we can start to change our internal program and voice. Just like Siri, the GPS in your car remains objective, simply providing the facts without the extra negativity. Our internal GPS can be reframed to operate the same way: to assess our reactions and interactions and recalculate without reiterating our negative internal beliefs.

So, right now, take stock of your internal monologue. Do you send yourself negative messages, like these…?

“Sigh…my boss obviously hated my comment. Why do I open my mouth and say these things? I’m such an idiot.”

“I haven’t received a message from Staci on my dating profile. She probably thought I was unattractive or I didn’t sound educated enough in my last email. I’m so bad at talking to women.” 

“How did I forget to make arrangements for the babysitter again?! Where is my head? I’m such a disorganized mess!”

“Why can’t I just let my mother-in-law’s comment go? I’m such a control freak and I take things way too personally.”

Do your internal messages tell you that you’re not good enough? Do you tell yourself how you are and reinforce “truths” you believe about yourself?

Our internal monologue is essentially our inner GPS—and we can all strive to tune ours up so it’s not always bringing us down. In the car, when you’re driving from point A to point B, your GPS simply tells you where to go. It might give you your speed, your estimated time of arrival, and it might even advise you of traffic ahead. It gives you facts and objective information.

When you take a wrong turn, your car’s GPS doesn’t say negative things about you. If you take SIX wrong turns, your GPS still keeps on simply correcting your path and steering you in the right direction until you reach your destination. It doesn’t point out your lack of directional skills, the way you’re distracted by the radio, or ask why you aren’t paying attention.

So how can we get our inner GPS to be as clear and objective as the GPS in our car?

The Beauty in Objectivity

Why is our inner GPS so negative? Most of the time, it comes down to how we act and react in our relationships.

Many of us fall into the dreaded pattern we call the “drama triangle.” In the drama triangle, each person has a role: one is the Victim (always accepting blame for the problem), one is the Persecutor (shaming the Victim into submission), and the other is the Rescuer (the person who tries to step in and “save” the Victim from the Persecutor). Many of us seek to cast those around us into these roles, propagating destruction and drama instead of engaging in productive conflict.

We might lean on preconceived ideas about how “we are” vs. how “they are,” using blame, shame, and justification to reinforce these roles and limiting beliefs. Using blame, shame and justification gets us nowhere. Instead, we have to learn to engage in productive conflict and use our differences to bring us closer to one another. In our book The Heart of the Fight, we discuss the rules of engagement and how to fight objectively, productively, and fairly.

Beauty is in objectivity, so breaking these patterns and steering in the right direction means learning a thing or two from our car’s GPS. Our phones and GPS units have a lot of knowledge and data we don’t have, which is part of the reason we trust them. They have a compass, a map, and knowledge of where we are and where we’re headed.

When we’re interacting in relationships, we might often have a creeping sense of doubt or a fear that things aren’t okay. Rather than assessing the situation and “traffic” at hand, we instead rely on old data and past experiences.

You can’t find the grocery store in a new city based on the location data of the grocery store in your hometown. So why do we rely on past interactions and experiences to make snap judgments about where we are in the present?

When we meet new people, we may unintentionally assign them the qualities of our previous coworkers, partners or friends—even though they are entirely different people. Our brains, in their desire to make sense of our world and create order, are constantly seeking patterns and correlating data. So what do we do? We fall into a pattern where we play into our limiting beliefs and then reinforce them with our interactions. We blame the other person for “bringing out that side of us,” or because they can’t make things okay. We skirt our own personal responsibility in the situation and we lose our objectivity.

Getting Past the Patterns

Social scientist William Edwards Deming posited that “blame, shame, and justification” in any relationship rarely brings out desired results. In fact, his work revealed that these tactics fail to bring about a correction in behavior 96% of the time! Blame, shame, and justification simply leave us spinning our wheels and going nowhere in our relationships.

We all have insecurities and a complex underlying system built on truths and beliefs, some of which might hold us back and keep us from learning and growing. Instead we must step back and assess the situation objectively. But we aren’t robots or GPS units—we’re complex, living and growing beings with different backgrounds, conflicts, and feelings.

Rather than falling into the blame, shame and justification pattern, we can get better at what we do by bolstering each other’s strengths and accepting each other’s imperfections. We can let go of our own limiting beliefs and allow ourselves to learn and grow and reposition in each new situation.

As we make adjustments to help us navigate our path in life, we have to learn to separate objective observation and direction from preconceptions and ideas of who we think we are and where we think we should be going.

To learn more about how to engage in productive conflict, overcome limiting beliefs, and live your best life ever, join us for our next More Life Training event in Chicago.

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