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Stop Disqualifying the Positive: 7 Steps to Help you From Falling into This Thought Distortion

May 04, 2022

Do you tend to see and focus on the negative aspects of a situation? “Disqualifying the positive” is what is referred to as a thought distortion, or a cognitive distortion. What this means is that your brain observes a situation and filters in the negative aspects of the situation and ignores, or discounts any of the positive aspects of the situation. If you are someone who experiences this, you are not alone. Our brains have what is called a “negativity bias” which causes them to highlight the negative things around us, while bypassing positive things. 

The reason it does this is because, typically when you are experiencing negative things, you also experience negative emotions. This can raise an alarm with your brain because with negative emotions comes discomfort. Your brain does not want you to experience this discomfort, and it thinks that if it continues to focus on the negative thing that somehow it can prevent it from happening again and therefore avoid future discomfort. However, what actually happens, is you feel worse because you are replaying the negative aspects of the situation over and over, while dismissing anything positive related to the situation. 


An example of this that I have seen in my work repeatedly is when someone receives constructive or "negative" feedback at work. Someone who filters information by disqualifying the positive only focuses on that negative feedback and disregards any positive feedback they received up until that point. They forget about the positive review they received, the compliments they get from coworkers or customers, and they start to question their overall competency in their role. The danger with this is that when someone is thinking like this and experiencing the challenging emotions that comes with this type of thinking, their performance may decline.  


When their performance declines, they receive more constructive or "negative" feedback which reinforces their faulty thinking about their competency and things can continue to worsen from there. Had they been able to see the full picture, they would likely be able to take the feedback in stride, remind themselves that they are good at what they do, and move on from there.  


The thought distortion of disqualifying the positive occurs with actual events or situations that you are experiencing in your life, as well as with anticipated events or situations. When you disqualify the positive, you may think about something happening in the future, or of something that you think may happen in the future, and only think about the worst possible outcomes of the situation. This creates anxiety, fear, and/or worry ahead of time about something that may not ever happen. 


Disqualifying the positive can play out in any area of your life, so if you notice yourself focusing on only the negative aspects of a situation, go through the 7 steps below. They can make a significant difference, and if you are intentional about this ongoing, you will rewire your brain so that it no longer automatically disqualifies the positive. 

  • Notice what you are feeling. Often you will notice a “negative” emotion (worry, fear, anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, etc.) before you notice the thoughts you are having that are causing the feeling. 


  • Once you notice the feeling, label it. Get clear about what emotion(s) you are experiencing. 


  • Ask yourself what you are thinking that is causing you to experience the negative emotions. Get really clear on what your thoughts are and what you are focusing on related to the situation. 


  • Ask yourself if there is another way you could be thinking about the situation. This step is not about pretending there is not something challenging happening, it is about making sure that you are not ONLY focusing on the challenging parts of a situation or considering the worst-case scenario only. If you are going to think about the worst-case scenario, you deserve to allow yourself to at least consider the best-case scenario also. 


  • For every negative thought you have about the situation, consider two “better” thoughts you could have…and believe, about the situation. This will help you to rewire your brain so that it stops only considering the negative aspects of certain situations. 


Remind yourself that your brain thinks it is helping you. Acknowledge what is happening in your brain, and then remind yourself that although the intent it good, it is not helpful in this particular situation so that you can refocus on the larger picture, and not only the negative aspects of the situation. 


Bonus points if you write out your responses to these questions as you work to change your thinking pattern. Science has shown that writing things down has more impact than typing or just thinking about things. 


To get ongoing tips and strategies to help you manage your mindset and your thinking patterns, sign up for my weekly email where I send out exclusive information to my community. You can sign up HERE! 


Live your best boss lady life! 

~ Karen 

Karen Vincent Solutions 

If you are interested in some more information about ways of getting the results you want in your life faster, sign up for a free coaching consultation session with me by clicking HERE. 

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