Use specialized training techniques including drop sets, forced reps, and heavy eccentric negatives to get the greatest hypertrophic response. Advanced trainees and competitive athletes alike will benefit from adding specialized strategies for gaining the most muscle mass as possible, while recruiting a greater number of motor units. A recent research review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal suggests that these techniques will help you get bigger and stronger, while gaining functional muscle mass for your sport: increase the neural drive to the muscles, improve synchronization of motor units, and develop power.
Take note that three mechanisms generate muscle growth:
Mechanical tension experienced based on intensity of load and time under tension causes muscle fiber damage, which results in maximal motor unit recruitment and more muscle growth.
The local muscle damage caused by training results in inflammation, leading to the production of growth factors that stimulate protein synthesis and muscle building.
The metabolic stress from a buildup of lactate and hydrogen ions due to anaerobic energy production triggers the release of the most anabolic hormones (testosterone, growth hormone).
Amazing Forced Heavy Rep Motivation Tips
Limiting the number of frontline distributors causes a couple of important changes. First, there is less emphasis on recruiting a large number of people. Rather, you recruit a certain number, and then focus your efforts on helping your downline sponsor more distributors. The matrix comp plan encourages more teamwork than a unilevel comp plan. The narrower and deeper the matrix is, the more this effect is felt. For example, a 3 x 10 matrix puts more emphasis on teamwork than a 6 x 6 matrix does.
Second, since some people will sponsor more than the maximum number of distributors, the concept of spillover comes into play. In a 3 x 8 matrix, you can only have 3 distributors on your frontline. The fourth distributor that you sponsor will spill over into the matrix, and be placed under one of your frontline distributors. Spillover is important in narrow width plans, such as a 3 x 8 matrix, but much less important in a wide width plan, such as a 5 x 5 matrix.
Disadvantages of a Forced Matrix
- One drawback of the matrix compensation plan is that most plans require you to fill your front line of distributors before you build under anyone. If your first 2 recruits are local friends or family members, it would be great if you could place them one under another so everyone can work together to build that leg – building underneath the person at the bottom. However, you can’t do that most of the time, although some plans allow sponsor placement. Without sponsor placement, they would be sideline to each other and would be competing instead of collaborating.
- Another disadvantage occurs when distributors drop out. If they haven’t sponsored anyone, then you can just start building again at that spot. However, if they have sponsored other reps, their vacancy now creates a “hole” in the matrix that you can’t plug. This is a position for which you can never get paid. But there’s a catch. Some matrix plans feature compression, which will pull one (or more) reps up from below to fill the hole. Now your matrix is once again full – or at least empty at the bottom where new reps can join.
- Lastly, like a unilevel compensation plan, the forced matrix limits the depth on which you are paid. Everybody knows that a significant portion of a mature team will be below the bottom level in your matrix.
- Your best bet for functional hypertrophy is heavy negative training. Use an above maximal eccentric load, starting with a load that is 20 percent greater than your concentric 1 RM and build up to 50 percent greater than the 1 RM. Use a slower eccentric tempo of three to four seconds. This will produce greater motor unit fatigue and larger gains in lean mass. In fact, research shows that maximal muscle hypertrophy is only reached if eccentric actions are performed because eccentric contractions lead to a more rapid stimulation of protein synthesis and greater increases in insulin-like growth factor.
- Not only will heavy eccentric training result in greater muscle damage, it preferentially recruits fast twitch muscle fibers. This means you can target previously inactive motor units giving you more muscle growth. Plus, it’s the best training strategy for both power development and hypertrophy that can be functionally transferred onto a playing field.
- Forced or assisted reps also enhance hypertrophy by recruiting more motor units and leading to greater response. It is suggested that you perform forced reps with a load that is heavier than normal for the given number of repetitions rather than doing extra reps: for example, for a program that includes 4 sets of 12 of the leg press, and 2 sets of 12 of the leg extension and squat, identify the maximal load you can perform for 12 reps. Then increase that load and perform 12 reps, getting assistance when necessary. This has been shown to maximize anabolic hormone response and motor unit adaptation.
- Include drop sets in your protocol to produce muscle failure and maximize hypertrophy via anabolic release and a large quantity of motor unit fatigue. A style of drop sets that evidence shows is especially effective is a high-intensity set followed immediately by the same exercise at a low-intensity with 50 percent of the 1RM. Such a protocol yields a greater GH response and larger increase in muscle cross sectional area than a strength protocol alone.
- In the strength coaching profession it’s ironic that the trainers hired to improve athletic performance often do not possess the ideal physique for athletics. For example, a bodybuilder might be extremely intimidating in a mixed martial arts arena or on a football field, but in some situations a much smaller opponent may be significantly stronger and more powerful than that same bodybuilder. In fact, I’ve seen three Mr. Olympia contestants, in the off-season when they are strongest, who could not bench press 315 pounds for six reps – not exactly NFL standard.
- Canada’s Marilou Dozois-Prévost only weighs 116 pounds, but has exceptional levels of functional strength as evident by the fact that she can snatch 189 pounds and clean and jerk 229 pounds.
- Canada’s Marilou Dozois-Prévost only weighs 116 pounds, but has exceptional levels of functional strength as evident by the fact that she can snatch 189 pounds and clean and jerk 229 pounds.
- Although most athletes simply want to jump into a workout that will help them build muscle mass and strength for their sport – and indeed I will provide two examples of such a workout at the end of this article – it’s important to understand that there are many types of hypertrophy. What type of hypertrophy an athlete should focus on depends upon the nature of the sport – which means the training protocols of the reigning Amazing and innovative as he was as a bodybuilder may not be the best training protocols for every athlete.
- It would be great if muscle building for athletes were as simple as just following the popular bodybuilding workouts, but the methods used by many professional bodybuilders often do not produce the desired gains in strength and power specific to most sports. It’s possible – and I’m completely serious when I say this – that for certain types of athletes the resistance training protocols used by women fitness competitors may be more appropriate than those used by most professional bodybuilders. Let me give you an example.
- If a high school strength coach is training a freshman lineman who has never lifted weights before, simply putting him on a standard bodybuilding program with basic movements such as the bench press and leg press may make him a better athlete. But even though most likely he will run faster and be able to block and tackle more aggressively, very quickly these standard training methods will lead to a point of diminishing returns compared to other training protocols. Granted, traditional bodybuilding methods are better than nothing, but it is a mistake to believe that such a simplistic approach would be the optimal training method for this athlete to use throughout high school and college. If it were, you would see a lot more college and professional football players training like the genetically gifted monsters you see on the covers of muscle magazines.
Breaking Down Muscle Fibers
- Studies have shown that the types of hypertrophy gains in individuals who use bodybuilding programs are different from the gains in those who use weightlifting programs. The muscle fibers hypertrophied in bodybuilding programs are primarily Type I fibers, whereas the muscle fibers hypertrophied in weightlifting programs are the much more powerful Type II fibers. And this is not a matter of opinion – these recommendations are supported by peer-reviewed research.
- Examined the muscle fiber types of weightlifters, powerlifters and bodybuilders. Fry and his colleagues found that among the three groups, bodybuilders had the highest percentage of Type I fibers but the lowest percentage of Type II. The weightlifters, in contrast, possessed the highest percentage of Type II fibers but the lowest percentage of Type I. The powerlifters were positioned in the middle: They had more Type II fibers than the bodybuilders but not as much as the weightlifters, and they had more Type I fibers than the weightlifters but not as much as the bodybuilders. So for an athlete, training like a powerlifter would be better than training like a bodybuilder, but training like a weightlifter would be better than training like a powerlifter.
- One of the key concepts I teach is that rather than using percentages, it is more practical to “let the repetitions determine the load.” And with this perspective, I use the following general guideline to determine which muscle fiber is hypertrophied in a set: 1-5 reps, Type IIb; 6-12 reps, Type IIa; 12 = Type I. Oh, and the basic difference between a Type IIa and Type IIb fiber is that the IIb can produce a more powerful muscle contraction, whereas the IIa has more muscular endurance.
- The sample workout in the model consists of four phases, with each phase lasting three to four weeks, although the maintenance phase could be extended throughout a competitive sport season. The repetition ranges, and estimated intensity levels relative to a one repetition max , are as follows:
- Although this approach seems to make sense, and the “hypertrophy” phase offers many benefits, such as increasing growth hormone production, the problem is that it simply is not possible. And why is that? Because you cannot convert a Type I fiber into a Type II fiber. It would be analogous to turning fat into muscle – certainly, you can shrink your fat cells, but you can’t convert them into muscle fibers. Further, trying to develop all types of muscle fibers to their highest levels is simply not possible, as the body’s ability to recover is limited.
- Yes, there are some strong bodybuilders out there, but for them to focus on getting as strong as weightlifters would take away from their ability to develop as much muscle mass as possible. Likewise, for weightlifters to develop as much muscle mass as possible would take away from their ability to be as strong as possible; and it would be even more detrimental for weightlifters in the non-super heavy category, as their success is based upon being as strong as possible while being as light as possible.
- Many sports require that athletes develop high levels of absolute strength, and these strength gains will result in increases in muscle mass. But for best results this strength should be functional. From a neuromuscular standpoint, functional programs increase the neural drive to the muscles, improve the synchronization of motor units, increase the activation of contractile apparatus, and decrease inhibition of protective mechanisms of muscle. In layman’s terms, a functional hypertrophy program contributes more to the athlete’s power output and less to their ability to look good at the beach.
Functional Hypertrophy: The Workouts
- Let’s put all this theory into practice with an example of a functional hypertrophy workout for the lower body, and then one for the upper back. Let’s start with the legs.
- Functional hypertrophy gains in muscle mass in the legs are crucial in sports such as rugby, bobsleigh and the throwing events. One of the best ways to develop functional leg strength is to superset front squats with back squats with only 10 seconds between the two exercises. You may want to call this method an extended set, a term that high-intensity proponents would use to give the false impression that they only did one set per workout (and without counting warm-up sets, of course).
- Another description of this type of program is an improved-leverage set, as you pair an exercise in which leverage forces you to use lighter weights (e.g., front squat) with an exercise that enables you to use heavier weights. For more examples of this type of training system. The Next Real Step by Jerry Telle, an innovative personal trainer out of Littleton, Colorado. But no matter what you call this system, it can be used to develop the functional leg strength you need to perform at the highest levels that your genetics will enable you to achieve.
- Select a weight you can lift for 3-4 RM in the front squat. For example, if your best front squat is 220 pounds, your best for 3-4 reps might be 200 pounds. Using the weight you selected, perform the exercise until you reach concentric failure, return the weight to the rack, and then count for 10 seconds as you prepare to perform the back squat. At the end of the 10 seconds, you should already be in position to begin the descent of the back squat. Now perform as many reps of the back squat as possible with the same weight you used in the front squats. Rest two minutes, and then perform some leg curls for a set of 4-6 reps. Rest another two minutes, and repeat the entire series for four additional sets.
- If, when you performed the front squats, the weight was light enough to enable you to perform 5 or more reps, then use a heavier weight. If you only performed 1-2 reps, then the weight was too heavy and you need to lighten it up. As you get used to this workout, you will find yourself better able to predict the weights to use to stay within the rep range.
- Now let’s move on to a functional hypertrophy workout for the muscles of the upper back. This type of training would be ideal for a gymnast or a wrestler.
- Obviously, you could substitute lat pulldown variations for the chin-ups, but you will get better results with chin-ups. One reason chins are so effective is that you have to move your entire bodyweight, and the stabilization required to do this (as opposed to using pulldown machines) involves more muscle mass. It’s also more difficult to cheat when performing these exercises – for example, during a pulldown you can cheat by crunching forward with the abdominals. This is also one reason that the strength from chin-ups carries over well to pulldowns, but it doesn’t work the other way around. If you cannot do a chin-up on your own, there are ways to get around this, such as by placing one leg on a knee-high platform behind you (so that you don’t have to lift your entire bodyweight during the exercise) or by having a training partner hold that leg and provide you with assistance.
- For this workout, start by using a resistance that will enable you to complete 4-6 reps using the wide pronated-grip chin-up. Rest 10 seconds, and then switch to a medium supinated-grip chin-up and perform as many reps as possible. Even though you are fatigued from the previous set, the improved leverage should enable you to complete several reps. If you are using additional weight, do not decrease the resistance, as your intensity level will fall outside the range of functional hypertrophy. Rest two minutes, and then perform the bent-over bar row for 6-8 reps. Rest another two minutes, and then repeat the entire series for four additional sets.
- All this is solid information, but keep in mind there is much more to know about functional hypertrophy. For example, I often prescribe a “back-off set” of 25 reps in certain exercises after the primary sets of a functional training protocol. Research from Japanese sport scientists has found that this additional set increases the production of growth hormone and as such leads to greater gains in anaerobic lactic capacity (basically muscular endurance) and strength. There are many other methods, which are covered in my higher-level courses and my Special Consideration Training Series seminars.
- Just about any workout program that follows the concept of progressive resistance will produce gains in muscle mass. But if you want to be as strong as you look and be able to display that strength on the athletic field, focus on functional hypertrophy.
To Succeed in a Forced Matrix
Maximizing a forced matrix compensation plan comes down to the details. In theory, the plan looks perfect. In reality, things can get out of whack if the plan is poorly designed. Look for a plan that is fully compressed so it eliminates the holes when reps drop out. Avoid narrow width plans (such as 3 wide) because they tend to feature too much spillover from the upline, which gives the heavy hitters an advantage over most other reps (same issue as in a binary compensation plan, discussed next.) Lastly, look for a plan that requires a certain level of personal building (either volume or sponsoring) from your own efforts (excluding spillover) in order to avoid attracting the “welfare minded” distributors who rely on spillover.
Parents generally are the worst judges of their child's ability. The emotional investment clouds judgment and blinds parents from seeing that their child may not be gifted in sports. Instead of identifying this lack of ability, some parents push harder and end up pushing the child too far. When children lack ability but are forced to compete, they are placed in humiliating situations where they continually fail. Instead of cultivating healthy self-esteem from sports participation, the repeated embarrassment can cause the child to become stressed, anxious, withdrawn and depressed. The child also may develop a negative sense of self due to the poor performances, instead of looking to character traits, actions and other abilities to build healthy self-esteem.
FORCING THE ISSUE
- The key to intense workouts is taking your sets beyond failure, beyond the point at which the pain prevents your muscles from performing another rep. One excellent way of achieving this intensity is to do several forced reps when you can no longer complete repetitions on your own. For a forced rep, someone physically helps you move the weight.
- To get a sense of how forced reps affect your muscles, consider a descending set. Imagine that you perform lying triceps extensions for 10 reps with 90 pounds. At the end, when you have reached failure, you immediately strip off 10 pounds, which allows you to perform three more reps. This is a descending set.
- Following the Welder Forced Reps Training Principle, you can perform those same three extra reps without stripping off 10 pounds. Furthermore, if done correctly, the extra reps are even more intense than they are in a descending set. After you reach failure with the 90-pound barbell, another person will ever-so-gently place his fingertips under the bar and help you do three more reps by offering just enough force to keep the bar moving through the sticking points.
- You should be straining all the way.
- In our 90-pound-barbell example, about four pounds of stress are removed from the first forced rep via your partner's fingertips (for the equivalent of an 86-pound barbell), seven pounds from the second forced rep (for the equivalent of an 83-pound barbell) and about to pounds from the final forced rep (for the equivalent of an 80-pound barbell), so that you are always straining with the maximum weight you can utilize (as opposed to 80 pounds through three reps of a descending set).
Aiding and Abetting
- The key to forced reps is moving the weight at an average rate, not too slow, not too fast while you are lifting with maximum effort, with just enough assistance from a spotter to do so. You can be injured if the weight you're lifting is so heavy that its progress through the rep stops for more than three seconds (especially in the middle range of pressing movements). On the other hand, if a weight goes up very fast, the spotter is probably doing too much of the work.
- The amount of aid the spotter gives should increase for each forced rep. Eventually, when your muscles are thoroughly taxed, you will not be able to contribute much. It will then be difficult for the spotter to judge how much help to provide. This is the time to stop doing forced reps, because you'll either be tempted to use sloppy (and dangerous) form or the spotter will be doing virtually all of the work. (A bench press session in which you utilize forced reps should not turn into an upright row session for your spotter.) The rapid onset of failure is why forced reps are usually limited to five; three forced reps are the average. If you are performing them correctly to expand an already torturous initial set, you generally won't need or be able to do more than three forced reps.
- You can do forced reps for most exercises. There are exceptions, however; those include deadlifts, barbell rows, lunges, standing calf raises and power cleans. It's difficult for a spotter to render assistance for those types of movements. It's easiest for a spotter to help with forced reps for exercises such as pulldowns, barbell curls, and chest and shoulder presses.
- It is best to perform forced reps after a medium-range set (eight to 12 reps). With lower-rep sets, failure comes on so fast that it can be difficult for a spotter to gauge how much help to provide, and that can be dangerous. (For that reason, use only experienced spotters for forced reps after a heavy set of chest presses.) Conversely, at the conclusion of higher-rep sets, failure can come on so slowly and the amount of assistance needed can be so slight that it can be tough for a spotter to judge when and how much help to provide for the forced reps.
THE POSITIVES OF NEGATIVES
There is scientific evidence that we are stronger in the negative (or lowering) portion of a weight exercise than in the positive (or lifting) half. The Weider Reverse-Gravity Training Principle takes advantage of this often-overlooked strength. Reverse-gravity, or negative, reps are performed by lowering the weight approximately four times slower than usual, utilizing eight to 12 seconds for the descent.
Assisting against Nature
There are two ways to do assisted negative reps. The first and best method is to have one or two training partners position a weight that is 20% heavier than you normally handle. For instance, if your normal weight on a barbell curl is 100 pounds for 10 reps, load the bar to 120 pounds and have a partner help you raise it to the top position. From there, slowly lower the weight to the starting position, fighting gravity all the way. Try to do this for 10 reps. When the weight begins to go down too quickly, your helper(s) can assist with negative forced reps, slowing the weight for you slightly. These negatives cause quite a bit of muscle soreness, which is a sure indication that muscle growth will take place.
It's important that you do such negative sets for exercises that are safe to spot and easy to perform. Machine exercises are generally best. Some free-weight lifts, including squats, deadlifts and lunges, are too dangerous and cumbersome and should never be considered for negatives. It's also important that your partner(s) have the time, energy and skill to perform the positive portion of your lifts and to guide you through the descent. It's not unheard of for athletes to train using only negatives. Such sets are very intense, though, and they actually work best when they're performed only on occasion to shock complacent muscles and to adapt bodyparts to heavier weights in order to break through strength plateaus.
The second way of performing negatives with assistance is to utilize them at the end of a set, just as with forced reps. Let's return to our example of barbell curls for 10 reps with 100 pounds. After you have reached failure on the 10th repetition, another person (or two) can lift the bar back to the contracted (chest-level) position. You then attempt to lower it as slowly as possible. Because you should have more negative strength than positive strength, you should be able to perform another three to five slow descents with the 100-pound barbell. In fact, the spotter may want to push down on the weight slightly to make the negatives even more difficult.
Even when you have done all the negatives you can in this manner and the floor is starting to feel like one giant magnet tugging at the weights, don't stop. With the help of at least two extra hands, perform negative forced reps. Your partner lifts the bar to the contracted position, then gently helps you to slow the weight's descent for an additional three negative reps. All the while, you should fight the forces of gravity like an aging nudist. A set to failure, followed by negatives, followed by negative forced reps, is about as intense as weight training can get.
For most exercises, it is impossible to safely perform either forced reps or negatives without assistance. There are, however, a few lifts for which these techniques can be performed alone, at least in a limited manner.
You can execute forced reps safely without aid for one-arm biceps, triceps and forearm movements, including concentration curls, dumbbell triceps extensions and dumbbell wrist curls. For these exercises, your free hand can be used to assist your working hand for a few extra reps at the end of an intense set. The temptation is to give yourself too much of a boost and make it easy on the straining arm. Don't! To decrease your ability to help too much, limit the assistance provided by your free hand to only one or two fingers as you carefully prod the dumbbell for a few forced reps.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Though you can perform modified versions of both forced reps and negatives without the aid of a spotter, you're going to need help to get the full effect of these training principles. Don't be bashful about asking for assistance. Bodybuilding may be one of the most individualistic sports (distance running comes to mind for giving bodybuilding a run for that title), but when it comes to pushing sets beyond failure, a partner, trainer or skilled spotter is virtually a necessity. When the going gets toughest, we all need a pair of helping hands.
Don’t Cherish Destructive Thoughts.
Often we don’t realise how much we subconsciously cherish negative thoughts. It may seem counter intuitive, but often a negative frame of mind occurs because we won’t let go of the negative thoughts and ideas. Sometimes the mind clings on to these thoughts with a feeling of self pity or injured pride. We don’t like the negative frame of mind, but at the same time are we consciously trying to overcome it? The problem is that if the negative thoughts go round and round in our mind they can become powerful and we lose a sense of perspective. Just make a conscious decision to ignore the negative flow of thoughts and sentiments and be persistent in these attempts.
Do You want to be Happy or Miserable?
Do you want to be always happy?
Then give up fighting
And learn the beautiful art
We should feel a negative mindset is a choice. If we feel a victim to our own emotions and thoughts, nobody else will be able to help us. We should feel that by holding on to a negative frame of mind, we are inevitably choosing to be unhappy; each negative is a conscious decision to be miserable. If we really value the importance of our own inner peace and happiness, we will aspire to cultivate this through good, uplifting thoughts. Next time you feel the onset of a depressed state of mind, just ask yourself the question: Do I want to be happy or Miserable?
Spend Time With Positive People
The best antidote to negativity is simply to spend time doing positive, uplifting activities. Sometimes if we analyse and examine our own negativity it does nothing to reduce it. By engaging in useful fun activities, we forget about the reasons for our negativity; this is often the most powerful way to overcome a depressed state of mind.
Don’t Accept Negativity from Other People
We live in a world where there are no shortage of pessimists, critics and doom-mongers. There will always be people who can find the negative in life; but, there is no reason why we have to ascribe to their world view. For example, often in an office environment there is a negative attitude to the workplace, but, even if there are faults and limitations we don’t have to allow them to make us a negative person.
Let Go of Thoughts
If you can learn to control your thoughts, you can control the experience and emotions of life. The best antidote to negativity is learning the art of meditation. Meditation is more than just relaxation; it is a change in consciousness. We move from the limited perspective of our mind and discover an inner source of happiness.
Live in the Heart
The nature of the mind is to be suspicious and critical. If someone does 99 good things and 1 bad thing, the mind will invariably remember the bad thing. If we allow ourselves to be drawn into highlighting the mistakes of others we will invite a negative mindset. However, if we live in the heart we are not drawn to the faults of others (even if they are insignificant). It is in the heart that we can have a true sense of oneness with others, their faults seem insignificance and we can feel a sense of identity with the achievements of others.
Don’t Sit Around Doing Nothing
The worst thing for a negative frame of mind is to mope around feeling sorry for ourselves. Ruminating on our bad luck / worries / fears will not diminish them in any way. Exercise can be a powerful way to bring about a new consciousness. Negativity is often associated with boredom and lack of purpose. Stop endlessly checking emails and surfing web, look for something good to do.
Force Yourself to Think of Three Positive Thoughts.
If you are feeling really miserable and have a low sense of self esteem, try thinking of 3 good things that you have done. At time our own mind can be our worst enemy and very self critical. It is important not to lose a sense of balance; for the various bad things we have done, we have also done some good things.
Don’t Think Anything You Wouldn’t Say in Front of People
We often think things we would never say in front of people. If you are annoyed, disappointed with someone else, imagine what you would say to them in person. Sometimes when we are with people we are forced to behave; even if we are not particularly sincere the effort to avoid negativity can help us to overcome our bad mood.
Negative thinking can become a habit of mind, picked up from others. Or it can be little more than a failure of courage; because sometimes it actually takes guts to remain positive through setbacks. (Not that I considered winning money a 'setback'.)
I looked at him, thinking; he looked at me, wondering what I was looking at. Actually, I suppose negative thinking seems to have its advantages.
The devil you know
Thinking 'the worst', expecting failure and betrayal, seeing downsides where others don't, even seeing positives as negatives - all convey a kind of insurance policy. "If I expect the worst, then I won't be disappointed when it happens."
Another 'advantage' to negative thinking is the 'I told you so' syndrome. For some, it can feel more important to be proved right in their negative predictions than to have good things happen (and therefore be proved 'wrong').
Before I get too positive about negativity, here's a thought: The habit of thinking negatively doesn't just predict how likely someone is to become depressed, but also predicts how likely they are to suffer all kinds of other illnesses later on in life as well. I'm not suggesting that negative thoughts alone produce illness, but they don't help.
We're going to look at what you can do to stop negative thinking. But first, let's examine a common fundamental mistake the pessimism-prone tend to make.
The most common negative thinking mistake
Keith was proud to describe himself as a 'realist'. Of course, anyone who strongly holds a belief think they are being 'realistic' in holding it, whether it involves green men from Mars or honest politicians.
The 'more realistic' proclamation is a favourite of cynics everywhere. And in a way they are right. But only because thinking negatively causes us not to try - or if we do try, to give up sooner - so the negativity itself influences results. Self-fulfilling prophecies really do happen. Research has even found that what we believe about our health can have more bearing on how long we live than our actual health.
So, negative thoughts can plague us even when things seem to be going well: "It's too good to last!" My first tip has to do with how negative thinking distorts perception.
Stop Thinking in Extremes
Most of life isn't black or white, completely this or that, all or nothing. But negative thinking tends to view bad stuff in the extreme. For example:
Rather than not doing as well as I'd like on my test, I'm going to "fail completely!"
Instead of my business venture taking a while to get going, it's going to "crash and burn, leaving me ruined!"
Rather than just feeling a few nerves during my speech, I'm going to "die out there; they're all going to hate me!"
All or nothing thinking misses out the subtle shades in life. It makes us see the future in terms of dramatic disasters, failures, and catastrophes. Sure, disasters occasionally happen, but - contrary to the shrill pronouncements from newsstands - most of life consists of shades of grey.
The first step to overcoming negative thinking isn't to 'just be positive' all of a sudden, but to look for shades of grey. Say you've been worrying about a relationship. Rather than thinking: "It's going to be a disaster, I just know it is" or even "It's going to be perfect!", how about: "I expect there will be great bits, good bits, and not so good bits, like any relationship."
Write down what you have been thinking negatively about. Write the extreme negative statement that comes to mind. Now write three 'middle of the road' possibilities - not so exciting (or terrifying), but a more realistic take on what is actually more likely to happen. Giving your brain more options will reduce emotionality and allow you to think more clearly.
Stop over-generalizing the negative
Ask yourself: "If something bad happens, do I over-generalize it? Do I view it as applying to everything and being permanent rather than containing it to one place and time?"
For example, if someone turns you down for a date, do you spread the negativity beyond that person, time, and place by telling yourself: "Nothing ever works out for me!"? If you fail a test do you say to yourself, "Well, I failed that test; I'm not happy about it, but I'll try harder next time."? Or do you over-generalize it by telling yourself you're "stupid" or "can't learn anything!"?
And while we're on the subject...
Don't minimize the positive
Negative thinking stops people seeing the positive when it does happen. It's as if there's a screen filtering out positives and just letting in stuff that confirms the 'negative bias'. Magnifying setbacks and minimizing successes leads to de-motivation and misery.
Get into the habit of seeing setbacks as temporary and specific rather than as permanent and pervasive. We all tend to find what we look for. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about a person, for instance, get into the habit of balancing it out with one positive thought about them: "He's so insincere... Mind you, to be fair, he was helpful with that project...and he can be very funny..." The positive is there but you have to look for it.
Thinking negatively stops us relaxing with uncertainty. This can lead to 'mindreading'. "She hasn't texted me back; she doesn't like me!" or "He only said that to make me feel better, he doesn't really think that!"
Having to assign a meaning to something before you have real evidence makes you more likely to believe what you imagine without question. Holding off assigning (made up) meaning to an ambiguous situation is a key part of overcoming negative thinking.
When you become more positive (or just more comfortably neutral), you'll be doing more of: "I don't know why she hasn't texted me back yet..." You'll also be able to consider all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones.
Stop taking all the responsibility
If I put it down to 'other people' or 'luck' when something is good or successful and don't take any credit myself (even if the success was largely down to me), then I am externalizing the positive. Or I might externalize the quality of goodness from my friend when he does something kind by telling myself: "He only did that to win favours!" If you (or someone else) do something good or well, just accept it.
Negative thinkers also tend to do the opposite. They will internalize - that is, blame themselves - for all kinds of negatives that have little or nothing at all to do with them. Look at how much control and influence you really have over things that you tend to think negatively about.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't expect anything from ourselves and others, but rather that the rules need not be unreasonably inflexible.
If you feel disappointed or let down, then you must have been expecting something else. Examine what it was and ask yourself: "Was my expectation too narrow?"
Stop making stuff up and believing it
Imagination is a wonderful thing, but not if you use it to scare yourself. Sometimes we need to be able to 'suspend the functioning of the imagination' (to quote Ernest Hemingway, no less). Looking at an upcoming event in your mind and negatively hypnotizing yourself by vividly imagining the worst is like using a hammer to paint a picture. Your imagination is there as a tool to be used constructively.By practicing imagining things going well, making it more likely, you'll be calmer in the situation and it will be a much better use of your time.
If you'd like a flavour of this exercise, then click the free (yes, there really are no hidden extras) audio link below.
If you still have wildly negative thoughts, then at least 'dilute' them by imagining a positive outcome as well as the negative one. If you imagine forgetting what to say in an upcoming presentation, immediately disregard that and instead imagine it going well.
Stopping negative thinking takes time and effort, and to an extent it's a job that's never done. Practicing using these seven tips will serve you well for the rest of your life – isn't it worth spending a little time with them now?
Despite his negativity, Keith (a friend of mine) recognizes his own negative leanings and actually said he found these tips useful.