Research varies on how many thoughts we have each day considering how many are original and how many are repeats. However, about 95% are negative thoughts. Wow! What can you do to combat this and what is one question you can ask to help overcome this perspective? Knowing this information can have a major impact on addressing conflict and on promoting collaboration.




The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Of those thoughts: 95 percent repeat each day, and, on average, 80 percent of repeated thoughts are negative[i]. So, what can you do to help yourself be more positive?

Ask yourself this simple question, “is this useful?”

It has to do with your own attitude and what you do to control your own brain. Your brain does not control you. You control your brain. Let us take a deeper dive and start with attitude.




Attitude is a mindset. You have a belief system. What do you do to enhance your own belief system?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.”

There is some truth to that. Considering the last section and ask yourself, “is this useful?” If it is great. If it is not, a change with whom you associate or a change in focus is on order. How can you help yourself reframe or look at the situation differently?


Self-distancing and self-talk


I wrote a couple of articles for the Hong Kong Lawyer on “When Working with a Crazy Person Try Self Distancing” and “Here Are Three Steps to Overcome Conflict at Your Law Firm”. Summarizing key concepts here are some things to think about that may help you.

Take a third-party perspective. That is when you start to have negative thoughts use your name and ask yourself some questions. For example, with my name being, Mike I might ask or state to myself “Mike, why do you feel this way?” “Hold on Mike, do not go there.”, or “Remain calm, Mike, focus”.


Ask yourself why you feel this way?


Realize making this change takes time. Try this once and then try to repeat these actions in the future. You may surprise yourself.

You can also apply the acronym of LEA. That is listen, empathize, and act.

Listen to yourself and listen to others. Why do you feel the way you do? Why do the others feel the way they do? Avoid the two stinky twins of BO and BS. That is Blaming Self or Blaming Others. Instead of blame, focus on the problem and what do you or we need to do going forward? By giving yourself positive self-talk, you can reframe and refocus yourself in a positive way.


Take small steps


Having recently read the best-selling book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, I concur with his approach to create a good habit

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying.

And to break a bad habit

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying.

It is extremely important to take small steps to initiate a good habit or to break a bad habit. Keep in mind that a 100% improvement may be a 1% improvement in one hundred things. Applying this concept here by realizing that you are having negative thoughts applying the commentary above one time starts you in the right direction. Once you have done this twice, you are reinforcing this going forward. You will screw up, but that is expected. Practice this process.

You may think of this as the

  1. Think
  2. Decide
  3. Act


Because you took the time to stop, reflect, and think about your negative thoughts, this will allow you to decide what you want to do and then to take actions to calm your negative thoughts. By practicing this process, you may become an even more positive person. Cue your craving response to reward yourself with good habits. Invert this for your negative habits. The first step is to identify the cue.

By taking this type of action you can take your view of the current situation and bring a better view of the situation going forward. I will offer you two quick short personal commentaries that demonstrate how I am learning to apply this in the real world.


Two short stories


The car garage story

I left the hatch open on my car and backed out of the garage causing $1,300 damage to my car and $50 damage to my garage door. My first reaction was anger and frustration.

Then I quickly told myself “Focus Mike.” I did this several times. This helped me calm myself.

I came into the house and told my wife what happened. She remarked at how calm I was considering. I had to change my plans for that day, learn a new skill working with my insurance agent, the car repair place, and my garage door company. That was not what I wanted to do that day, but that is what I needed to do and adjust my schedule.

A gathering story

At a recent gathering there were individuals there with a wide range of perspectives between reds and blues with our current political situation in our country. This can be very polarizing. When one member mentioned something that could have turned negative quickly, I said to myself

Mike, consider where he is coming from. There is no need to go there.”

I let the commentary flow off me like water off a duck. I did not go there. The situation remained calm. There was a change in focus, and we all remained cordial with each other.




I am by no means perfect, but I offer you this commentary on negative thoughts to point out that

(1) we have a lot of them, and they repeat themselves,

(2) if you want to change your attitude, it is possible, and

(3) you can use positive self-distancing and self-talk by taking small steps to create good habits and drop bad habits.

The initial article I cited indicates these processes do not work for everyone, but these techniques have a positive impact on nearly all. I hope this commentary based on neuroscience can help you the way it is helping me. We are all continually learning. If you want to learn more check out these two articles.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]