New Study Supports the Replacement Principle
Training people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder to replace their negative thoughts with positive thoughts leads to a significant decrease in anxiety and worry
“Men are disturbed not by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.” —Epictetus
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” —William James
We’ve known about the replacement principle for thousands of years. The replacement principle basically says in order to get rid of negative thoughts, you actually should replace them with positive thoughts about the person or situation instead of simply trying to forgive and not think about the bad things.
But this is not new, or example, read this quote that is more than 2000 years old:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul of Tarsus.
Paul gave this admonition to a group of people he was mentoring. They were in a fierce conflict and were ruminating on the mistakes of each other, focusing on them and getting angrier and angrier and unable to resolve the conflict. Yet, they had a lot in common and had done some great work together. Paul wrote to them teaching them the replacement principle. Instead of just trying to forgive each other, they needed to focus on their thoughts on the good in each other and that will help them stop ruminating.
They would do best by filling their minds and meditating on things that were true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to hurt others. He wanted them to fix their thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. He wanted them to think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise about those they were in conflict with and in general.
Why? Again, because simply trying to not think about bad things others do isn’t going to work. Forgiving is not forgetting. Even when we forget, we still think about things.
When we are in the midst of a conflict, our perspective easily gets distorted and negative. A person might have done 99 good things to us but we don’t think about those 99 good things done before. We focus on the one thing they have done wrong to us.
Turing replacing negative with positive thoughts gives us perspective.
A new study published in the Journal Behaviour Research and Therapy confirms this age old truth. The study titled, “The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder”, shows that training people to replace their negative thoughts with positive thoughts leads to a significant decrease in anxiety and worry. In fact, the study found that replacing the negative thoughts with any positive thoughts even if they weren’t related to the content of the worry still significantly reduced the anxiety and worry.
Behav Res Ther. 2016 Mar; 78: 13–18. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Link to abstract.