A thought is a mental event that has form, energy, and content. Although there’s no conclusive evidence on how many thoughts an average person has in a day, possibly between 12,000 and 50,000, we do know that a significant number are negative; as a rule-of-thumb, we tend to have twice as many negative thoughts as positive ones. We also know from research that our mind wanders away from what we are doing around 48% of the time and that people reported feeling more negative when their attention drifted off in automatic thoughts. So why do we have so many negative thoughts and what can we do about it?
The primary reason we have more negative thoughts is that our attention and mental processing is prioritized towards things we perceive as a threat, rather than to things we see as safe. This “negativity bias”, which extends to thoughts that are negative, rather than positive or neutral, is hard-wired in the brain as part of our evolutionary inheritance. Although our negativity bias provides one answer, there are other reasons why automatic thoughts tend to drift towards the negative.