Mind over matter. Put your mind to it. Believe it and you will achieve it.
There are a lot of sayings connected to thinking your way through a challenge. So why is it that so many of us let our negative thoughts get in the way of progress? Some neuropsychologists believe it’s because our brains are wired to automatically latch onto negative thoughts.
It goes back to our early days when avoiding peril was much more important than reaping potential rewards. We’re always looking out for threats and negative thoughts are like a defense shield. We put negative thoughts out there to keep ourselves out of potentially dangerous situations.
Another possible reason we have knee-jerk negative reactions is because those types of thoughts appear to come quickly and easily. Negative thoughts also activate our brains more than positive thoughts.
But it’s not a runaway train that can’t be controlled. There are ways to train your brain to think like a Positive Pauly rather than defaulting to a Negative Nancy persona.With a little time and effort you can exert more executive control over your emotions.
Train your Brain to Think Positively
One Thing that makes a huge difference is actively self-regulating negative emotions. Recent research from Ghent University suggests the same region of the brain that controls physical movement is also activated when a person voluntarily controls their emotions. This means it may be possible to control emotions just like we control our limbs.
So, how exactly do people self-regulate negative emotions and think more positively?
Negative thoughts originate in the amygdala, two small regions on either side of the brain. The more you actively try to avoid negative thinking the less active the amygdala will be.Research has shown active avoidance and ignoring negative thoughts also strengthens the connection between the amygdala and the frontal cortex where emotional regulation occurs.
In other words, the more you practice not thinking negatively, the easier it becomes. All it takes is a little mindfulness.
The other piece of the puzzle is increasing positivity – but there’s a catch. The brain doesn’t readily store positive thoughts and memories. You have to hold positive thoughts in the brain so they aren’t forgotten. Once something great happens, bask in the glory for at least 12 seconds to increase the odds of making that positive feeling stick in your memory.
Asking yourself the three questions below can help you actively avoid negative thoughts and encourage the brain to think more positively. Answer the following questions each day during a short meditation period to maximize the benefits:
“What am I grateful for right now?”
Reminding ourselves that we have a lot to be thankful for can instantly negate pessimistic thoughts. You’ll be thinking of the people you care about most, your accomplishments and the good times – all of which make your brain happier and can actually increase mental productivity.
Keeping a gratitude journal can also help. Time block a few minutes each day to write down at least ONE Thing you’re grateful for. Anytime you need to refocus and redirect your emotions you can use your journal to remember all the things you appreciate in life.
“What are three things that went right for me today?”
It’s easy to focus on the things that go wrong and forget everything that went right. Pessimists are notorious for fixating on what went wrong and thinking setbacks are something that can’t be changed.
Forcing yourself to acknowledge at least three things that went right in the day reinforces positive thoughts and proves all is not lost because of a single setback. Go a step further by brainstorming how you can overcome ONE Thing that went wrong in the day.
“What can I do to control my situation?”
It’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless when nothing is going right and life seems to be conspiring against you. Pessimists sometimes believe that both good and bad situations are controlled by outside forces. The truth is we always have a choice. Those choices, including choosing to think positively, determine our outcomes.
Asking yourself what you can do to control a bad situation moves you from passive thinking to action oriented thinking. You’ll start coming up with solutions rather than focusing on problems. For example, if you got stuck in traffic during your morning commute because of a new construction project, you can choose another route to work. You can’t control the work schedule, but you can control how you get to the office.
The brain is a really powerful tool in shaping how we approach adversity and challenges. Our thoughts are what lead to action, which means if we think positively we’re more likely to act in a positive manner. Put your mind to it and you can start thinking happy thoughts instead of letting negativity take over.