Our way of thinking largely impacts the quality of our lives. For instance, negative emotions can literally eat away your productivity, creativity and decision-making skills. We all know it and yet, why is it sometimes really difficult to reverse the course of these thoughts?
Positive thinking, we’ve all heard about it. Everybody wants to be happy and positive, but somehow it’s easier said than done. Sometimes we’re unreasonably harsh with ourselves. We can jump to the wrong conclusion about people and their motives. This can cause problems and make us unhappy. It can lead us to be unfair to others. Things get even more annoying when people tell you to think positive or to smile more. Sometimes it’s just a bad day and you seem to focus on all bad aspects instead of positive. Why is that so?!
The answer lies in our brain. Our brain is wired to pay more attention to negative than positive experiences. It’s a self-protective mechanism, deeply rooted in our thinking process. We are scanning for threats from when we used to be hunter and gatherers. But such tendency towards negative information can cause a narrowing, downward spiral and a negative feedback loop that doesn’t reflect reality.
Regardless of our natural disposition towards negativity all is not lost. We also have this amazing ability to break out of that negative feedback loop and we can actually rewire our brains to think positively. Key to this super-power is understanding how the brain works.
Positive thinking and our brain
Every time when you absorb new information your neurons (nerve cells) in your brain make connections, communicating through synapses. When you learn something new, you change those neural connections. Every time you reactivate this connection your synaptic efficiency increases and connections become more durable and easier to reactivate. Researchers also confirmed that sleep plays a great role in this memory process. So, it’s literally ”practice make it perfect”. You repeat and repeat certain actions and your brain will automate the process. This is where the huge opportunity lies in order to change our behavior and way of thinking for the better. When we practice looking for and being more aware of positive aspects of life, we change the brain’s natural tendency towards negativity.
Tools for creating positive thinking habits
People have the tendency to advocated positive thinking by default as if it is a solution to everything. This approach should be used with common sense. You need to decide rationally what goals you can want and can achieve with practice. Then use the positive thinking to reinforce these.
Set of tools:
1) Thought awareness helps you identify the negative thinking, unpleasant memories, and misinterpretation of situations that may interfere with your performance and damage your self-confidence. This allows you to deal with them. Way to become more aware of your thoughts is to observe your stream of consciousness as you think about a specific situation. Do not suppress any thoughts. Instead, just let them run their course while you watch them, and write them down as they occur.
2) Rational thinking helps you to challenge these negative thoughts and either learn from them or refute them as incorrect. Look at every thought you wrote down and rationally challenge it. Ask yourself whether the thought is reasonable, and does it stand up to the facts.
3) Positive affirmations
After passing first two steps, you can then use the positive thinking to create positive affirmations that you can use to counter negative thoughts. These affirmations neutralize negative thoughts and build your self-confidence. You can also use this approach to find the opportunities that are almost always present, to some degree, in a difficult situation. Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Scan for the 3 daily positives. At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. Celebrating small wins has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you record your good things daily, the better you will eventually feel.
- Recognize someone for their efforts (daily). Take a minute to say thanks or recognize someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work.
- Do something nice. Acts of kindness boost happiness levels. Doing something thoughtful has the power to get you out of that negativity loop. Do something nice that is small and concrete every day.
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