We as a human species are predisposed to focus on negativity. Our brains want to protect us.
When we were hunters and gatherers, negative thinking may have quite literally kept us alive. But even though many of us no longer have to forage for food or shelter, our brains still revert to the negative. If you hear a compliment and a criticism, many of us remember the criticism. And by many, we mean almost everyone. Now, take that inherent negative predisposition, and add in a trauma, a setback. Suddenly, our habitual reaction, combined with our conscious thoughts, may become overtly negative. We think that by anticipating the worst, we can prepare for the worst. In this way, we will protect ourselves, yes? No. We are just miserable.
The truth is, if you are in a relatively safe environment this negative line of thinking no longer serves you. Yes, innate negativity aside, throughout your life you may have been conditioned to anticipate the worst for good reason. Have you ever opened the front door, apprehensive about what was on the other side? Growing up, did you live in a dysfunctional or unpredictable household? Have you ever been in a precarious relationship, one that may shatter from the slightest misstep? Is your brain swollen with horrid narratives and worse case scenarios?
No matter your circumstances, your instinctive thought pattern likely clings to negativity. And it is not your fault. You are not crazy. You are not abnormal. Your body stores the trauma and your brain becomes hostile, negative. It is all OK. Rewiring your brain is possible. What if you could learn to focus on wonder, rather than dread? What if you could replace self-hate, self-criticism, with self-love, compassion? What if you believed you were worthy of the best? What may your life become if you drenched yourself with positivity, and focused on your strengths?
Here are three ways to rewire your brain and reverse negativity. The key is consistency. Do each of these things daily, for at least 40 days. Only then will your brain start to shift. You will feel it. And once the shift happens, you will see how happiness is a choice. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Time to put Lincoln’s sentiment to the test.
This seems like an obvious one. Yet, despite all the science and data that proves that quieting your mind is possibly the only way to control your mind, changing your attitudes and beliefs, we resist. Set aside five to 10 minutes in the morning. Try Insight Timer, the Calm app, or Sah D’Simone’s five-minute daily meditations, to get started. Go to a meditation class. Don’t be one of those people who says, “I can’t meditate.” That is the same thing as saying, “I can’t breathe.” We can all breathe, we can all quiet the mind. The goal is to learn how to observe your thoughts.
Say “I love you”
Albert Einstein himself practiced self-compassion daily and constantly reminded himself that it was okay to make mistakes. None of us are perfect, and all of us are lovable. Negativity is fueled by self-hate and self-criticism. This may seem whacky, but it helps if you actually say the words “I love you” aloud, to yourself, while facing the mirror. Put a Post-It note there if you have too. Too embarrassed? Say it in your car. Say it wherever. Just say it, over and over. The more you say it, the more you’ll believe it. And once it becomes a habit, you’ll default to practicing self-compassion. It also helps to speak to yourself as you would a best friend. Be kind to you!
Write down at least three positive things that happened today. Write down at least three things you are grateful for today. Many of us are always thinking in “what if” or “if only” terms. If I had X, then I would be grateful. If I had Y, then I would feel happy. But really, happiness has to start inside. If you get X, but cannot feel at peace and grateful for where you are at today, guess what? You aren’t going to feel any differently once you get X. Once you start making a habit out of noting what you are grateful for, you will find yourself experiencing gratitude without even trying! The key is to first make this type of thinking a ritual, something you write down, by hand, every day.
At the end of the day, it was Margaret Thatcher who said it best.
Watch your thoughts because they become words. Watch your words because they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits because they become your character. And watch your character for it it becomes your destiny. We become, what we think.
So if you continue to be entrenched in the negative thought pattern, you will not become the best version of yourself, plain and simple. The good news is that you can rewire your brain and train yourself to be grateful and think positively. The trick is routine and consistency. That is how change and habits take hold. It is progress, not perfection. Little by little, the healing adds up. And little by little, you can start to transform your negative thoughts, into positive thoughts.
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