We are all prone to negative thinking. It is something that happens in moments of failures, sadness, and anticipation. Human brains are wired that way for survival, helpful during ancient times when danger lurked in every corner.
Knowing the risks of specific actions and situations can give insights on how best to prepare for threats. A dark alley may mean increased chances of getting mugged. Falling is more likely if you walk on the edge instead of the middle of an elevated pathway. Anticipating adverse outcomes serves as warning signals for the person to avoid pain and getting hurt. Neuropsychologist and founder of Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom Rick Hanson describes the brain as “Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”
Negative vs. Positive
While needed by our ancestors to survive, negative thinking in the modern era does more harm than good. Ruminating, the process of continuously reflecting on the same sad or dark thoughts, is dangerous to one’s mental health. It can intensify depressive symptoms, impair the brain’s ability to process emotions, and make a person feel isolated and unloved. The habit is common for people possessing certain traits such as perfectionism, neuroticism, and overvaluing relationships with others.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, has a lot of health benefits, which include lower rates of depression and distress, stronger immune systems, and better coping skills during difficulties. A positive mindset can help motivate a person to move forward and succeed because they are more focused on rewards rather than the risks. Nervousness is turned into excitement. Being out of one’s comfort zone is seen as a sign of growth instead of danger.
Turning negative thinking into positive thinking is simple, but it takes time and practice. You are forming a habit, strengthening neural connections dealing with being positive, and weakening those associated with rumination. Here are a few ways to shift your mindset.
Information is key in the battle to become a positive person. Becoming aware of negative thought patterns can help you catch yourself in the act before they drag you into a spiral of anxiety and stress. It gives you the space to stop and ask questions, determining if the negativity is rooted in reality. Mindfulness meditation is a good way to focus on one’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions as they happen. You might not control what ideas pop into your head, but you can choose to linger or set them aside.
Exercise burns off the stress and anxieties a person could be experiencing, activating the brain and raising blood flow. Endorphin, the happy hormone, is released, which boosts positive thoughts and improves one’s mood. People who exercise regularly also feel more energetic, have sharper memories, sleep better, and feel more relaxed. Even 10 minutes of physical activity every day can do wonders for your physical and mental well-being.
Gratitude helps in highlighting positive emotions and empathy. Writing thank-you notes best encapsulates this experience. You can think of the good things other people have done for you instead of focusing on envy and self-pity. This breaks the cycle of continuously going back to negative events, forcing your mind to look at the positive side of things. It’s a win-win scenario, making you and the recipient feel better. Thank you notes can also become a creativity exercise. You can use coloring materials and gold foil paper to decorate them.
While the brain is prone to negative thinking, it is possible to shift to a positive mindset through mindfulness meditation, exercise, and gratitude activities. Choosing and practicing thinking positively can improve one’s health and attitude.