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Shifting from negative to positive thinking

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Can your brain be rewired so that positive thoughts outweigh negative ones?

All of us have struggled with negativity at some point in our lives. We still do, and for some, it's a daily occurrence. Do you feel like negative thoughts are preventing you from pursuing opportunities? If that's the case, take a deep breath and know there's a way to change it. Although it may not be an easy fix, you will see and feel the difference with practice.

This blog will give you some tools to help you change your thoughts. It won't explain scientific reductionist or dualistic theories or give you a lesson on brain anatomy. You can read many resources and books on those topics if you want to learn more. The goal is to change those negative thoughts; to do so, we need to understand why they occur. Like sensations and feelings, thoughts are part of the pattern of brain activation. They constantly influence us. Our bodies respond to them. For example, the stress response can lead to illnesses, and fear activates the fight or flight response. They also influence muscle contraction.

In addition to being amazing, the brain can also be very lazy. In most cases, it will stick to what it knows best and work to protect you from harm. Some argue that this is pushing it and that you have more control over your thoughts. Is that the case? Don't think about lions! Did you see an image of a lion in your head? You could have picked a different animal or object to focus on instead of one we told you not to. Our brain will automatically use what it knows because it is programmed to do so. If you never saw a lion, your brain would have worked a few images of things that might have been the answer. Changing its habits can be challenging because it sticks to what it knows.

You can do a few things to achieve this and maintain it, but you have some homework to do before we begin. Make a list of all your triggers. When negative thoughts invade your mind, write down what you are doing. Are you working, at home, awake at night, or stuck in traffic? Is it a smell, a color, or a picture? There might be a mix of things. Keep a notebook in your bag this week and record where and what you do each time it happens. The first step to changing negative thoughts is to identify your triggers.

An example is you've just finished a long day at work. This one was stressful, and you didn't get a good night's sleep the night before. You can't wait to get home and eat a bite because you're starving, and those clothes are bothering you. You want to slip into your sweatpants. The news channel on your car radio is full of negativity. As soon as you get on the highway, you get stuck in traffic due to construction. Your muscles tense up as you think about all the wasted time you will spend in the car and how late you will arrive home. You feel miserable thinking about how much you hate your job, day, and life. The car beside you is trying to get in your lane, so you honk like everyone else and clench your teeth. You want to get home tonight, so you don't want him to pass you by.

Can you relate to that situation? Is there a way to handle that positively? Here's another attempt at that scenario;

After a long day at work, you are tired. It was stressful, and you didn't get enough sleep the night before. As you think about it, you take it as a learning experience. You think about today's outcome, pat yourself on the back for your excellent work, and make a mental list of things you can do for the next meeting to avoid it getting too stressful. When you smile about that, a few people you cross smile back at you. When you get home, you can't wait to eat because you're starving, and those clothes are bothering you; you want your sweatpants. Once in your car, you grab a granola bar and loosen a few buttons to make yourself more comfortable. You are flooded with negativity when you turn on the radio in your car. You put on your favorite playlist instead of paying attention. Due to construction, you are completely stuck in traffic on the highway.

Your muscles begin to tense as you think about all that wasted time. Your first reaction is to say NO out loud and relax. Your first thought is that you can't control everything and will eventually get home. Instead of focusing on the honking, you take a deep breath and listen to your playlist. You decide to listen to that podcast you never have time to listen to. It will be great to be able to listen to one while you have time. You think about how grateful you are for your job in this tough economy and how supportive your family has been. You consider your future goals at work and in life and how small steps will help you reach them. The car beside you is trying to get in your lane, so you decide to let them pass. Even though they don't bother to thank you, you keep smiling as you listen to the podcast. When they see how peaceful you are and what you just did, the car beside you smiles back.

What was your reaction to this scenario? Different approaches to the same situation. In the end, you cannot control everything, and even if you are incredibly positive, you will still end up in situations you'd like to avoid, but that's not possible. Feeling like the second scenario is possible. Change the things you have control over by using what you have. Change might take time, but small, steady steps will lead you there. You can use any or all of the following tips based on your needs. It will take practice, so don't be discouraged if you fail one day. Catch yourself if you slip, and use the tools you'll now have!

Tip #1- Practice visualizing

Imagine how you can turn your triggers into positive ones once you have identified them. Think of the best-case scenario and write it down. Visualize the scenario. In that world, what would happen? Describe how you would feel, what you would smell, the perfect weather, colors, and interactions. Having identified your triggers and their perfect version, write down how you could avoid the negative consequences. Would it be possible to change something right now; the hour, the commute, the way of doing, the color, the smell, getting up 20 minutes early, bringing a change of clothes, shoes, a playlist, downloading a podcast, making a call. Try to come up with ways to avoid negative situations in the future. Keep visualizing your ideal scenario throughout the process.

Tip #2 - Break things down

You have your triggers and the perfect scenario in your hands. You have a short or long list of things you can change starting now. The time has come to make a plan. You will never follow through if you don't make a plan. Trying to change everything at once is likely to lead to failure. We need to make this easier on ourselves and our brains. To make a change in our lives that sticks, experts say it takes about 90 days. This will take about three months. Adapt your plan accordingly. As you go through your list, categorize them into three groups based on how easy or difficult they are. Try naming them differently, so your brain doesn't register "hard" when you see the list. To illustrate, here's an example: Mindful change (easy), Game changer (medium), and The dream (more challenging).

As soon as you have those lists in hand, plan only one and keep it going for three months. It's not necessary to go in order. I like to have my clients read them aloud and then choose the one that resonates with them at that moment. Schedule it for the next three months to make it a habit. The easier ones will take less time, and you may decide to add another one earlier than three months. That's great, go for it! After three months, if a harder one still doesn't feel fully acquired, keep at it a few more days or weeks before adding a new one or plan an easier one with it. You are in control and know your situation, so play with your list. There is no better person to decide what will work for you than you.

In order to change your brain's connections, you should change your life a little during this process. Finding a new route, learning a new skill or hobby, doing something you've never done before, or going to a different store helps. Many people change jobs or even move from one town to another. Brains will make new connections in situations where routes and schedules are unknown. Even changing your furniture around and the wall colors will have that effect. Think of ways you can do that and have fun with it. For instance, finding a new restaurant, changing your outfit for work, or changing your hair is always fun.

Tip #3- Create an environment that is positive

Although it may seem obvious to most, is it really that simple? Look at the people around you and see if they usually complain about themselves, their work, or even you! Occasionally, friends will need to express their feelings or talk if they are going through something, but is it always negative when you are with them? Do they like to gossip, complain, get mad, or make you feel unworthy? If you spend time with them, do you feel energized when you go home or drained afterward? Having a close friend and a good listener is necessary, but you should count more positive things in your relationship than negative ones.

What should you do if you find one that doesn't fit your positive journey? Well, that really depends on you, but here are some tips:

The next time someone is being negative, find something positive to say and let them know you are trying to live a positive life and letting go of things you cannot control.

Tell them what you like about the season if they complain about it.

Tell them what qualities you like about the person they complain about

Make sure you plan ahead by thinking about what they usually complain about or who they complain about most.

Without completely cutting ties with them, find a way to surround yourself with more positive people. Do fun activities with those people. A good laugh cures everything! Learn to be positive yourself even when you're alone. Have you ever called yourself stupid, crazy, idiot, etc.? Self-talk has a way of affecting us more than we realize. It is even possible to impact your brain with a repeated joke negatively. I'm so lazy, I'm ugly, I'm fat, I'm out of shape, I'm not good at more "I'm not," and this one will be hard to achieve as it is ingrained deep inside your brain. Invent a mantra for yourself or rewrite one you've seen and liked or even lyrics from a song you enjoy;

I am a force to be reckoned with,

Beautiful is who I am

There is power in me

There is no doubt in my mind,

My life is filled with wins every single day,

There can never be a me like me!

I recommend that you write whatever inspires you, and here's the thing, you tell yourself in the mirror every morning, even if you feel awkward. Research shows that your brain will believe you if you do this. At first, you might feel weird, but if you stick with it, you will see a difference in your attitude. This is so powerful that psychologists encourage children to do it to help them build their self-confidence.

Tip #4- Maintain a healthy lifestyle

In many ways, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will positively impact your life. It's proven that being physically active rewires your brain to be confident, and the feeling of being able to handle anything comes from the hormones you produce during that activity. Make it even more beneficial by finding things you enjoy doing.

  • What kind of sports do you enjoy?

  • What about swimming?

  • Do you jog?

  • How about a forest walk?

  • Considering hiking?

  • Can you paddleboard or kayak?

  • What about a group fitness class?

If you're a parent, spend an hour playing tag at the park with your kids!

Put a new activity on your schedule that you enjoy.

What about your nutrition? How is it? First, you must find out what nourishes your body because everyone has different nutritional requirements. After that, make sure that 80% of your meals are healthy. The reason is that we only have one life to live, and it's proven that eating less healthy foods that you like releases hormones that make you happy. Go ahead and have that scope of ice cream you feel like eating Saturday night.

Take some time in nature. Take a walk outside, take your coffee in your garden, workout in the sun, or do anything else that helps you connect with nature. If you enjoy hiking or camping, be sure to plan a few throughout the year. A kayaking trip around a park reserve is also worth it. Are there rivers or waterfalls where you can sit and read a book? Are there any places where you can sketch or observe wildlife? If so, create your own nature time and do it every week or every day.

Tip #5- Be grateful

Write what you are thankful for in your life in the morning and at night as part of your routine. It might be simple, such as "I am grateful for today's sun" or "I am thankful for my health." It might seem very simple when you start, but it will become more meaningful as you practice. It's essential to be present at that moment to feel grateful. Think about why you say thank you when someone opens the door for you. Do you say it out of habit, or are you genuinely appreciative? Are they helping you because you were carrying bags, holding a coffee, carrying a child, or pushing a stroller, or are they simply polite and saw you? Say thank you because you are grateful for what they do for you. Being in the moment is something we forget to do in this era. In our hectic lives, we forget about simple things. Try as much as possible to be present in the moment.

Our gratitude night is another idea that I do with my children. After storytime, we share what we are grateful for or thankful for before we go to sleep. They might say something like playing outside because it was sunny or going to the park. The things they say will surprise you as you do them every day. As you dig deeper, they will start coming up with more elaborate things. Things like "I am grateful we got to help our neighbor today, and they looked happy" will replace talking about the weather. If you remember the good in life from everyone's perspective, bedtime becomes very peaceful. You don't have to worry about the negatives because, let's face it, there will still be some. Everyone goes to sleep with a smile, and we usually laugh together. Sometimes the conversation gets deep, and I see what my child thinks.

A grateful season jar is another tradition we started. The jars are for each season, and we write down what we would like to try, do for someone, do as a family, volunteer at, visit, or anything else we would like to do. They put things like vacations they would like to take, sports they would like to try, letters they want to write to loved ones, community service they want to do, arts they want to do on various topics, and so on. As each new season begins, we open the respective jar and read all the entries together. Every time, they get very excited, and we usually have a great time. We plan as many of them as possible during the season. The ones we don't do go back in the jar, and we write new ideas as we get them. Then we repeat this process with the jar from the next season on the first day of that season.

During the covid confinement, they painted rocks with positive quotes, left them in different parks and wrote some in the windows. In addition, they wrote some letters of encouragement and left them in various mailboxes around town. They painted and drew pictures of activities they enjoy and sent them to some loved ones. They also participated in a few hikes they had in mind and recorded their experiences in their nature journals.

The ideas we come up with for those jars are endless. The younger ones usually come and tell me what they are thinking, and I write it for them with their names on it. Try those on your own or with your family.

Having all those new ideas and knowing how the brain works, it's time to get started.

Are you going to try anything new today?

Share your ideas on Instagram, and let us know what you think.

Having more positivity in life will bring us more happiness.


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