Can I Overcome Negative Thinking?
I recently watched a BBC Horizon programme with Dr Michael Moseley.
Although you wouldn’t know it, by his own assessment, Dr Moseley said that he was a pessimist, and he was constantly fretting about the future.
This affected all areas in his life as he would always be predicting the absolute worst outcome in any situation. As well as this, he was a really bad sleeper and would often be awake most of the night.
He set about seeing if it was possible to change his mind – and to go from being a pessimist to being an optimist.
And what’s the point anyway?
Although it is not the easiest way to live, what could be so bad about being a pessimist?
As it turns out, there is a point. A recent study in the US which found that people who are optimists, on average, live about 7 years longer.
That’s got to be good, right?
How To Become More Optimistic:
Brain scans have shown that people who are prone to pessimism tend to have greater activity on the right side of their frontal cortex than the left.
When Moseley was tested for this, it showed that the activity on the right side of his frontal cortex was significantly higher than on his left (from memory I think it was about 3 times as high – which is alarming).
In an effort to change this, Moseley undertook 2 particular activities aimed at making him more optimistic.
The first thing he did was an exercise to increase his positivity using Cognitive Bias Modification, where he had to choose the smiley/positive faces from a sea of negative looking faces.
The second thing that he did was to do 20 minutes of a mindfulness meditation every day.
What were the results?
Well, quite astonishing really.
At the end of 7 weeks, when Moseley’s brain was tested again, it was found that the activity on the left frontal cortex was higher than his right side, meaning that he was more of an optimist than a pessimist.
He also found that he was sleeping better and his wife reported that he just seemed more positive and happier in himself.
Neuroplasticity: Our Brains Can Change:
There used to be a school of thought that believed that your brain was the way it was, and couldn’t be changed.
Now, science is showing more and more the existence of neuroplasticity and how we can literally change our brain, our way of thinking, laying down new neural pathways.
The old thinking was that if you had a stroke and hadn’t managed to regain your full functions within a couple of days then you had lost it forever.
However, Neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor’s excellent book ‘My Stroke of Insight’ showed how after her stroke, and over a period of a couple of years, she gradually regained all of her movement and cognitive functions.
So, here are my top 5 tips to change yourself from constant negative thinking to being more positive?
1. Tapping/Emotional Freedom Techniques
One of the things that happens in your brain when you are feeling stressed, is that the amygdala is activated and it produces cortisol, the fight, flight or freeze hormone.
When you tap on acupuncture points, it it turns off the amygdala and then sends a calming signal to the brain.
Time and again I have seen this when working with clients that they have literally changed the way they feel – the constant chatter in their head has been turned off and they generally feel more optimistic and excited about life.
2. Express Gratitude
Every evening before I go to sleep, I list 10 things that I am grateful for each day. What I do is I recall my day, working backwards, recalling all of the things that I am grateful for throughout the day.
It could be something as simple as it didn’t rain, I found a parking space or a project that I simply had a nice meal.
In all of my years of doing this, there was only one day where I couldn’t think of anything (it must have been a really bad day!), but the next day, I started again with a clean slate and was able to find things to be grateful for.
3. Do Things That Make You Feel Better Or Bring You Joy:
There was one evening and I had got myself into a bit of a negative funk. Things just hadn’t got to plan that day.
I was at home, on my own and was in a foul humour. I knew that I needed to shift my energy, to do something different and just change things around.
So, what I did was I got myself all dressed up, put on my nicest gear, make up, jewellery – the whole chabang- and took myself out to a restaurant for dinner on my own.
Can I tell you, it did completely shift my energy?
I really felt empowered, and what could have been a bit of a downer of an evening, just changed to one of pure joy and enjoyment.
Meditating means different things to different people – it could be taking a walk, listening to music, chanting Om in the lotus position – whatever gets you out of your head for a little bit.
For me, I do it at the start of the day, setting my timer for 20 minutes and is my way of connecting to something greater than myself.
If you can’t make it do a meditation group,there are loads of online meditations and apps such as Headspace and Calm.com where you can download a meditation.
5. Find Your Tribe
We may be thrown into situations with people who may just not be on the same page as us. Nothing wrong with them but they may just have a different way of thinking.
It is so important to find your tribe – whatever that means. People who get you, you don’t have to explain anything and who want you to be the best that you can be.
If you feel you don’t have it, one way to find like-minded people, is to look at some of the online platforms, such as Meetup. Find something that interests you and open yourself up to meeting your tribe.
If you are looking to change your mind and to be more positive, why not give some of these a try.