Our brains are hardwired to overly focus on the negative and diminish the positive as a result. This comes from a primitive time where there was more everyday danger that needed our attention, but it doesn’t serve us well nowadays, it causes stress and worry. You can flip this script: Focus on the positive each day, zoom out of the negative.
Your brain can work like a camera lens. What you tell it to focus on, it will pay more attention to, and trigger more chemicals relating to this thought, causing feelings to happen. If you want to feel happier, you have to consistently train your brain to put more attention on what’s going right rather than on what’s going wrong.
Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, calls this “learned optimism”. It takes time to rebuild your thinking habits and as well as mental discipline and consistency. It isn’t an instant fix, it’s a daily process just like exercising a muscle.
When I work with clients towards increasing positivity, we check in week to week and focus on what’s working out, what strengths they have used well, and we highlight any little successes that happen daily. You can rewire your brain to flag the good things as important to you, too, and see how this changes your feelings over time.
The words you tell yourself about your life are so important...and you say so many things to yourself every day, it’s good to check in and hear your own narrative from time to time.
Instead of “I’m a mess”, try, “I’m good at figuring things out.” Instead of “I’m not making enough money,” think, “I’m doing better than before.” What stories are you saying to yourself about your body, your money, your relationships, your future?
Here's one way to know what stories you are telling yourself. Listen to how you describe your life to other people. If someone asks you a question like, "How are things going?" Listen to what you say! Are you telling people you're broke? Are you telling people you're unhappy? Are you listing complaints? Are you putting yourself down or talking negatively about your appearance, your job, your body, your friendships, your relationships? This is just the tip of the iceberg because what you say to other people means you're saying it to yourself a lot on a daily basis, too.
Try telling yourself the story of the life you want to live instead and see how this changes the way you feel...
People often say they want to meditate and be more mindful but they don’t know where to start.
Here’s an easy way that worked for me. I call it “Traffic Light Mindful Breathing”. Whenever you’re stuck at a red light, say to yourself, “Breathing in...breathing out...” and breathe while you say it. That’s all you have to do.
I first started doing this after driving home from a meditation class and realizing how stressed I was becoming from traffic (which was totally undoing the calm I had gained in class). Taking deep mindful breaths is the easiest way to cue your body to bring the stress down a notch. Now, I do it automatically, every time I am at a red light, I mindfully take a deep breath.
Little steps add up. This is the easiest way to get ready to do longer meditations. It starts with the breath. Build it into your day with a visual cue and it will become automatic before you even realize it!
Tiny mental micro-steps = Big overall changes.
Therapist & Coach. Writer & Professor. Brain Trainer.