To start the new year off with a bang, we need a good, healthy dose of positive thinking. Sometimes it gets a bad rap from the “bah humbugs” of the world, and that’s okay…you can call me Pollyanna any day.
Why do we need positive thinking? Positive thoughts come from a positive perspective and they cultivate a positive mind. A positive mind is like moist, fertile, nutrient rich soil. I’d rather plant a seed in that terrain than in dry, barren, desolate ground.
But negativity sells; all you have to do is watch the news. And the marketing industry capitalizes on tapping into your fears, phobias and all your problems. Even if you don’t think you have a problem, don’t worry, they’ll create one for you.
Our brains are wired to look for problems, it’s a survival instinct. We need to discern physical and psychological threats, and our senses are programmed to perceive variances in our environment. But sometimes our perception of a threat becomes magnified and deemed as negative.
We’ve had many experiences growing up that were painful…either physically, emotionally, psychologically (or all of the above). As a child, it can be hard to process and put an event into proper perspective. Without consciously knowing it, our brains have registered details of this event and stored them away, so if any similar aspects happen in the future, we’ll be prepared. If you got bit by a big, growling dog, then it’s possible you view all dogs as negative, or at least big, growling ones.
We have psychological threats as well, which from a survival standpoint, stem from fear of abandonment or being cast out. Being ostracized from your tribe was a sure sign of death. As a child, we learn to navigate interactions with our family and friends based on how we process experiences.
What we deem as a “negative” experience is really just a survival instinct. It’s a way to alert us to potential danger. But instead of taking that negative experience and using it as a springboard for something greater, we fall into the negativity trap. When enough of these experiences happen, they form patterns. In neuropsychology, neurons that fire together, wire together, and we create neural pathways that form into habitual ways of thinking.
There’s a concept in psychology called a negativity bias. In short, we are wired to look for the negative circumstances (problems), but unfortunately, our bias can be a little too strong. All other things being equal, in terms of intensity and duration, the brain reacts stronger to a negative stimulus than a positive one. It could be a thought, emotion, sensation or event. The bias is believed to be at a ratio of 5:1, so five positive things are equal to one negative. And depending on the intensity of the event, you are going to remember one very strong negative experience a lot more than a very strong positive experience.
The negativity bias explains why you only remember the one stinging critique out of a slew of praise, or why your fancy dinner party was ruined because you overcooked a side dish. You could be enjoying a wonderful vacation in paradise, but then you get food poisoning and it’s the worst vacation you’ve ever had…one bad apple spoils the bunch.
But there’s hope! You can train your brain to start looking at the positive. It’s all about perspective and knowing that our automatic reflex is to look for the problem. Because the brain is an extremely efficient organ, it stores away your pertinent experiences to help you avoid future traps. It really is a dutiful servant, but that’s when we let it run on automatic. We no longer need to protect ourselves from a lot of what we perceive as threats.
One way to stop focusing on the negative is simply focus on the positive. It’s not about denial or glossing over negative events, it’s just putting them in their proper perspective. Knowing there’s a 5:1 ratio, we just need to be conscious of placing more attention on the positive. In my last blog, Rewrite Your Script, I gave an exercise to keep a journal and jot down all the positive, happy moments throughout the day. This is exactly why: we need to tip the scales. When something happens to disrupt your flow, you can look back and see all the good things that happened. Not to take away from the negative event, but not to let it rule your life.
Having positive thinking is not only about perspective after the fact, but being positive in the moment. The point of power is right NOW. The more that you can think positive, the more you can come from a place now of feeling safe, loved, and protected. You no longer need to worry about some fictitious future event that your mind conjures up.
Is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on your perspective. But does it really matter? When you trust and are grateful for what you have, there’s always more where that came from. Take out the judgment and the criticism and enjoy what you do have.
Challenge for the week: Think positively!
How do you know when you’re thinking negative? Check in with how you feel. When you have negative thoughts, it just doesn’t feel good. And look at the world around you. The world is your mirror. If you are having problems and things aren’t flowing in your life, chances are there’s some negative thoughts behind it. Awareness is the first step.
Take responsibility. It’s so easy to blame everyone else, and blaming and judging others is a form of negative thinking. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean taking on the burden, or blaming and judging yourself. It’s taking a good look at where you may have contributed to the situation, if even just a small percent.
How can you change your perspective on the situation? Look for the blessing in disguise, the silver lining. Know that one painful or negative event does not define the whole, and look at all the other pleasant and positive aspects as well…think 5:1.
I now believe in the concept of unlimited potential possibilities; the idea of parallel universes…we merely need to choose. Every morning we wake up, we have the opportunity to choose anew and yet we often choose the same things day after day. When we open our minds to positive thinking, we open our world to the prospect of unlimited potentials.
Wishing you a positively great week! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.