Tag Archives: negativity bias

A Simple Way to Become More Positive

face with half frowning, half smilingWe all want to have a more fulfilling life, of course we do. But it isn’t likely that we will feel satisfied with our circumstances if we entertain lots of negative thinking.  Curbing our tendency to focus on the negative is a prerequisite for becoming more positive. I know, DUH!  But for anyone who has made a sincere effort to be more positive and to turn off the stream of negativity, it is not as easy as it sounds. (Simple, yes; Easy, no!) The negative thoughts seem to arise spontaneously.  In fact, we are wired  to place more emphasis on the negative than the positive.  The truthful answer to “how do I stop the negativity”  is practice, practice, practice. Your everyday life and situations that arise are the perfect training ground for this practice.

Besides your inborn negativity bias, you have had lifetime unconscious programming that drives your thoughts and behaviour, so don’t give into the temptation to browbeat yourself when you notice you are being negative again. A good way to make this training a more pleasant experience for you is to praise yourself when you notice the unkind or negative thought – how wonderful that you spotted it! You are getting better and better at this! You don’t have to deny the thought you just had; in fact, after praising your marvellous mind for noticing the “bad” thought, then acknowledge what you are feeling and try to discern where in your body you are feeling it. Is it in your jaw (yep, that’s my place), or in your neck and shoulders, or in the pit of your stomach? If you can locate it, really feel it for a few moments and breathe long and slow a few times, placing your attention on this unpleasant sensation. It will usually begin to dissipate on its own. If you cannot determine where in your body you are feeling the emotion, it is still important to stay with the seemingly all-pervasive feeling for a few breaths. Remember that you probably will not want to do this; our tendency is to either suppress the feeling, or blame ourselves or someone else for it. But stay with this practice anyway, because it is the one thing that will work to shift things for you. I promise, it will not last long.

It never works to notice the negative thought, and then quickly say to yourself, “oops, there I go again, that’s not very spiritual. I’m not going to feel angry, I feel happy and blissed out.” Not only will you not help yourself, but you run the risk of becoming very annoying to people because this is disingenuous. To be whole and complete, you must be authentic within yourself. You are always free to not act on your anger; just acknowledge and feel it in your body.  Be present for the pain – this is the terrifying part for some of us. We are so adept at smoothing it over, sending it down, down, down – or, sending it out by being reactively angry -that it can feel overwhelming to sit there and just feel the hurt. As strange as it may sound, this is what is needed to set it free. This very simple action of pausing before you jump into the usual chain reaction of anger to others or yourself and breathing in the feelings, and breathing them out….this is choosing a fresh alternative and will eventually stop the habitual re-activeness of negativity. If you don’t do this, you may get through this moment seemingly unscathed, but the pain will be back another day. In the process you can become disassociated from yourself as you repeatedly deny how big the hurt really is. Just take it in small steps and take a couple of minutes to feel the unpleasant feeling as it arises. Stay in your body and do not follow your mind on this one. Your mind will want to have a lot of narrative about the feelings, and the story about how or why you feel the way you do is not important for recovery. Feeling the feeling in your body is the only thing that is important in releasing it.

A short summary and cheat sheet:

  1. Pause
  2. Breathe
  3. Feel

This is not a practice that you do once and then you’ve got it. It will take many repetitions to weaken the negativity but stay with it. Every time a new trigger happens, think of it as another opportunity to practice. And, when you fall into the trap of reaction, don’t beat yourself up, just begin again. As many times as it takes.

The big, deep, long standing emotions may take some repeated acknowledgements as they circle back again and again. This is not a failure on your part but just indicates the size of the wound that you have. Don’t deepen the wound by being unkind to yourself. Stay the course of pausing, breathing, and feeling emotion when it comes up and it will soon dissipate. Repeat every time it happens, and come back to this practice if you veer off course. It really is a work in progress, as all of us human beings are.

 

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Mental Outlook – One of the Four Pillars of Health

Be the type of person you want to meetSince you are the only one that thinks inside your head, it would seem that choosing positive thoughts and creating good healthy mental patterns would be quite easy. But for any of us who have tried to walk this path and create thoughts, behaviors, and habits that lead to the life we want to manifest, we all know that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Despite our best intentions,  at times we get engulfed in the negative story line.

Besides going through emotional upsets and even traumas in each of our respective lives, as a species we also have a negativity bias built into our brains that makes it easier to lean towards the negative. Indeed, left to our own devices, we all tend to put more weight on the negative than the positive in our lives. Yes, we can get a nice warm glow when someone gives us a sincere compliment or praises our achievements. But where is the residual value of this praise if we are wounded so easily by criticism or a harsh word by an unmindful, thoughtless person? Think of how easy it is to allow a negative story line to spiral out of control in our minds until we are convinced that we are not loveable or worthwhile. It often doesn’t take much for us to sink to a low depth in our self esteem.

You can devote some time to doing things that make you feel good, that make you laugh, that give you a high. But those same demons will sneak in the back door as soon as something goes very wrong, or someone decides to take their frustration or own low self esteem out on you. The yo-yo method of Mental Outlook doesn’t work any better than the yo-yo method of dieting. We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We have to wake up and tune into this.

What really helps take you further down the path of love and acceptance is a conscious choice, then being willing to do the work to make this happen. Geeze,,,,it’s like so many other things, eh? Even a positive mental outlook takes work, a bit of mental and spiritual weigh-lifting. This is not because we are lacking in any way, but most of us have learned what we know and believe from others, who had their own wounds and issues to work out. “Unearthing” the richness of who we are and what we have to offer takes work mainly because we have to get rid of the unnecessary baggage before we can dive deep. It is simply part of our life’s work to discover first hand what is true for us and not just blindly accept another’s blueprint for our life.

For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself, otherwise it won’t take long for you to become depleted. Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

By now, we’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

Suggestions to get started:

  • Commit to devoting time to becoming the person you want to be. Writing an agreement with yourself is good, or teaming up with a good friend can also be beneficial. It is not easy to stay the course on your own if you have no experience with this. Work out one or two small steps to begin in the direction of your goal (even if the goal is just a vague idea like “I want to be a better person”). You can get more specific after you begin and get more clear on what is important to you.
  • Start small, and add to this as you have some success. Meditate for a few minutes (10 is good, then add more time.), write in a gratitude journal every day for 30 days without fail, look at yourself in the eyes every morning and say something positive. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Try “closing all the Windows” and being present – to the activity you are doing, to the person you are with, to the feelings you are having. Notice the next breath and place your full attention on this. Place your focus on the sensations in your body….is your jaw tight, are you slouching, are you warm or cool, is there discomfort anywhere in your body? Tune in and really feel what is happening for a few moments. It can start this small, but be fully present to what is happening now.
  • Bring more positive people in your life. Spend more time with the ones you already know. Limit your time with people who bring you down, make you doubt yourself. Don’t waste your precious time with people who want to tear you down.
  •  Be persistent but kind to yourself. Don’t immediately think, “I’m no good at this” when you try meditation and your mind is all over the place. If you had to fly a jet plane, you would probably not feel confident your first try. So just show up for it, no matter what happens. Be present for the chaos, for the calm, for the anger, and for the happiness. No judgement.

Feel free to let me know how you do with this, or for that matter, how you feel about this post.