The daily conversations you have with yourself have a significant impact on your feelings and behaviour. If your conversation is filled with hard criticism, doubt, pessimistic thinking and catastrophic predictions, it has a direct impact on your goals. Rewiring your brain for positive thinking changes the physical composition of your brain.
Why does the brain have such negative bias? Why are you more likely to remember painful events more than positive progress? It’ because the brain is wired to pay attention to negative experiences. We constantly scan for perceived threats and such focus on negative information leads to downward spiral of unrealistic negative feedback.
Thankfully, you can train your brain to break free from negative thought process towards positive, happier thoughts.
9 ways to train your brain for positive thinking
Reframe unhelpful thoughts
Examples of negative thoughts include “I will never be able to solve this task”, “I ruined everything, why can’t I do anything correctly!” “I won’t get that job” and “I’m not good enough”. Negative predictions such as these lead to exaggerated negative thoughts and self-fulfilling prophecies that prevent you from positive action.
Separate fiction from fact
Negative thoughts feed off our insistent need to ruminate on them. If you analyze your negative thoughts, you’ll find that the core of your thoughts are just thoughts. When you find yourself in this pattern, stop what you’re doing and write it down. It’s a chance to slow the thought process and analyze the veracity of the thought.
Are you really bad at your job? If you’re so terrible why hasn’t your boss fired you? Is the problem really beyond you? Of course not! You simply need to ask for help from a colleague. As the popular saying goes, “two heads are better than one”. When you label and analyze thoughts, you limit the power of negative thinking, the first step in retraining your brain.
The Positive Tetris Effect
This is the process of training the brain to more positive patterns by harnessing the brain’s plasticity. Practice looking for positive aspects, such as what you can do, your talents, acquired skills, job, physical health and small things you previously took for granted.
In the Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor calls this The Positive Tetris Effect. Inspired by the impression of Tetris on the brain as you parse the world in terms of the game. If a simple game like Tetris can invade dreams, retraining the brain for more positive patterns will improve happiness, wellbeing and increase productivity at work.
The art of pivoting from negative thoughts
Once you’ve identified the negative thoughts that reoccur, it’s time to pivot. If you turned 180 degrees to the opposite of the negative thought, where would you land? Visualization of a positive outcome, instead of the negative will help to realign your thought process.
What causes the feeling of apprehension, anxiousness or self-doubt? Nip it in the bud when you feel yourself slipping into old patterns. For every negative thought, find a more confident alternative.
Build a positive circuit for yourself
A positive circuit is a great way to prevent negativity from engulfing you. For forty-five days, spend a minute looking for positives three times a day. It trains your brain to see positives in a situation, the same way the brain is naturally programmed to look for negatives.
Positives doesn’t have to be major events like rescuing someone from a burning house, it could be simple routine things you do every day. A cup of coffee in the morning, the internet that lets’ you check social media. Your nice boss or colleague who makes work more interesting, the man who sits on the bus as you commute to work. In a world dominated by negative news, it’s important to correct your present lens for positive thinking.
Look after your mind and body
Several research work have revealed that taking care of the physical body influences mental health and your ability to train the brain for positivity. For example, eating brain foods like salmon, bananas, blueberries and oily fish helps to improve your mood.
Thirty minutes of daily exercise, releases endorphins and boost your spirit. Mindfulness exercises such as meditation and yoga make you more conscious of your feelings and thoughts without judging them. Take small breaks throughout the day to stop and breathe deeply. It’s a simple exercise that balances the brain.
Be kind to others
Positive acts inspires positive thinking, making you feel good about yourself. Where possible perform a selfless act of kindness to break you out of the negativity loop. In time, it might become your feel-good activity when you feel down or hopeless to engage in compassionate acts.
Why are you happy to be alive?
A proven brain retraining method is to turn your attention to things that make you happy. Get a notebook and record five things that make you happy in the morning. What do you look forward to the most about the day? Are there people in your life you’re glad to have? Do you have family you hold dear to your heart?
Turn your attention to thoughts of people and things that make you smile and you’ll strengthen the neural pathways in the brain for more joyful results.
Create time for hobbies and social activity
Sometimes, you get so busy you’ve forgotten what’s it like to have a social life or do something you love outside of work. Spending time with your biggest passions prevents negative thoughts and despondency.
Thursday night eating pizzas with friends, Friday night at your favourite karaoke bar singing show tunes or volunteering at the soup kitchen on the weekend. The time you create for social life should be sacred. It helps to plan activities ahead of time to reduce the temptation of backing out.
Don’t call yourself names or talk down on yourself. Develop a personal mantra that helps you talk back to negative messages. Like other mental muscles, it takes time to learn a skill. The more time you spend practising realistic, positive thoughts, the more mental muscle you’ll build. Mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation affect brain plasticity and increase grey matter in the hippocampus, the part of the brain where learning, emotion and memory happens.