How to have a positive brain

Your coworker is complaining about their boss and you are sucked in.  You start piling on your own jabs, mistreatments and judgments.  You are cut off on the way to work and you start tailgating the person as payback.  “You can’t push me around.”  You overcook the steak and now you think the entire meal is horrible.  There is too much salt, the beans are limp and the mashed potatoes are gummy.  It all feeds on itself.  The negative outcome of one thing goes wrong and now everything else spirals out of control.  Your brain is wired for a negativity bias and in a world full of terrorism, wicked politics and “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalized news, it can be catastrophically overwhelming.positive brain.jpg

Amazingly, you can overcome this.  It’s going to take work but it’s fun work.  Your brain is so malleable and elastic that you can actually rewire how you see the world.  You can create a more positive brain and actually become more resilient in the process.  Isn’t that great?  We do not have to be victims of our modern day culture but can be in a happier, more relaxed positive state of mind.  Are you up for this?

Here is how to create a more positive brain:

  • Pay attention to the good thoughts.  When you are having a positive thought like Doesn’t my dog look adorable next to me or I just made everyone at the meeting laugh or My husband is dancing in the doorway to my office.  It’s like catching butterflies, you need to keep your butterfly net at the ready.  Go catch them.  Unfortunately, our negative bias frequently hijacks our brain.  We tune into what is going wrong like the air temperature, the weather or your phone being slow.  So you need to be vigilant in order to catch the good things as they flutter by.
  • Figure out what this experience or memory says about you.  For example, when my dog is lying next to me in my office, I feel loved and appreciated.  When I make everyone at the meeting laugh, I feel like I belong.  When my husband dances in my office doorway, I feel joy and silliness.  As Rick Hanson says this adds and “enriches the experience.”  His analogy is that it’s like adding logs to a fire.  It burns even brighter.  Keep adding logs to enrich and strengthen the great experience.
  • Soak up the positive experience like a sponge.  Rick Hanson turned me onto this and he has a great Ted Talk on the topic: Hardwiring Happiness.  Once you have caught that great experience, observation or memory, dwell on it for a bit.  As Rick says, it can be for only 1 or 2 seconds, but marinate in the positive feeling.  It is amazing how this feels.  I feel my chest and head get warm and a smile starts on my face.  I actually feel the happiness.  Even if for a moment or two.  In a few moments, you have actually fired neurons in your brain and started the process of rewiring.  Isn’t that amazing?  You have taken one small step to rewire your brain in the direction of positivity and happiness.
  • Start a gratitude journal.  I’ve been writing in one for at least a decade.  I write down 5 things I am grateful for and I think about a situation that I turned around to the positive.  For example, if my husband didn’t respond to my text, I figure his phone must be in another room (instead of he is in the ER and can’t answer his phone).  One little reframe a day helps me keep a positive mindset and by acknowledging each reframe each day, I maintain the mindset.
  • Mediation or yoga.  You do not have to silence your self-talk.  This is the biggest misconception about meditation.  A lot of people think that in meditation, you sit quietly and a switch in your head turns off.  It is a practice and it is never perfect.  Okay, so maybe there is a monk or two out there who can turn off their brains, but the rest of us mortals are all working with letting thoughts go.  It’s letting worries go like balloons into the air.  Try it for 3 minutes.  Get an app like Calm, Whil or Headspace.  Most are free, so you can start now.  And why not sign up for a yoga class while you’re at it?  Even a once-a-week yoga session will give you physical benefits, increasing strength and flexibility.  Plus it will help you to reduce stress and have a more positive outlook about your self and the world around you.
  • Turn off the catastrophic messages.  I turned off the news some four months ago.  I don’t have any news apps on my phone.  I TiVo most of the television I watch, so I don’t need to view political ads.  I don’t know if it’s the meditation practice or turning off the news, but I am much more relaxed and positive.  It’s probably a combination of all these steps.  I just notice this one the most.  I was watching a college football game yesterday live on television and all of a sudden I was being bombarded with political ads.  I felt like I was being assaulted.  Negative ads stick more than positive (because of our negative bias), and they were hurling them at me like hand grenades.  I am still informed about the political race and am voting.  I just stay away from the distracting, stress-inducing messages.  It was a relief to go back to my TiVo recorded shows and away from all that negativity.

Being more relaxed and happy has really helped me stay resilient and confident.  This past month, I have had more speaking and facilitation gigs than ever before.  Three years ago, I would have stressed out about each gig and lost sleep over the event.  Now I just take one at a time, imagine the best outcome, and take it as it comes.  I’m a better facilitator because of my positivity practice.  Try it yourself.

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