Are you ready to become happier by managing your thoughts?
My client Shelly (not her real name) came to me after a particularly difficult breakup with her partner of nine years.
She was struggling with the negative thoughts her mind was spinning. She asked me, “How do I get rid of all these negative thoughts?”
I told her it’s not possible to get rid of negative thoughts but it’s possible to change your relationship with them.
The Negativity Bias
You can’t get rid of negative thoughts because it’s part of your wiring. The brain will naturally look for, react to, store and recall bad news from your outer environment, and the negative stories that are stored inside your mind from an early age to present.
In addition, your mind also focuses on your own mistakes and flaws. This spin cycle drives your emotions, which create the feelings of shame, guilt, and even self-hatred. These feelings of inadequacy cause you to experience anxiety, stress, self-doubt, and depression.
This “negativity bias” kept our ancestors alive and able to pass on their genes.
“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on,” states Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now.
Your Reptilian Brain
The entire purpose of your reptile brain is to continuously broadcast survival fears—alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two categories: lack and attack.
On one hand, our reptilian brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: We don’t have enough love, time or money.
On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen. The other shoe will drop; you’ll lose something you have right now or someone is out to get you.
Because the reptilian brain is hardwired in place (it’s wrapped around your brain stem), you have no way to stop it from broadcasting fear impulses.
Mindfulness can change neural pathways in your brain.
Rick Hanson, PhD, neuropsychologist and Buddhist, says that understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry.
Hanson says, “In your brain, there are separate (though interacting) systems for negative and positive stimuli. At a larger scale, the left hemisphere is somewhat specialized for positive experiences while the right hemisphere is more focused on negative ones (this makes sense since the right hemisphere is specialized for gestalt, visual-spatial processing, so it’s advantaged for tracking threats coming from the surrounding environment).”
The amygdala uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news — it’s primed to go negative. Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory, Hanson notes.
How to expand positive experiences
Hanson says in order to rewire your neural pathways to become happier, the next time you experience something positive in your day — little things matter — hold it in your awareness for 12 seconds at least before your brain transfers it from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.
If you start observing the fearful or negative thoughts and bring mindful awareness to how your brain reacts when feeling threatened, you can create new neural pathways in your brain to help you bring more calm, wisdom and sense of inner strength into your life.
A mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.
Then you won’t be so vulnerable to intimidation by fears in your mind.
How to rewire your brain to become happier
If you focus on the good moments in life – especially all the little things you’re happy and grateful for, then you’ll feel happier, more at peace with the world, more open to others, and more willing to go for your dreams. Plus your immune system will get stronger.
I worked with Shelly to find her most painful negative belief about the breakup. I used The Work (inquiry) to question her most painful thought about her partner. The result was that her mind would now be open to what was truer than her negative thoughts. And she felt better as she left my office.
How to work with negative thoughts:
You can answer these questions to help you create each new day to accomplish your intentions with fresh thoughts and emotions.
- The first step is noticing what you’re thinking. If you’re a thinking type then you’ll be able to recall the thought. If you’re a feeling type, notice what you’re feeling. If you’re anxious, notice what you’re thinking about that made you anxious.
- Learn to be mindful – anytime you feel a negative emotion, stop and say to yourself, “What am I thinking?” The more you notice your thoughts, and breathe and allow them, (don’t push them away or judge yourself) the faster you can ignore them and expand the good in your life.
- Notice every positive experience – make positive events positive experiences. You can do this by: This includes a friend who’s glad to see you, a beautiful sunset, laughter of children playing, beautiful flowers, playing with you dog, chocolate, getting something done at work, working out, your own kindness for people in your life, and when you do someone that makes you proud.
- Questions to ask yourself in the morning after you meditate or journal:
- What is the result I want today and what do I need to think and feel to get that result?
- What do I need to think and feel to get this result?
- What actions will I take to get this result? If you find a thought that’s energizing, it will drive your actions.
- The most powerful way to work with a persistent negative thought or limiting belief is to question it using The Work of Byron Katie.
It’s never too late to rewire your brain. If you continue this practice of expanding the good in your life, you’ll become happier because you rewired your brain.
Did you like this article? I’d love to hear from you. Please share it on social media. The more people who expand the good, the kinder people will become.