I’ve been examining the nitty gritty, the ‘how, what and why’ of negative thoughts recently, (or I suppose more accurately you could say that I’ve been tousling with them like a matador trying to tame an angry bull).
Negative thoughts can pop up at any time, either triggered by a core belief created in the past, or as a response to stimulus in the present external environment – think ungrateful bosses, perceived inadequacies or stress about finances. You know – life, basically.
In my quest to get to the bottom of why it can be so hard to maintain a positive attitude at times, I wrote to a guy whose blog I read quite a lot and in response to my somewhat rambling, nonsensical email he wrote:
“…What I will tell you is that the thinking about all this stuff will only take you so far, and usually how far it will take you is in circles. That’s what happens when we think about what we are thinking, we go in circles.”
So there I lay there in bed at 6am, having been up since 2, realising that he was right. Thinking about thinking will only send you in circles – and I’d been doing veritable mental pirouettes. If thinking wasn’t the way to get to the bottom of the problem, what was? Asking other people for advice? Maybe not…
“Be positive! Think positive thoughts! Focus on the good in your life!” the do-gooders ‘oft will chime.
But how can you be positive when you are well and truly stuck in a negative rut, where positive thoughts are so hard to create and hold on to? Often, it’s not as simple as saying to yourself, “Right, I’m going to be positive now,” because let’s face it, no-one consciously wants to dwell in negativity. Instead, the quicksand of negativity is something we can descend in to quite unwittingly, leaving us feeling really quite sorry for ourselves. Thank you, icing on the cake.
“Why Do I Feel So Negative?…”
As it turns out, there’s a neurological reason behind why it’s hard to muster a feel-good vibe when we’re down in the dumps and why negative thoughts seem to snowball.
Basically, your brain has loads of neurological pathways and the more each pathway is used, the more entrenched it gets. Just as drops of water tend to follow the path of the originating drops rather than create their own, so too does the energy flowing through the brain’s neural network find the path of least resistance. Hence, the more you think certain thoughts and create mental associations, the more habituated the brain becomes in thinking that way.
That’s why when we notice the negative, we perpetuate it. It’s also why when we feel good, it’s easier to reach for more good-feeling thoughts. The good news is that it IS possible to change our neural pathways, first we need to recognise we can and second, decide we’re going to! The answer lies in purposeful thought.
Ways To Create New Neural Pathways:
- Give your brain a jump-start by watching a funny movie or your favourite comedy DVD.
- Pet your cat and focus on noticing the positive feelings that ensue.
- Call a friend who you know will make you laugh.
- Appreciate the smell and colour of some pretty flowers.
- Think of a time you were really happy – go back there in your mind and just re-live it for a while. Make believe.
Create A New Path, One Small Step At A Time
You can think of your own ways to get to a positive state by intent. It doesn’t have to be something that’s going to send you into ecstasy for hours on end, just something that will disrupt your neural pathways from high tailing it down the same old negative beaten path.
As you do this, you’ll send new energy flowing to different parts of the brain, contributing to the creation of new neural pathways (which are your brain’s new way of automatic thinking). The more you can disrupt the brain from going down the old path, even for a few minutes at a time, the more you’re creating to new pathways – and more happiness!
As Buddha said “What we think, we become”. So when you feel rubbish, start practicing good-feeling thoughts, even just 10, 20 and 30 seconds at a time. Every time you do, it all adds up to a new, happier neural pathway for you!