Negativity is Like Seeing a Shark
Imagine you came across a Shark in the ocean. Your immediate fear response would take over all rational thinking, and you would swim away as fast as possible. This is called the “fight-or-flight” response; our Sympathetic Nerve System takes over the brain and directs all energy to helping you escape.
During this response, your brain would not be communicating optimally with systems that are less important during escape- such as your digestive system, memories, hormones, and emotions.
Now this response is critical for survival, and only lasts a short period of time until the danger is over. But what about fear that we get from everyday living?
Work, money, relationships, parenting, self-esteem: we constantly worry and stress over what might/might not happen because of x, y, or z. This cycle of negative thoughts and fears has been shown to actually induce a chronic “fight-or-flight” response, just like seeing a shark every 2 seconds of every day!
So whether we are afraid because of a Shark, or afraid because of chronic stress and anxiety, our brain reacts in a similar manner. We spend excess energy in our sympathetic response, and take energy away from other critical systems.
How Does This Affect Your Life?
No matter the source of your negative thoughts, the longer you spend in this pattern of fear, stress and belittling, the more your brain will adapt to the negativity. Your brain changes all the time, and your thoughts are a huge motivator of this change!
Neuroscientists have shown that when we think negative thoughts, our ability to process new information and problem solve is significantly decreased. The brain’s response to negativity also affects impulse control, emotional states, and memory.
Maybe you’ve already noticed a pattern in your own life. Often when you’re stressed over a possible bad outcome, you get a sore stomach, low back pain, you can’t sleep, you’re grumpy with your family, and you can’t seem to remember the last time you were happy. The more time you spend in a state of high stress or anxiety, the more common these problems become in your daily life.
It’s Never Too Late to Become an Optimist
Fortunately for us, our brains are always willing to adapt and change to new thoughts, meaning it’s not too late to get out of the negativity rut!
The first step is to recognize when you are trapped in a cycle of negativity. Bring awareness to what causes you stress and when you put yourself down rather than build yourself up.
Next, try to slowly change your belittling to happy, positive thoughts. Instead of thinking about how much money your house renovations are costing, focus on how nice it feels to work with your hands again. Compliment yourself on your eye for design and think about how happy your partner will be when she/he sees the changes you’ve made.
Instead of worrying about if your boss will be happy with your next assignment, expect him/her to like it and be excited about the changes your work will make for the company.
Spend more time smiling and laughing. Spend more time positively complimenting the people around you rather than tearing them down. Use the word “if” less and replace it with “when.”
Your brain is extremely powerful. The longer you spend thinking as an Optimist, the easier it will be to automatically think positively and avoid future negative thoughts. So, what are you waiting for?