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How to Beat Your Negative Thoughts

Photo: Christian Palmer

EVER FEEL LIKE YOU GET ‘STUCK IN THE SUCK’?

Dr. Andrew Huberman is renowned for his research in neuroplasticity and brain function. He’s one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and founder of the Huberman Lab at Stanford University

According to Huberman, “neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change itself throughout its whole lifespan. Everyone experiences neuroplasticity from the day they’re born.” Our brains program themselves, learning and adapting as we grow and age. 

Your brain changes and the cool thing is, you can influence the transformation. You can intentionally change your default thought patterns.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Well, if you tend to “buy-in” to damaging, destructive thoughts and negativity, it means you can effectively reprogram your mind to reinforce positivity, prosperity, and optimism. 

WHAT IS THE NEGATIVITY BIAS? 

Our minds hold onto negative experiences more readily and for longer than positive ones. Negative events like losing money vs. making money or being insulted vs. praised have a higher stickiness factor than the alternative. The negativity bias, which no one is immune to, is the reason it feels worse to lose $50 than it does to make $50.

It doesn’t matter if the fifty dollars gained is objectively equivalent to the loss; we hold onto the overpowering negative instead of celebrating the positive. You might be able to remember an entire day for one negative experience, like someone criticizing one of your ideas, when the whole day weighed heavily in the positive. 

THE MATH DOESN’T LIE.  

According to mention.com, social media has become considerably more negative. From 2013-2017, negative posts increased from 2.71% to 6.86%, while positivity declined from 13.04% to 5.57% over the same period. Luckily the majority are neutral, so maybe it’s not that bad, but we can agree negative experiences carry more weight than positive interactions on social media nowadays—look at coverage of the Pandemic! 

Politicians know negativity sticks, and it’s why they build campaigns based on societal problems, not solutions. You won’t win the election if you talk about what’s good all the time. It just doesn’t resonate or grab peoples’ attention as much. They use negativity to their advantage, but it’s often at the expense of society’s mental wellbeing.

Unfortunately, most of our default thought patterns support the negativity bias. We have around 85,000 thoughts per day, and the majority—about 50,000—are called ‘self-talk.’ For most people, 80% of the self-talk is negative—Eighty percent! Which means?

EVERY DAY, 40,000 OF YOUR THOUGHTS ARE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK.

On Ed Mylett’s #MAXOUT podcastTrevor Moawad, a mental conditioning expert named by Sports Illustrated as the “Sports World’s Best Brain Trainer,” suggests you’re 4-7 times more likely to materialize a negative thought than a positive one. And not only that, if you say the negative thought out loud, it’s like a 10-times multiplier. 

So, the consequences of repeating negative thoughts and voicing them are pretty severe. If you say something negative, it’s like increasing the odds of it manifesting by 40-70 times!

Not good.

But, imagine if we could reverse these numbers. Imagine if 40,000 of our thoughts per day were positive, and only 10,000 were negative. Imagine if it were just 50/50. It’s undeniable it would help us all accelerate towards our goals, AND we’d all probably be a lot happier. 

You can stack the odds in your favour if you stack your positive thoughts. 

HOW CAN YOU FIGHT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS? 

We can’t go into negativity denial, like, “It’s all great! Isn’t it! I love that I lost $50 today!”

No.

But we can look at whatever happens as an opportunity rather than a catastrophe. It requires objectivity and letting go of the things we can’t control while taking bold action on the things we can

IDENTIFY WHAT HAPPENED WITH NEUTRAL THINKING. 

Say you lost a debate with a colleague at work. The fact that it happened, objectively speaking, is neither good nor bad. How you think and feel about it gives it a good or bad wrap. You could decide that, even though you lost, it’s a good learning opportunity to improve your communication skills. Neutral thinking gives way to positivity. 

It all starts with how we talk to ourselves. Looking at things through a neutral lens is a critical step. Then, try to self-trigger on your negative self-talk and put effort into maximizing the positive. 

IF YOU WANT TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL, USE GRATITUDE.

You can turn all ‘bad’ days into good days with gratitude. Here’s how:

When you’re lying in bed at night before drifting off to sleep, it’s common to go over the day in your head, taking stock of the good and the bad. The trouble is—as we’ve already learned—the bad usually outshines the good 80% of the time.

But, you can change that…

Take a few moments to take stock of all the ‘wins’ you had that day. These are the times you feel genuinely grateful that things went your way. Even on the worst days, there are still opportunities to feel thankful. 

What happens next?

EVEN YOUR BAD DAYS BECOME GOOD DAYS. 

How does it work?

Taking stock of your wins helps but feeling thankful for the success is the game changer because you can’t fake being grateful. Gratitude is genuine. It’s not fluff or blissful optimism. 

When you feel thankful, it feels good. It changes you on a physiological and psychological level. In short, it overrides the negative thoughts you had about your day so you can fall asleep feeling at ease and content with your so-called ‘bad’ day. 

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. 

Gratitude and genuine positivity, before you drift off, primes you to look for more opportunities to be thankful the following day—there’s a snowball effect. 

These positive affirmations activate the system in your brain called your Reticular Activation System (RAS), a bundle of nerves at your brainstem responsible for filtering out unnecessary information so that the important stuff gets through. Your RAS sifts through data so that it only presents the important stuff to you. 

Your RAS is the reason you can be in a noisy crowd and still hear a friend call out your name. It sorts out what you don’t need to serve you useful information. By thinking about all you have to be grateful for, before bed, you are priming your RAS to sift out more opportunities for gratitude the following day. 

PRACTICING GRATITUDE INCREASES OCCURRENCES OF POSITIVE SELF-TALK. 

The point of all of this is to change the way you think, shifting towards a more positive perspective, and boosting self-confidence. Neutral thinking is the steppingstone from negativity on your way to positivity. Then gratitude or authentic optimism take you beyond the baseline. 

You don’t have to be part of an exclusive club here. Gratitude practices are universal and accessible to absolutely everyone, and if you want to reap the benefits of heightened positivity, you’ve just got to start.  

Take stock of your wins every day and feel authentically thankful (especially on those ‘not-so-good’ days). 

We all tend to buy into the negative, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all be more kind to ourselves with a bit of effort, changing our default thought patterns toward positivity, and filtering out the silver linings.

Written by: Mike Shaw


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