21 Oct How positive and negative thinking manipulates the mind, body, and life
We are all unhappy at times
If you feel depressed, anxious, stressed or lost, you are not alone – living in a western society is a stressful business, and biologically, we are not at all designed for the modern society we have created. The electronic pastimes, the nutrient depleted ‘food’, the hours spent sitting, the hours spent alone, and the constant reminder from the media that we are not good enough as we are now. The constant reminders by advertisers reminds us that we are lacking something, that we need something, that we won’t be happy unless we have something.
This fast paced life of need, want, and consumption leaves us burnt-out and causes lethal levels of stress, anxiety and depression, which takes hold on the emotional, cognitive, and behavioural areas of our mind. These three areas are highly interconnected, and because of this, a change in just one of these areas can invoke change in the others (Forsyth, 2008). For example, antidepressants work to directly improve your emotional state (Forsyth, 2008), and indirectly they can improve your behavioural and cognitive state by getting you up and active. Making changes in cognitive thinking patterns is also an effective way to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression, and in fact cognitive behavioural therapy is generally accepted as being as effective as antidepressants (Forsyth, 2008). While this type of therapy is usually directed by a trained professional, there are many things that can be practiced at home which can greatly improve your mind, body and life
How the negative mind controls
The funny thing about life is that it is all in your mind, no other organ can interpret and give meaning to life. Your mind does not know the difference between the truth and a lie, therefore, your reality is what you believe, and what you believe is what your mind tells you is so. This powerful organ controls our body and emotions, and while you think you have total control of your mind, thoughts, and feelings, they often arise as a reflex.
At the centre of the human nervous system, the brain continually collects and processes information that determines our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The brain is taught over time how to function (How to think), and unfortunately our modern life is full of information that wires our brain to think that we are not enough, that we need constant improvement … negative, negative, negative. Therefore, on a daily basis our minds are working from a negative home base, and because you are alone in your head with your mind, it can easily manipulate your mood from positive to negative and vies-versa. The mind controls through continual internal dialogue, the voice that can answer back… the voice that comes up with all the answers to all our questions. That voice can be a positive or negative influence on our daily lives, and has in fact been shown through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to shape the mind at a physical level (Altman, 2010) It is unfortunately more common for negative thoughts run wild in our minds, congesting, cluttering, and sabotaging our efforts.
Being happy and positive sounds simple, but so few of us actually live daily with a positive outlook. We all want this, so why is it not the norm? It is because our minds are defaulting to negative without any conscious awareness. When we ask questions of our minds, we often ask loaded questions, and if you ask yourself a stupid question, you will get a stupid answer. Why am I fat?…because you are a pig. Why am I weak?. . . because you are lazy. Your mind cannot help but give you an answer to your questions, whether the answer is true or not – the brain was designed to problem solve. Try not thinking about… What colour is your underwear?
What often happens when we struggle, is we look around to everyone who seems to be ‘WINNING’ and start asking ourselves the stupid questions: Why is everyone better than me? How come this isn’t hard for anyone else? By asking yourself ‘why is everyone better than me’, you have just told your mind that they ARE, better than you; and now you want to know why. Your mind obliges, using the information it has collected through a lifetime of negative media it gives you a reflex answer that is not based on truth, but none-the-less you believes it to be so. The truth is that people will always have different strengths and weaknesses, and while we are all different, no one is inherently better than anyone else. There are however, many rational reasons why someone may not struggle at a task that you yourself do. Maybe they have been practicing longer, maybe you are exhausted from the week while they are fresh, maybe they have previous experience at a similar task that makes mastering this one easier for them. We all struggle at some point, but the pathway our mental dialogue takes will lead us to happiness and self-improvement, or frustration and defeat. Positive thinking is a learned behaviour (just like negative thinking) rather than a natural talent, which means with focus and practice, anyone can change their outlook
Strategies for gaining a positive mindset
To rid yourself of negative thoughts and the horrendous internal dialogue that continually brings you down, you need to transform old habits and harmful beliefs in to new positive and beneficial ones. Little by little, day by day, you will make changes for the better. Positive thinking is not about repeating nice words and giving yourself shallow complements, rather positive thinking is about identifying negative thinking that is not based on fact, and replacing it with beneficial positive thoughts (MacLeod, 2000)
- Don’t let stress cloud your mind. When you are stressed you won’t be thinking clearly. Write a list of five activities you can do to calm your mind before dealing with the stressful situation. If you are short on time, a breathing exercise is perfect, if you have a fair bit of time a flex (stretching) class is great to release tension and clear your mind.
- Recognise negative internal dialogue for what it is, fiction. When you struggle with something and hear the negative thoughts bubbling up – STOP, don’t let negative thoughts cloud the truth. Count slowly backwards from five, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and think rationally. Are you tired? Have you been eating well? Are you stressed from work? You may find that after considering the facts the answer to your question is not at all negative. Additionally, you can talk to a friend; it is always good to consider the opinions of others who will have a completely fresh perspective of your struggle.
- Give time to the present. Our minds spend a lot of time focused on either the past or the future, and it is the present that we miss. When you are too focused on what your future ought to hold, you miss your own life. Even if you are not where you want to be yet, experience life now because the present is the only time we get, the only place where happiness happens. Mindfulness is the practice of experiencing only the present, and there are many good books at the library/online that can teach you how to be more aware of life as it unfolds around you – just search ‘mindfulness’
- Life is a journey not a destination. Creating a positive outlook is a lot like creating a snowman; you must begin with a snowball. As you roll the snowball forward it accumulates snow around the outside, covering the original snowball. Some snow might fall off the edges, but as long as you continue to roll the snowball, it will get bigger, stronger, and more stable. After all of your efforts, you will see a monstrous accomplishment – a giant snowball that will persist long after all the surrounding show has melted, and it is an inspiration to build the next! Never stop aiming for your goals and enjoy the ride, after all, you can’t be stuck if you’re not trying to get anywhere.
- You are the sum of the people you spend your life with. When you have a confrontation with someone on the road or in the mall, even if you were in the right, it leaves you in a sour mood. Negative energy leaves you in a bad mood, and when you are around negative people negative is how you will be. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, and bring peace and joy in to your life. Remember, ‘’how you spend your days is how you spend your life’’ – Annie Dillard.
Altman. (2010). The mindfulness code. Keys for overcoming stress, anxiety, fear, and unhappiness. New World Library. California, USA.
Forsyth, Poppe, Nash et al. (2009). Measuring negative and positive thinking in patients with depression. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care.
McLeod & Moore (2000). Positive thinking revisited: positive cognitions, well-being and mental health. Clinical psychology and psychotherapy