Negative thinking can contribute to many internal problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. All too often our mind is engaged in regretting the past or fearing the future.
Once upon a time, people lived in harmony with nature and with the land they cultivated. Our ancestors communicated more with each other by working in teams, not according to time frames, reports, and schedules. They lived in small, familiar communities, passing each other with a smile and a greeting.
Stress was an occasional phenomenon caused only by a life-threatening situation.
It’s part of the evolutionary legacy our ancestors left behind to be prepared for the worst, along with the ‘fight or flight’ respond of our body, the stress hormones have been generated to help us face adversity or danger.
In those instances, stress hormones were instinctively released to focus all the body’s energy and attention on survival, enabling it to perform beyond its normal capabilities to escape danger. When the threat had passed, the body’s mechanisms returned to normal.
These days, technology have moved us ever further away from a life lived in harmony with nature and within a close-knit local community, and our bodies experience stressful autonomic reactions of fear every day — stress has become an endemic part of life.
The global pandemic and the fragile state of the world are exacerbating the stress that many people experience and live with every day. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported in a December 2021 survey that 37% of adult respondents revealed anxieties about their mental health, while it describes the finding of its February-March 2022 survey of stress as ‘alarming’, with over 41% of adults experiencing a level of stress higher than before the pandemic.
But it is possible to consciously change that stream of negative thoughts that feeds spiralling stress levels. It takes work, but by developing our self-awareness and using some helpful tools, we can develop a positive mindset that enables us to feel balanced, peaceful, and to look to the future with optimism.
Take control of your emotions
The first step is to understand that our mind, the source of those negative thoughts, is in fact heavily influenced by our subconscious, which is mostly formed from before we are born up until we are about eight years of age. To take a simple example: a child who is constantly told that academic achievement is the route to success and happiness will feel forever undeserving of either if their grades are not exceptional.
Learning that my conscious thoughts aren’t as objective, reliable and valid as I had thought was a major turning point in my journey towards a more balanced, harmonious life. Gradually, rather than being controlled by my thoughts, I learned to just observe them. It’s a daily practice I still use to put distance between myself and my thoughts.
When negative feelings rise up — frustration, worry, disappointment, sadness — I remind myself that these are just triggered by my subconscious mind. Putting this distance between myself and my emotions makes it possible for me to let go of negativity and focus on more positive and productive thoughts.
Build more positive brain patterns
Because of the marvellously adaptable nature of the human brain — its “neuroplasticity” — we have the power to go even further: to reorganize and change the negative response patterns of our brain.
Investing your energy in a new experience will cause neurons, the brain’s nerve cells, to fire up. With repetition, we can create new neurocircuitry, effectively rewiring our brains and replacing parts of the negative mental feedback loop.
When you commit 30–50 minutes a day to learning or doing something new — just some of the endless possibilities are gardening, yoga, a new language, volunteering — it will stimulate your brain to create new neural pathways, relegating old habitual regrets and fears to the past and helping to develop a positive mindset.
When you challenge yourself to explore things that interest you, that’s not about judging whether you’re good at it. That’s just about doing it. Enjoying it. Giving yourself and your conscious mind the satisfaction of accomplishing something productive and rewiring your neurocircuitry to break old negative habits standing between you and the happy, peaceful life you’re meant to be living.
The ultimate tool in developing a positive mindset and bringing mind, body and spirit together in harmony is meditation.
Meditation is a way to transform your mind. The practice develops concentration, clarity, and emotional positivity. It helps us clearly see the true nature of things without the veil of a foggy mind. With regular practice, you can deepen a profoundly peaceful state of mind. It’s a transcendent practice that, with time and effort, will lead you to a new understanding of who you are and to the meaning of life itself. It extinguishes fears, anxieties, and other toxic emotions. I see meditation as my connection with the Source inside myself that gives me the power to live my life with grace and appreciation.
Scientific research is also increasingly proving the benefits of meditation that are well known to nearly anyone who has made it part of their life. One neuroscientist has described how meditation can break down the barrier between the self-limiting conscious mind — source of that negative internal voice — and the subconscious. With enough practice, we can encourage the subconscious mind to embrace more positive thinking.
Another experiment proved that the brain patterns of meditation masters have a vastly higher than average proportion of gamma waves — the waves that signal the brain is in its most focused and elevated state — not only when meditating, but in their everyday lives.
You don’t have to be a meditation master to experience these benefits. Nor do you need the ability to empty your mind completely and sit perfectly still in the lotus position for two hours every day. If you’re a beginner, try just three minutes a day (preferably at the same time of day), sitting comfortably with a straight back. Focus on your breath to help calm your mind and focus your energy. Over time, it will become easier to let conscious thoughts float away and to feel the flow of positive energy through your mind and body.
Meditation can be one of the most powerful tools in developing a positive mindset. And as with the other tools I’ve described — observing your emotions, embracing new learning, and reconnecting with nature — the key is consistency.
If you make a conscious effort to use these tools every day for twenty-five days, they will begin to become habitual.
Be grateful. Be patient. Be committed. You’re building a new skill, a new habit for your brain, and your neurocircuitry needs time to be reprogrammed.
And then, you are well on the way to letting go of old negative thinking patterns and embracing a new, positive mindset.
It’s really worth it.
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