There is great power in the thoughts we are having each day. What we have learned through years of research on the human brain’s thought process is that the brain tends to remember and focus on negative experiences more so than positive experiences. There are lots of theories on why the brain is hardwired in this way but more important that those is that we know we can change that. As previous American Psychological Association (APA) President Martin Seligman put it, “Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals choose the way they think.”
We have a choice everyday to choose to think positively, to assume the best-case scenario, to offer others the benefit of the doubt, to not personalize everything that happens throughout the day. We used to think that some people were just born optimists and that it was unobtainable point of view to those of us for whom it didn’t come naturally. We know now that this is not the case.
Our brain may autopilot to negativity, but we have the ability to manually override this function at each and every point in the day. We can choose to notice what we are grateful for, identify our strengths, reflect on what has gone well, realize what we are looking forward to, practice affirmations. These activities make up a relatively new field of psychology- Positive Psychology. The mental health field spent a great deal of time focusing on what was wrong and trying to get rid of it and it’s only recently that we’ve realized even more important than this is a focus on what is going well and growing that.
This isn’t an easy switch; we are effectively fighting what our brain has considered natural for most of our lives. But it does become easier, the brain becomes habituated to thinking positively, and it turns out, it likes it!
Our thoughts determine how we feel. If we think negatively about ourselves, our environment, our situation- we will feel down, depressed, anxious, worried. If we can shift that to positivity, we can start to feel grateful, blessed, and excited about the things in our lives. An easy practice to start this transition in the brain is to start a positivity journal.
Get a blank notebook or purchase one of the many positivity/gratitude journals on the market. Set time each morning to write down three things you are grateful for that day. Then revisit your journal in the evening and reflect on three things that went well that day. If we can make this a daily practice, change starts to take place. This change can be slow at first but keep it up for a few weeks and you’ll likely start to notice an improvement, as will the other people you are around. You just may find yourself identifying as an optimist in hardly any time at all.