Within you lies a significant power to influence your own happiness and wellbeing; it’s often just a matter of knowing how. Every day I speak with clients who are suffering - suffering from depression, anxiety, self-doubts, self-hatred, lost hope and many other debilitating feelings. Yet we all have strengths, gifts and a power that lies within us to move out of this suffering and into a more energy-filled, empowered and positive life. How? By utilising tools from the science of Positive Psychology, and reshaping your brain.
First it helps to better understand the brain function that we were born with:
- We are hard-wired for negativity. It served as a helpful evolutionary tool to be alert for what’s wrong, but it’s not so helpful today.
- Long term daily stress (think busy traffic, technology that never rests, fighting with loved ones, peer pressure etc) activates the ‘fight and flight’ response which diminishes our creativity, lateral thinking and even makes our thoughts ‘foggy’ at times.
- As we feel worse and more stressed, it sharpens our focus even further on the negatives, thereby creating a continuous downward spiral of negative emotions.
- Our brain is like Velcro for bad experiences (they stick) but Teflon for good ones (they slide off)—making us more stressed, worried, tired and down than we truly deserve to be.
The exciting and empowering news is that we all have the ability to shift our brains natural predisposition and wiring towards noticing what’s wrong! This is because:
- Utilising the brains neuroplasticity, it can be reshaped and rewired, meaning you’re not just stuck with your current, negative way of thinking.
- Your brain can be trained to adopt new thought patterns to overcome negative thoughts.
- It’s not difficult to make real differences through utilising some simple (and fun) Positive Psychology tools.
Being Mindfully Present
Begin by taking notice of your self-talk. How are you interpreting situations? What beliefs are you holding onto that aren’t helping you to live happily?
As Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Once we begin to gently notice our thoughts, we can start to see a pattern of thinking that we are following. We then have a choice for whether we wish to maintain that thinking, or replace it with something more empowering and helpful. This requires us being mindfully present to notice the thought and make a choice for what we do with that thought. For example, if a friend hasn’t returned your text message, you could think that they must be cross with you for some reason. If you were practicing being mindfully present with your thoughts/assumptions, you could instead choose a more empowering way to think about your friend not returning your text……maybe they simply forgot because they read it when they were too busy to reply. You see, the meaning you choose then governs your perception and your feelings; which in turn influences your choices, your behaviours, everything! Whenever you elect a new meaning, this changes everything.
Byron Katie came up with some neat questions you can ask yourself to test if your thinking is actually a fact or an unhelpful assumption. You can ask yourself:
- Is it true? (this thought)
- Can I absolutely know that it's true? (is this thought 100% accurate?)
- How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought? How does this thought make me feel?
- Who would I be without the thought? What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief?
Rewiring our Brain for Noticing the Good
Using gratitude to start building new thought patterns that are alert for the good things in your life. This helps to counter the brains natural wiring to hunt for the bad things. You do this by writing three things that you're grateful for in your day. Be as specific as you can but if you're really struggling to find anything on a tough day then you go high level, such as a roof over your head. Also reflect on what was your contribution to that good thing happening.
Rewire your Brain for Love, Peace and Happiness
You can use the H.E.A.L. process which was created by Dr Rick Hanson, a psychologist and neuroscientist. He suggests, as you go off to sleep at night, you prime your brain to rewire a deep inner sense of love, peace and happiness. You do this by:
- Have it – activate a loving positive experience (such as feeling the love that you feel from the most loving person/people in your life).
- Enrich it – then increase the intensity of that feeling by really focussing on it and letting that feeling sit there.
- Absorb it – sense the feeling sinking into you. This primes the memory systems to be more efficient at encoding the experience into new neural structures.
- Link it – you may choose to link this feeling of love towards healing a past hurt or damaged relationship. But a word of caution, don’t do this until you’ve built up the experience of the H.E.A. part first.
All these techniques are not onerous or time consuming, they are free to access and often enjoyable. And they can lead to profound changes in happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction…..it’s all in your hands! Give it a go and see how you feel.