3 Tips to Train Your Brain & Be More Positive
Most of us have been told to “stay positive” or “look on the bright side,” but did you know you can actually train your brain to achieve this? You choose what you feed your mind, which means you can unlearn negative conditioning that leads to depression, anxiety, and analysis paralysis.
Why is it so easy to be negative in the first place? Research suggests negativity was important for our early ancestors. Those who worried about having food for later rationed what they had rather than eating everything at once. As survivors, they passed this way of thinking down as part of our evolutionary framework, making it difficult (but not impossible) to relearn. Fortunately, a lot of research has been conducted on this topic since the caveman days, and now we know positive thinking can change our neurological processes for the better.
The first step to train your brain is realizing when you are having negative thoughts.
Automatically going to the negative comes naturally for most people. You may not even be aware you’re doing it, so pay attention to your thoughts. When you don’t get a job offer, do you instantly think you must have said something stupid during the interview? When a business contact doesn’t call you back, do you imagine he or she is avoiding you? Once you realize how you tend to interpret events, you can change these thoughts to drive emotions that lead to positive behavior. Here are 3 ways to train your brain:
1. Challenge yourself to have more reasonable responses.
Maybe you didn’t get the job because the company decided to hire internally. Or maybe your contact just got busy and forgot to return your call. Whatever the case, putting a positive spin on things—or no spin at all—can ensure you don’t start on the downward spiral of negative emotions that can lead to obsessive thoughts and low self-confidence.
2. Show some gratitude.
Our brains have years of practice cataloging slights, wrongdoings, and bad luck, but what about all the positives? Did you make it to the job interview 20 minutes early because traffic was good? Did a contact just send you a job lead that’s perfect for you? The trick is to train your brain to notice the good things, large and small. One way is starting a gratitude journal and listing three good things that happen every day. With some repetition, you should slowly notice a mental shift.
Why is this important? Because the brain uses something called the reticular activating system, or RAS, to filter out unimportant information like background sights and sounds. This allows you to concentrate on the important stuff, and whatever you think about most becomes priority. A popular example of this is buying a new car and suddenly noticing all the other cars like yours on the road. It’s not that they weren’t there before—it’s just that you weren’t focused on them.
Some call this the “law of attraction,” but what it really means is you’ve trained your brain to notice something, making you more likely to see opportunities as they arise. If you’re focused on finding a new job instead of obsessing over the one you didn’t get, you’re more likely to notice help wanted signs and networking event invites, for example. This is because the RAS uses your thoughts to learn what you’re interested in and sends signals to alert your conscious mind so those things don’t go unnoticed.
3. See it and be it.
Another form of mental training is visualization since it creates neural pathways based on stimuli. The brain doesn’t know the difference between thinking about something and actually doing it, which is why your mouth waters when you visualize yourself sucking on a lemon—it’s an involuntary response that occurs because the brain thinks it’s real. Athletes use this to improve their performance because it’s another form of muscle memory; the muscle just happens to be the brain. Gymnasts mentally perform flawless routines and pitchers see themselves throwing a perfect strike. When you visualize something, the brain thinks you already know how to do it, making it easier to do it when the time comes.
But don’t mistake this for daydreaming. For visualization to work, you have to involve all the senses. See yourself walking around a networking event, but be the focus, not the audience. Smell and taste the coffee, feel yourself shaking hands, hear people talking, and—most importantly—visualize yourself as happy and confident.
It takes time for new neural pathways to form. If you practice different aspects of positive thinking daily, you’ll start to notice a shift in your perspective that will transform your ideas about your confidence, abilities, and self-worth.
Source: The Job Loss Recovery Guide, Lynn Joseph, Ph.D., 2003