Wondering if it’s possible to turn your anxious brain into a positive and optimistic one?
These days it’s easy to feel anxious or even fearful or depressed. But remember, all thoughts and experiences are stored in our brains as memories. Which do you think leave a deeper impression: positive thoughts and events or negative ones? The Default Mode Network, the part of our brain dedicated to creativity and imagination, creates both positive and negative predictions of what may happen in the future. Overfocusing on the negative thoughts and feelings can trigger anxiety or even a threat response. This is an important function and potentially life-saving as it may protect you from making mistakes that could threaten your life, or the achievement of your goals. If constantly reinforced, though, this tendency to negativity may lead us to anxiety and depression. The good news is that there’s a fabulous tool that can reverse this process. Professor Barbara Fredrickson talks about “positivity ratio”: generating 3 positive thoughts for every negative thought can help us overcome this default negativity and thrive. Higher positivity ratios are “predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes”.
First of all, you need to be mindful of your thoughts. Try to constantly monitor what you’re thinking in every moment. How do you know you may be having negative thoughts? You probably don’t feel that great. So when this happens, stop for a moment, become aware of your thoughts and observe them for a moment, without criticism or judgement. Then replace the negative thought with 3-7 positive thoughts. The more the better. You may even go on a positivity rampage and create many more positive thoughts. These in turn will create positive feelings and you will start to feel better.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on the positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68, 814-822.
Fredrickson, Barbara (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. New York: Crown.