Want to be more positive in your daily life? Even if you’re not a very optimistic person, you can still train your brain to look at the brighter side of things. Here are some mental exercises that can help.
Mental Exercises To Rewire Your Brain To Be More Positive
1) Make gratitude a daily practice.
Gratitude is a simple way to get into a positive mindset. Even the act of trying to think of something to be grateful for boosts serotonin and dopamine – your brain’s happy chemicals.
Research shows that practicing gratitude can decrease insomnia, increase empathy, reduce aches and pains, boost self-esteem, and bolster mental toughness.
So how do you begin to practice gratitude? Start small. Gratitude doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to start by thanking the universe for the big bang. Start with little things.
For example: I am grateful for the laptop I am typing this on – that it allows me to communicate with the whole world. I am grateful the sun is shining today. I am grateful for the free coffee in my office this morning.
It’s really about making a habit of finding and recognizing things you can be thankful for in some small way. And yeah, it’s good to be thankful for the big things, too.
Many of the studies showing the positive effects of gratitude had participants spend a few minutes a day jotting down things they were grateful for. Writing by hand is a powerful practice, because it involves so much of your brain.
Keep a blank book and pen next to your bed and write down what you had to be grateful for during the day. You’ll actually sleep better as you aim to be more positive.
I can’t think of a single thing you can do which has a more profound effect on your physical and mental health than daily meditation. Not just a religious or spiritual practice, meditation increases positivity, fights anxiety and depression, decreases pain and inflammation, and increases your ability to regulate your emotions.
I believe that every human being should meditate everyday to be more positive. There are a wide variety of mobile apps which are great for beginners or even advanced students. The two that I like the most are Calm and Headspace.
What’s great about each of them is that they are guided and progressive. This means that you plug in your headphones, sit down, and a voice guides you through what to do. They will each remind you daily that it’s time to meditate.
If you’re not into apps, most cities will have numerous meditation classes. Most yoga classes and some martial arts classes will include a period of meditation.
3) Practice witness consciousness.
Witness consciousness can be a part of meditation, but it’s a mindfulness practice which can be used at any time throughout the day.
Basically, you identify with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise within your consciousness. You merely observe them and allow them to pass like clouds in the sky. This helps you reach a state of equanimity – where stuff just doesn’t bother you.
The more you practice, the easier it gets. Here are some simple steps to help you get an experience of witness consciousness.
- Ask yourself, “where am I?” This is an invitation for your awareness to return to present moment and center itself behind your eyes.
- Repeat to yourself, “I have sensations, but I am not these sensations.”
- Repeat to yourself, “I have thoughts, but I am not these thoughts.”
- Repeat to yourself, “I have emotions, but I am not these emotions.”
- Just sit with this detached state for a while.
4) Challenge negative interpretations.
Crap happens. But it’s how we handle it that matters. Often, we can put negative interpretations onto events or the actions of others. The survival mechanisms of the brain are actually wired to place more weight on negative events.
When our ancestors went down to the watering hole and one of them got eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger, they may have called the watering-hole cursed. Staying away from the forbidden watering hole would have kept them safe from the tiger. But, for most of us, there’s no tiger in the grass.
Negativity can be such an ingrained habit – it’s really important to catch yourself in the act. How you are feeling about an event is a good indicator of where your thoughts are. Big negative feelings follow big negative thoughts.
Take a moment and recognize what you’re feeling. Honor it, and ask yourself what your thoughts are. Get curious and ask questions. Curiosity is an underrated state. Asking yourself the right questions about an event can help get you out of a funk and be more positive.
For example: let’s say my kids yell at me. I catch myself thinking that they don’t respect me. This might make me angry. I might yell back. What if there is a different interpretation?
If I get curious about their behaviour, it might look something like this: What reason might they have for acting like this? What positive intention or need are they trying to meet? What might have happened leading up to this?
My curiosity about the situation forces me out of the “poor me” mindset and into a state of resourcefulness. At this point, I may even be able to help my kids move through this incident positively and make better choices in the future.
5) Stack evidence to build up positive beliefs.
Now that we’ve conquered some of the negative beliefs and thoughts, it’s time to build up some positivity. This is simpler than it may seem.
Think about something that is true for you. Something simple, like the sun rises in the East every day. OK, if I ask you how you know this is true, you can probably come up with a list of things easily. I’ve seen it rise in the East. I learned in school the Earth rotates east to West. Whatever.
Pay close attention to what kind of proof is most convincing for you. So if we want to reverse-engineer a belief, we simply add criteria that make that belief true for you.
Start with an empowering belief. If we’re going to create and solidify a belief, we should choose it carefully. Choose something that empowers you and feels good. Create a single statement.
The statement must be phrased in the positive. “I am a good father,” is better than, “I am not a lousy father.” This has to do with the way the brain has a hard time processing negatives. The simpler this statement, the easier it will be to drive home into your subconscious mind and adopt naturally.
Affirmations are a mainstay of personal development, but they have a problem. Psychological research has shown that unrealistic affirmations can actually make people depressed. Saying, “I am rich,” over and over again while your car is getting re-possessed puts you in a state of internal conflict.
Pick a belief that is within the realm of reality to be more positive. Things like, “I can get through this moment,” or “I am a good husband,” or “I have a lot to offer my friends.”
Ask Yourself This One Powerful Question
Now that you have the new belief you want to adopt, it’s time to empower it with evidence. You’re going to ask yourself this question: Assuming this is true, how do I know it’s true?
Let your brain come up with as many answers as it can. Write them down. You can repeat this exercise each day until this new belief to be more positive gets cemented into place.