Five steps to a happy brain!
If I asked you to give me five things that have been bad about your day you could probably give me 10 quite easily! Maybe someone cut you up on the way to work, maybe your partner forgot to load the dishwasher, maybe someone at work didn't do what they were supposed to do, a credit card statement arrived that you didn't want to open... The list can go on and on!
But what if I asked you to give me five things that have been good about your day? Difficult? Can you give me three even? It is unfortunately the case that most people can't even come up one good thing about their day!
So why is this?
Well for starters we live in a very negative world where we are constantly told about threats to our safety and security which means it is very hard to think positively about our future. Think about the news for example; all doom and gloom for 29 minutes and then we have a pleasant 'And finally' story at the end. Negativity, sadly, is part of our very culture.
We are also our own worst enemy because we all enjoy a good moan! We will happily text/call our families and friends to grumble to them about something bad that has happened and they will happily buy into it; exchanging their own negative stories. How often do we contact people just to tell them we've had a good day? I'm willing to bet it's not very often! Negativity becomes a habit and anyone who has a particularly negative friend or work colleague (and we all have one of these!) will know how their demeanour almost defines them.
So what do we do about it? Well we use different parts of the brain depending on what we are thinking about. The structure of the brain is complex but in simple terms the part of the brain called the left prefrontal cortex is used when we are feeling happy. The right prefrontal cortex on the other hand, is used when we are feeling sad. If we are functioning in the happy left prefrontal cortex we are able to think positively, can be rational and can think logically about situations; we are calm and we can cope. Those negative people you know? They will not be functioning from this part of the brain and will tend to spend their time camped out in the right prefrontal cortex.
So how do we know this? Well the brain, fortunately, is like plastic and we can change the structure and make-up of our brains depending on which bits we use the most. An experiment was conducted by some neuroscientists who studied a group of Buddhist monks. Buddhist monks are very peaceful folk mainly due to fact they practice meditation and mindfulness which is of course a very positive activity! The monks were brain scanned and it was found that their left prefrontal cortex was actually bigger than the average Joe's. So their positivity and repeated use of that positive part of the brain meant that it had actually grown stronger. The brain will always choose to do what comes easiest and if that part of the brain is used the most then the default way of thinking will reflect that. So by being positive, the Buddhist Monks became more positive. Positivity is their default setting.
So what does this mean for us? Well first of all it shows that you can learn to be positive. If you make looking at things in a positive frame of light a habit then your brain will actually change to accommodate this. Easier said than done maybe but look at these simple ways to retrain your brain for positivity:
1. Look for the smallest things that make you smile; your favourite tune coming on the radio, your children saying something that makes you laugh or your partner loading the dishwasher for a change! They may seem small or inconsequential but noticing them means you are moving into the positive part of your brain.
2. Get a small notebook or use an app on your phone to record at least three good things that have happened every day. Recalling these nice things will give you a burst of happy chemicals in your brain, move you into your left prefrontal cortex and help you find your happy place!
3. Stop asking people 'how are you?' Instead ask them 'What's been good about your day/week?' You now understand that asking people how they are is opening a can of worms as most people will reel off a list of things that have bothered them! If you ask them 'what's been good' you are helping them move into their happy part of the brain. It also makes for a much nicer conversation! This is particularly helpful if you have children as it will encourage them to form positive habits with their thought patterns from a really young age.
4. Find a way to start your day off well. Maybe listen to a song first thing that makes you feel good? Maybe you can read your list of good things from the day before? Maybe you can list all of the good things you have to look forward to?
5. Hypnotherapy is a fantastic way of encouraging positive thoughts. As you now understand, the more positive you think the less anxious you feel and the more inclined you will be to notice the good things in life. If positive thinking is something you struggle with then consider hypnotherapy to help you engage your happy brain!
The more you think positively the more positive you will become. The more positive you become the more you will notice the positives. The more you do this the easier it will happen. You will become positive and happier and you will find yourself less prone to anxiety as using the negative part of your brain will no longer be your default setting.
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Carrie BarberNovember 25th, 2016