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Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones

8 minute read

You often hear people telling you that life is better when you remain positive. If you have a negative outlook, you will attract negativity and so will become trapped in a negative world.  Life does throw some curveballs at you, so it is not expected for a person to be positive every second of each day. But there is something to be said for looking at the bad things in life with positivity.

Research has shown that a positive outlook can have  an impact on success. It also has been shown that positivity acts as a buffer against stress and depression, which helps to foster both physical and mental health. Certain times and situations naturally prompt feelings, such as sadness, anger and worry, which have a natural place in life. The trouble comes from chronically thinking this way, which ends up being detrimental to both your physical and mental health.  

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Negative feelings activate a part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is responsible for processing fear, anxiety, and other emotions. When the amygdala is slow to recover from a threat, the body is at higher risk for health problems. The brain, however, is ‘plastic’ in nature, which means it can generate new cells and pathways. Essentially, we can train the circuits in our brains to promote more positive responses. Even the most negative person can learn to be positive.

3 women meditating in the park

Meditation Training

When left to its own devices, the brain tends to focus on “mind chatter,” intrusive thoughts based on worry or anxiety. Brain studies have shown that meditation can actually reduce the occurence of these thoughts.

A Yale study concluded that mindfulness is associated with reduced activity in the DMN, the area of the brain linked to worry and negative thoughts. An additional study at Harvard concluded that meditation also impacts the volume of the brain, including the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with anxiety, fear, and emotion. Additional studies support an increase of volume in other brain areas responsible for well-being.

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Studies have found that training through meditation which focused on compassion and kindness showed an increase in the expression of positive emotions. Individuals that took part in these training sessions also showed increased social connectedness and improved function of the nerves that help control heart rate.

This results in a more variable heart rate, which means better control over blood glucose, faster recovery times from heart attacks, and less inflammation throughout the body.

With just two weeks of training in compassion and kindness, the brain’s circuits can be changed and linked to more positive gestures, behaviors, and outlook. Positive social behaviors like generosity help to retrain the brain about positive emotions and behaviors.

By learning the skills to self-generate positive emotions, you can become a healthier, more social and resilient version of yourself. Well-being turns out to be a life skill that you can learn and the more you practice it, the better you get at it.

The process can be applied to those who seem to be stuck in negative cycles. Once you have a negative mindset that has become chronic, it is necessary to change the thought patterns. It seems that by taking part in specifically designed training sessions, you can rewire your brain circuits to get away from the negative thought processes.

By learning to regularly practice skills which promote positive emotions, you can become a happier and healthier person. So, there is hope out there for those that seem to be stuck in the negative downward spiral.

2 elderly ladies laughing

The More the Merrier

Studies have gone on to show that when two people are involved in the same emotion or emotional situation, there is an even greater impact on health than when it is experienced alone. For example, think how much happier you feel when you watch a funny movie with friends versus alone or when you share a joke with others.

Research shows that this social sharing of emotional experiences helps people change how they perceive experiences in a positive light. According to a study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, sharing buffers negative experiences and enhances positive ones, an occurrence that operates on a neural level with reward circuitry.

A senior couple enjoying a night out

There are several recommended actions you can incorporate into your life to help foster more positive emotions.

Do good things for others: Not only can you make others happier but your own positive feelings become enhanced. It does not have to be an elaborate deed; just something as simple as giving directions to a stranger or helping someone with a heavy package.

Develop and bolster relationships: When you build strong social connections with others you enhance your own feelings of self-worth, which has been shown to have strong associations with better health and a longer life.

Appreciate the world around you: Take time to notice things in life; the birds, trees, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a good story or even a nice outfit someone is wearing. You learn to appreciate everything around you which enhances a positive feel within and around you.

Set goals that you can accomplish: Maybe there is a talent you want to improve or you want to visit more places or read more books. Make sure the goal is realistic because it is important to complete it. A goal that is impractical will be too challenging and can cause you unnecessary stress and negativity.

Learn something new: A new language, a musical instrument, a new sport; any of these are excellent new things to learn. Achieving them instills a sense of accomplishment within you which increases your self-confidence and resilience.

When it comes to picking something new, make sure you are realistic and will have the time required to learn.

Accept yourself as you are, including your flaws: Rather than focusing on the imperfections and failures, choose to focus on your positive attributes and achievements.  

Practice mindfulness: Focusing on your past problems or future difficulties is not going to change any outcomes It only causes you stress because you have no real control over your past or your future. This drains your mental resources and takes your focus away from the present pleasures around you.

Let go of what you cannot control and focus on the here and now. Meditation is a great way for helping train your brain to stay in the present and stay positive.

Practice resilience: Instead of letting stress, failure, trauma or loss get you down or overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences. They can be great stepping stones to a better future, using them as lessons rather than anchors to hold you down.

A health worker and her patient embracing

The Bottom Line

While emotions we perceive as negative, such as worry, sadness, or fear, are appropriate for certain situations, chronic negativity impacts our relationships and health. Maintaining a relatively positive outlook, forming social connections, and sharing experiences are all important to a mentally healthy life.

Meditation and mindfulness are two strategies to change the brain and to formulate a more positive outlook. Other strategies include setting goals, staying in the moment, practicing resilience, and seeking new experiences or learning.

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  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/02/13/mindfulness-meditation-helps-quell-negative-thoughts-monkey-mind/#4fadf3865ebe
  2. https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/10/6/801/1732379
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/well/live/turning-negative-thinkers-into-positive-ones.html
  4. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0001897