According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, humans evolved to be fearful – this helped keep our ancestors alive. He says “understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry”. He says that once you become aware of this, you can change brain pathways, building those that produce calmness, inner strength and wisdom.
Studies have shown that the body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones. People in studies were able to identify angry faces far more quickly than happy ones. The angry faces activated their fight-or-flight response. When this happens, negative events and experiences are quickly stored. He says “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
Trapped in negative thought cycles?
This may help to explain why we can fixate on negative experiences and go over and over them in our heads. The more these negative thought patterns become established, the easier it becomes to return to them. Ask yourself the following questions to find out whether you are caught up in negative thought cycles:
- Do you constantly think about wrong choices or actions you have made in the past that make you feel guilty and worthless? You find yourself saying “I always mess up” and “I can’t do anything right”.
- Are you are constantly dealing with ‘what if’ scenarios? You constantly worry about stuff that has not happened yet – illness, a heart attack, financial disaster, a car crash.
- Are you very critical of yourself, focusing on all your flaws and weaknesses? Do you tend to be critical of others in your life as well as yourself?
- Do you always think about what is wrong with your life instead of thinking about what is right?
- Are you so absorbed with the problems you have to face that they take over your thinking?
- Are you focused on what you do not have, rather than appreciating what you do have?
- Do you feel that your life is not good enough and that you need something outside of yourself to make it better?
- Do you feel that everyone else is happier than you and you feel envious of them and sorry for yourself?
When you are trapped in this kind of thinking, you often feel helpless. You may be tired of people telling you to ‘think positively’ about a situation that is very difficult. It is not so easy to change your thinking patterns and this is when people often turn to alcohol, drugs, porn and any other diversion or distraction to cope.
Changing your thought patterns
So are there really practical and authentic ways that can help you from getting stuck in a negative cycle of thoughts? Yes, there are and the first step towards changing them is to recognize that you are thinking negatively. Perhaps you are attempting to build a business online and you are struggling. It is so easy to give up at this point and think that you will never succeed. If this is the case, you need to develop a new mindset. New positive pathways must be established in your brain. A popular way of doing this is the practice of mindfulness where conscious attention is brought to thinking patterns. You step back from your thoughts and develop a new dimension of awareness. In this way the patterns begin to lose their hold over you.
Many studies have been done on the effects of meditation on the brain. It has been associated with decreased anxiety, stress, insomnia and pain and it also appears to increase quality of life. In studies done by neuroscientist, Dr Sara Lazar, people who had never meditated before were put through an eight-week program and after these eight weeks differences in their brains were found. For example, the amygdala, which is the fight or flight part of the brain, got smaller. Here are 5 meditation tips for beginners by Dr. Alice Boyes, PhD that will help to get you started.