It’s been said that humans on average can have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day — if not more. Pretty fascinating, right?
Here’s the issue. Some speculate that an astounding 80 percent of our thoughts are negative and you train your brain to have more negative thoughts over positive thoughts.
According to Loretta Breuning, Ph.D., Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, Professor of Management at California State University, East Bay and author of The Science of Positivity and Habits of a Happy Brain, this really isn’t all that shocking.
“Our brain is not designed to create happiness, as much as we wish it were so. Our brain evolved to promote survival. It saves the happy chemicals (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) for opportunities to meet a survival need, and only releases them in short spurts which are quickly metabolized. This motivates us to keep taking steps that stimulate our happy chemicals.”
Even worse? “You can end up with a lot of unhappy chemicals in your quest to stimulate the happy ones, especially near the end of a stressful workday,” adds Dr. Breuning.
When our brains go negative that can eat away at our productivity, creativity and decision-making skills. That’s because negative thoughts tend to have a bigger impact than positive thoughts. Again, this goes back to evolution. Survival depended on being able to detect and avoid dangerous situations.
As Dr. Breuning explains, “The bad feeling of cortisol has its own survival purpose. It alerts you to an obstacle on the path to meeting your needs so you can navigate your way to good feelings. But once you do that, your brain finds the next obstacle. You will feel bad a lot if you follow your survival brain wherever it leads.”
The good news is that you can actually train your brain to become more positive through these eight techniques.
1. Observe your thoughts.
The first place to start is by observing your thoughts — even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Since we’re creatures of habit, you may notice that you have the same negative thoughts creeping up in your mind. Are you anxious about an upcoming trip? Are you stressed out at work? Are you upset about a fight you had with your spouse?
Once you know what negative thoughts are bothering you the most, you can start working on a solution to resolve the problem. For example, if you’re really bothered by a co-worker, then approach your boss with the problem and ask if you can be moved to another part of the office where you don’t have to interact with them as much.
2. Scan for the 3 daily positives.
Before you go to sleep you can easily train your brain. Reflect on your day and think about three good things that happened to you that day. Whether if it was someone buying you a cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset or landing a new client. Even the smallest things, like being paid a compliment, having lunch with an old friend or watching your dog roll around are more than enough to make you happy.
3. Give someone a shoutout.
Gratitude is really important. Research has found that showing gratitude can do anything from making you more optimistic to warding off heart disease. A gratitude journal is a good place to start, but I’ve found that sharing your gratitude is far more beneficial.
It could be anything like thanking an employee or colleague for all of their hard work, a quick catching up email with a friend, complementing your barista or having a nightly discussion like “What was the best part of your day today?” with your spouse.
It may seem a little awkward at first, but trust me, you’ll feel excellent when you give someone a shoutout.
4. Help others.
Whether it’s helping a swamped colleague on a project, holding open a door, buying a stranger a cup of coffee, donating money or volunteering, any acts of kindness can boost happiness.
5. Surround yourself with positive people.
Since emotions are contagious, it only makes sense that you would want to surround yourself with positive people who inspire, empower and motivate you.
6. Look after your body and mind.
Research has found time and time again that taking care of ourselves physically and mentally can influence our happiness and train our brains to be more positive.
For example, eating healthy, particularly bananas, eggs, blueberries and salmon can boost your spirits.
Exercising for just 20 minutes a day is the best way to release endorphins, which in turn will improve your mood. And, finally, start practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation. Mindfulness is simply being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. An easy mindfulness exercise is to merely set your phone alarm for three separate times during the day. When it buzzes — stop for one second and take a breath. Even this small break will train your brain to be more balanced.
7. Subconscious re-training and inner healing.
Sometimes in order to become more positive, we have to uncover and then release the past negative experiences that we’ve been holding onto. Exercises like tapping, daily affirmations, neuro-linguistic programming and mirror work can help you discover and heal these wounds. Additionally, these exercises can help you build a more supportive and affirming belief system that you can use the next time you face any traumatic experiences.
8. Make time to do something that you love.
This may be easier said than done, but one of the best ways to become more positive is making time for something that you absolutely love.
The action doesn’t matter. Just make sure you love it. It may be reading, cooking, playing a sport, going to the movies, planning a camping trip with friends or picking up a new hobby. Try to set aside an hour a day by setting boundaries that will free up a little time to something that gives you genuine happiness.