PHOTO BY CARRIE ALLEN
A few days ago, I was sitting at the edge of the playground with a few of my mom friends while our kids played, and we were swapping stories about lying awake in the middle of the night with irrational anxieties racing in our minds: ‘someone at work is probably upset with me’, ‘I’m going to whiff at my next big meeting’, ‘I’m ruining my kids, because I wouldn’t let them have a playdate’, ‘everyone hates me!’. Okay, that last one may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this exchange gave me pause. There I was, standing with amazing, accomplished women, who should be waking up thinking; ‘wow, I’m crushing it at work’, ‘I’m going to nail that meeting’, or ‘I’m really doing a good job raising my kids’. But instead, we’re all focusing on the negative.
Turns out, my friends and I are not alone here. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive thoughts. But, why? Well, the answer is simple. We, as human beings, have a negative bias — we put more weight on negative experiences than positive ones. Research shows that our brains evolved to react much more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones. Back in the day (aka thousands of years ago), it kept us safe from danger (environmental threats). But in modern days, where physical danger is minimal, negativity merely gets in our way. In fact, research suggests that negative thinking holds us back — it keeps us from taking risks, holds us back from pursuing goals, and can have a negative impact on our health. To make it simple; negative thinking is not good.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, has been linked to better health, longer life, and greater well-being. A positive attitude encourages you to take advantage of opportunities, work or personal, because you will feel more confident stepping out of your comfort zone than negative thinkers do. Take my 7-year-old, Hudson, as an example. On a family trip to Wisconsin, visiting my in-laws, we spent an afternoon at a trampoline park that had a 10-foot warped wall (for those of you who don’t know – picture a curved wall that you run up and grab the top to pull yourself up). Hudson spent a good portion of our time there trying to get to the top. I could tell he was defeated. He said things like ‘I just can’t do it’, or ‘I’m not good at this, mom’. So, I pulled him aside, told him to close his eyes, and I asked him to ‘imagine yourself running as fast as you can, getting up the wall, and grabbing the top’. He opened his eyes and with a big smile on his face, he said, “I think I can do it.” Sure enough, he did it. It was a simple negative-to-positive mindset change, coupled with a little lesson on manifestation, that got him to see what was possible.
So, let’s all be a little more like Hudson. Let’s change that mindset and turn the negative thoughts down while amping up the positive ones. Here are a few tips to help us jump-start this journey:
- Nix the Negative: Pay attention to your inner monologue and replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. If you’re like me and find yourself stewing on something you did (or did not do) that you deem negative, try reframing the situation. Look for the good — even as simple as ‘I did my best in that situation’. For me, this is the hardest part, but the more I do it, the more natural it feels.
- Positive Affirmations: Affirmations are short, positive statements that you can repeat regularly to yourself or leave notecards around where you can see them as you do your regular routines. Keep them positive, in the present tense, and state something that you want (‘I grow and improve every day’, ‘I treat myself kindly and compassionately’ ‘My life is full of potential).
- Express Gratitude: When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters responsible for the emotions that make us feel good. No better way to kick off that positivity train and feel better about ourselves than to recognize all that we have around us.