Creating a positive mindset can make us much happier in life. This may sound easy, but our minds automatically have a negative bias, so overcoming this may be difficult.
According to Positive Psychology, "Having a positive mindset means making positive thinking a habit, continually searching for the silver lining and making the best out of any situation you find yourself in."
Overcoming the negative bias.
Our minds are constantly bombarded by a million things in our busy world. We are forced to react quickly both in our work and home lives. With the advent of the internet and social media, we have more information coming at us than ever before. We receive text messages, emails and calls from work and family. Because of technology, we are expected to react more quickly than ever. This can cause us to be under a high level of stress most of the time.
If we have a mental health condition that is characterized by intrusive thoughts, the pressure to respond quickly can be even higher.
From an evolutionary perspective, the negative bias has developed because there were very real dangers in the environments of our primitive ancestors. They ran the risk of being eaten by dangerous animals, natural disasters that they did not understand, food shortages, poisonous creatures and foods, and many more.
Our brains are constantly alert from environmental dangers, and this is how the negative bias developed. By processing dangerous information more quickly, and storing it more easily in our minds, it allows us to fend off dangers more rapidly.
Today however, many of the things that we are perceiving as dangerous or negative have much less catastrophic consequences. We are very unlikely to be eaten by lions, sharks or other predators. We buy safe foods from stores, and don't have to worry about the poison or bacteria in our environment the same ways that our ancestors did. We sleep in houses that are built to code, instead of open caves.
No matter how badly our boss or our spouse yells at us or threatens us, we are unlikely to be in physical danger except in extreme circumstances. (If you are a victim of domestic violence this is very different though. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 if you are in a threatening situation!)
Since our environment is much less physically threatening than in the past, the negative bias has become less evolutionarily necessary.
When we realize that most things are less dangerous than we believe them to be, it can be extremely helpful in the long term, and help us learn to overcome the negative bias that we all experience.
One way to overcome the negative bias is by De-catastrophizing. This means, we release the need to think of everything as an emergency, and responding as such.
Often, we see things as emergencies that actually aren't. This can happen in the workplace, for example, if we receive a series of emails that get progressively demanding and hostile. Or, if we work in customer service, and there is an angry customer yelling at us. We see this as something that is urgent and needs to be dealt with immediately, which can quickly become overwhelming.
An actual emergency is something where we, or our children, are in danger of life or limb. This would be something like an earthquake, fire, or mass shooting.
By widening the definition of what constitutes an emergency, we aren't doing ourselves any favors. We are just needlessly increasing our stress levels over things that have less damaging consequences.
According to Positive Psychology, there are 6 different ways that we can de-catastrophize:
Take a step back
Catastrophizing is negative
Recognize catastrophic thoughts
Challenge our catastrophic thoughts with evidence
Imagination and visualization
All of these tips put together help us to separate ourselves further from our negative thoughts, and to realize that they are less damaging than we may think. For example, just because our boss yells at us, it doesn't mean we are going to lose our jobs or never work again. Even if we do lose our jobs, most likely we have useful skills that will enable us to find a new one. Problems at work aren't usually as big as they are in our minds. The same can be true with relationship or financial problems.
Meditation, Yoga and Mindfulness
Practices like meditation, yoga and mindfulness allow us to create a more peaceful and positive mindset as well.
Read More about the specifics of getting started with each practice here:
There is a common ground between meditation, yoga and mindfulness. These are all ancient Buddhist practices that allow us to create mental space between ourselves and our thoughts. When I first started meditating years ago, I took a series of meditation classes. One of the main teachings of meditation is that "You are not your thoughts. You are the watcher of your thoughts."
When we allow ourselves to step back from our thoughts, and think of them as separate from ourselves, it allows us to release attachment to our thinking. This means, we don't have to believe that each thought is true. It is just a thought. Realizing this allows us to let our negative thoughts go.
Even though we meditate, do yoga, or practice mindfulness it doesn't mean that we will never have negative thoughts. We will just stop letting our negative thoughts define who we are. The more we practice, it becomes easier to let our negative thoughts go. We stop holding onto them and repeating them. This gives us time and space to be able to think about something else.
As we learn to release our negative thoughts, we need something else to occupy the space that they are currently taking up inside our minds. Even as we let go of negative thoughts, we can consciously create positive thoughts as well.
One way that we can create positive thoughts is by using daily affirmations. When we say affirmations, it helps to reinforce a positive thought or belief to replace a negative one. The more we say affirmations, the more we can reprogram our minds for happiness.
Personally, I like to say affirmations first thing in the morning, so that I can start my day with a more positive mindset. When positive things are the first things that we put into our minds during the day, it can help us to think more positively all day long.
When we are working to create a more positive mindset for ourselves, it can be very useful to enlist help. If you have a partner, family or friends who are positive and uplifting people, it can be a great place to start by talking to them about what you want to achieve in terms of creating a more positive mindset.
Talking to others helps to reinforce our more positive beliefs about ourselves, especially if they reinforce the positive beliefs too. For example, if you are saying affirmations about being productive at work, your partner or friends can point out your previous work accomplishments.
If you are needing additional support in creating a positive mindset, it can be helpful to work with a therapist or coach as well. Having a supportive professional can be helpful too, since they are trained to help others through difficult situations, such as changing your mindset. As you work with a professional, they can help you to learn other coping strategies as well.
Once you realize that your mind automatically has a negative bias, you will know that negative thoughts are not your fault. This will allow you to stop blaming yourself for having negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are an evolutionary survival mechanism that everyone has.
It is possible to counteract the negative mental bias through using several different techniques such as de-catastrophizing, using meditation, mindfulness or yoga, saying affirmations, and working with a therapist or coach. All of these techniques will help us to have a more positive mindset, and happier lives.
Let me know what you think in the comments, other things that help you create a positive mindset, and if there are additional topics that you would like me to write about in the future!