Do you wonder why you always seem to be replaying that scene where you say something stupid at a party? Or you ruminate—over and over—about the criticism your boss made? Why do the negative things stick in your brain and then, when someone pays you a compliment, you brush it off?
It turns out our brains have a negative bias. We have evolved over time to pay attention to negative events, and this helped protect us. But now that a saber tooth tiger is probably not threatening us, our brains are still wired that way.
Neuroscientists have made a lot of progress since the days when tigers roamed freely. It turns out your brain can be changed. Your experiences shape your brain—quite literally—and that means you have the power to change your nervous system. You can train your brain to experience more positive emotions.
In general, you can:
- Notice positive events. Don’t let the negative ones take precedence. Shove them out. Pay attention to good things.
- Savor good stuff. Invite positive feelings to linger. Give your neurons plenty of time to fire together and forge a change in your neural structure.
- Experience positive things deeply. Make how good you feel a part of you. Weave goodness into the fabric of your brain. Feel it deep down.
Specifically, you can:
- Name that bummer feeling. Consciously recognize that nagging darkness. Give it a name. By recognizing just what it is that’s bringing you down, you go a long way to reduce the impact of that negative emotion.
- Make that decision. It doesn’t have to be the perfect answer to your problem. But you put your mind at rest when you resolve a problem and set a course. That, in turn, calms your system and reduces stress. The act of deciding also boosts dopamine which gives you pleasure.
- Practice gratitude. Strangely enough, when you worry, you are rewarded in the short term. Because you’re doing something about your problem—worrying—your brain’s reward center is activated. Consciously replace that worry with gratitude and you’ll boost your dopamine. Gratitude also boosts serotonin, which can affect your mood for the better. When you feel gratitude toward others your social interactions become happier. The more your practice gratitude, the less effort it takes to be grateful, and you begin to be happier and happier.
The long and short of it is, you can change your brain—physically and quite literally—by practicing to think positively. And one more thing: Physically touching can raise dopamine levels, too. When you hug your friend, don’t just give her a perfunctory pat. Give her a long, strong hug. Let your body have time to get the positive effects of physical contract.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.