Submitted by Allison Allen
Thinking about the positive things that happen each day is today’s coping topic. I may have mentioned it somewhere – our minds are inherently biased toward the negative. It’s a survival thing, a sort of constant scanning of the horizon for any trouble that may be brewing up ahead, along with mulling over what went wrong in the past so as to hopefully avoid it going forward. All good up to a point, but a big downside is that we give a lot more weight to negatives than to positives. Which is why if we have five great encounters with other folks during the day and one that is just not that great, you know which one is front and center of your mind at the end of the day. And if you’re not careful, it can really color your feelings about how the day went. (Also, it explains the very heavy emphasis on BAD news in news coverage generally; our news is created by human brains for human brains and it emphasizes what we naturally feel is most important. The good stuff is seen as “fluff.”)
So what’s a glass half empty human mind to do if you want to correct this negative bias? Here are three quick ways you can train your brain to register the good stuff almost as fully as it registers the yuck:
1) Write down positives throughout the day, focusing on pleasant events large or small, and feelings of accomplishment. If this is challenging, start with a goal of three to five items and challenge yourself to build up to ten. Include everything from that first cup of coffee, to being glad to see the sun come out, to a funny meme. Also, if you finally get your taxes done, or make that dreaded phone call you’ve been avoiding, or just do the dishes, take a minute to savor the feeling of accomplishment, and add it to your list for the day. You will be re-wiring your brain for the better, and I predict your days will feel a lot more pleasant!
2) Another approach would be to write down, right before bedtime, three good things that happened today and labeling them with one of the ten positive emotions, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
3) Or, combine them! Keep on the lookout for these positive feelings and track them over the course of the day, just adding in the feeling of accomplishment.
Making a point of noticing these positive events and feelings “on purpose” for a while will help you begin to notice them much more automatically. Pro tip: Actually writing them down, not just noticing them mentally, makes this exercise much more effective, as your brain processes the positive feelings and events more fully when you do that extra step. After doing this practice for a while you will start noticing those pleasant feeling and events much more automatically, and this will make you much more resilient as you cope with the tough stuff we are all encountering.
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer