1. Understand why
Why would we want to have more positive thoughts than negative ones?
Take optimism for example.
When we are optimistic, we are predisposed to behave more easily in positive, healthy and constructive ways.
Let's say you think "the meeting will be informative" rather than "I'm going to waste my time in this meeting". Your mindset is more open and leads you to identify the good things about the meeting, as well as the important information. In addition, being positive can make it easier for you to do your job afterwards by not having to search for the information in question.
Conversely, still with this example, a negative mind drains you of energy. Indeed, you need more energy to go to the meeting because you have to overcome your internal resistance. This internal resistance is also energy consuming. On the other hand, your "unconscious internal radar" is not oriented on what can be instructive. Therefore, you are more likely to miss important information.
CQFD, not only are you wasting energy, but you may be complicating your life.
Furthermore, a positive mindset is inherently beneficial. Indeed, when you think positively, it is pleasant, it arouses positive emotions and reinforces your morale. You increase your well-being, vitality and are happier. Adopting a positive attitude allows you to reduce the effects and/or risks of depression and anxiety.
Helweg-Larsen, M., Sadeghian, P., Webb, M.-A. (2002) "The stigma of being pessimistically biased".
Finally, optimistic people show a greater motivation to make efforts to achieve their goals. Their optimism about succeeding in whatever they do, implies that they develop greater perseverance.
A virtuous loop is set up, they get more involved and also set more and higher goals. They take more initiative and are less likely to give up. Thanks to this functioning, they are more successful at all levels: professional, social, sports, health, self-confidence and self-esteem, energy, motivation, enthusiasm, esteem of others...
Scheier & co (1986) " Coping with stress : Divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists ".
2. Understand how
According to Rick Hanson, the neuroplasticity of the brain demonstrates the following 2 points:
A. When the brain changes, the mind changes.
Let's take an example: people under stress produce more cortisol (stress hormone that attacks the hippocampus, a small gland in the brain). The hippocampus allows, among other things, the management of our emotions, and therefore of stress...
Some people under chronic stress have seen their hippocampus reduced by up to 25%. This reduction of the hippocampus is a change in their brain. This change implies less ability to manage emotions. These people will be more prone to stress, stressful thoughts and worries.
CQFD, when the brain changes, the mind changes.
B. When the mind changes, the brain changes
What passes through the mind sculpts the brain. Our positive or negative thoughts sculpt our brain. Indeed, when a thought turns on the combinations of neurons that are supposed to represent the thought in question, this neuronal activity modifies the neuronal structure itself. The most frequently used combinations of neurons become stronger. And the neural flow goes through the easiest places, i.e. through the most reinforced combinations.
CQFD, by dint of thinking in a certain way, we "muscle" our brain in that direction. If we go to the end of the equation, we can imagine a brain that thinks by itself "as usual", when we do not voluntarily "force" it to think differently. Finally, it is not you who thinks, when you are not alert, but your brain...
The conclusion, while it may be difficult to implement, is actually quite simple.
You must start by deciding to think differently.
It is, in fact, about changing your state of mind by reprogramming your brain. The idea is to let the negative patterns fade away and to reinforce the positive practices. A bit like re-training a muscle after an accident.
Rick Hanson (2015) "The brain of happiness", Les Arènes, Paris
3. Controlling your thoughts
Easy, you may say, especially when we know that most of our mental attitudes are unconscious and therefore uncontrollable.
However, the idea is to use your mind voluntarily to modify your brain to change your state of mind.
The following points are intended to help you achieve this goal.
4. Identify your negative thoughts
- What are they about?
- Where do they come from?
- What are they based on?
- Is this really the case?
- What proves it?
When you spot not thoughts, but negative moods, ask yourself this question:
What is the story I tell myself to feel this mood?
A mental story is a thought. Once you have identified the story in question, you can ask yourself the questions listed above.
Start by making as comprehensive a list as possible of all your negative thoughts over a two-week period.
5. Change your expressions into positive language
Also, notice how you express yourself. Start changing the way you express yourself whenever you can. Cultivate the positive side of things and focus your language on that.
There are a lot of negative to positive expression transformation tables on the net. Select the ones that match your needs.
For example, avoid "I don't like lemon pie" and prefer "I prefer chocolate cake".
Be careful, however, to remain fair with yourself and not to fall into the tyranny of the positive at all costs.
It is still important in this kind of exercise to be in acceptance of one's emotions and of oneself.
For example, avoid injunctions such as "stop being so negative" and prefer "I am angry|sad|depressed right now, I am focusing on what makes me feel good".
6. Think positive
Once you have identified all of your negative thoughts, turn all of the ones that don't belong into positives.
For example, turn "I suck" into "I'm tired today and I've accomplished a lot so far".
Or "I don't know if I'm going to make it" to "I'm doing my best to make it and I'm starting with what's possible right now".
Also very common: "I am not enough...".
Not smart enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not important enough...
Question this belief. Where does it come from? How was it constructed? Were there people who influenced you to believe this when you were a child? What was your father or mother like? Your brothers and sisters, your teachers, your community?
7. Letting go
Do you dwell on that person who behaved badly with you?
Or are you worried about what will happen in a week or a month?
Recognize and accept the emotion in you: anger in the first case, fear in the second.
Let the emotion go...
OK, this is not an easy exercise, especially if you are not trained in emotional management. If you find that you have trouble letting go of your emotions, it's normal, it's something that can be learned.
Once the emotion is gone, see if you can do something about it. If yes, do it. If not, let go. Letting go means not worrying about it at all. Turn your attention to other positive things. Another person in your life who makes you feel good. Engaging in an activity that makes you feel good, etc.
8. Smile and good mood
Smile as much as possible. The physical expression of an emotion of joy, namely smiling (laughing too) informs the brain that you are experiencing that emotion. Even if it's not true. Your brain releases feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters. And you feel better. This is called body feedback.
Strack, Martin, Stepper (1988) "Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile. A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis".
Choose good humor whenever possible. Not only does it make you feel good, but it makes others feel good.
Indeed, emotions are contagious. If you are in a bad mood, if you complain constantly, you risk contaminating those around you who were perhaps positive or neutral before. You have created a "cluster" of bad moods with a "boomerang" effect on yourself.
The reverse also works. You can create good mood "hubs" with a positive feedback loop on yourself.
That's why, generally speaking, people quite unconsciously prefer positive people.
Baby, you learned to walk. A thousand times you fell. A thousand times you got up. You have it deep inside you. Don't waste your energy doubting it. Changing your brain takes time. About 6 months according to Alvaro Pascual Leone, professor of Neurology at Harvard. Alvaro Pascal Leone & Co. "The Occipital Cortex in the Blind: Lessons About Plasticity and Vision", 2005
You have been systematically changing this negative thought into a positive one for 10 days and it still comes back? Don't waste energy getting angry, don't get discouraged. Take note of it with kindness and start over 1000 times if necessary.
Meeting this kind of challenge alone is difficult. It's highly recommended to be accompanied by a professional in personal development, specialized in positive psychology, neuroscience, etc. You can also call on the services of a coach life coach specialized in this field.
You also have the possibility to enroll in a course that deals with thinking practices. The course has the advantage of motivating you to practice regularly, which is the "sinews of war" in the thought exercises. In addition, you have the support of the group and can share with others. The participants usually realize that they are not the only ones who are "struggling" and this has a reassuring side.
10. Congratulations on your success! Remember to encourage others!
Now you have developed a much stronger positive attitude than before.
Not only do you feel better, but changes are happening in your life.
You develop better relationships, are more successful at what you do, and may even be sick less often.
Fertilize your experience, encourage people around you who would like to get out of it.
It is possible that, like you perhaps at the beginning, these people found themselves trapped in the meanders of negativism.
What better way to share your journey, the obstacles you have overcome and your current well-being!
For further information, please contact Fabienne Revillard.
Are you looking for tips for successful career progression?
Sign up at newsletter and receive our offers and tips for better professional development.