Have you ever felt low, stressed or negative about yourself or a situation and someone says, “be more positive”, “look on the bright side” or “for god sake, cheer up” and you’ve thought easy for you to say or perhaps something a little less ‘polite’?
I know I have, and working on becoming more positive definitely helped me and continues to help me, daily. But, can we just simply ‘choose’ to be more positive? In my opinion, yes… and no!
Today I want to talk about why it’s not a case of just flicking a switch, and like magic your Mrs. Positivity, but you can start to silence your inner critic and be able to move towards feeling more positive about yourself and your life.
Your Brain is your Filter to the World
In a way, this is a great thing because you receive A LOT of information on a daily basis. In fact you have around 6000 thoughts per day.
So, in a world where there can already feel like there is too much going on, I’m sure you’re glad that your brain is so amazing that it filters through all this information for you, and just shows you what you need to know.
How very quick, efficient and fantastic your brain is!
The problem comes when your brain is preloaded with negative and limiting beliefs, alongside years of damaging self-talk and experiences.
You see, while your brain is efficiently skim reading all the information coming in from the outside world, looking for those key bits you ‘need’ to see, it has to have a baseline, otherwise how does it know what’s important and what isn’t?
To do this your brain uses 3 main filters to pass the information through, holding onto what’s ‘important’ and letting go of what’s ‘not important’. However, these filters are setup using your beliefs about yourself and the outside world.
So if over time, you have spoken to yourself unkindly, been told negative things or had certain beliefs instilled into you from others, it’s understandable that your brain is trained to tune into the negative, more than the positive.
It’s important to state here that this isn’t your fault. Alongside all of that, as humans we are all actually born hardwired for negativity.
So, I’m hoping by now that you can see why it isn’t as easy as ‘just think more positively’.
But before I move onto how you can get started moving in that direction, I think it’s important to quickly explain the 3 filters I mentioned earlier, you’re probably using one of them right now as you’re reading this!
As a result of the brain receiving so much information at any given time, it actually deletes information that it deems unimportant.
Have you ever been focused on something and not heard someone speak to you? Often when we are doing something our brain drowns out the background noise.
So, as you go about your day, your brain is doing this constantly. It’s is receiving information, deciding what is important (based on your beliefs and experiences) and then deleting what isn’t important (I.e. what doesn’t align with your beliefs or experiences).
So you only see what actually upholds your beliefs.
Distortion happens when you don’t see things as they actually are, instead you incorrectly mistake something for something else, due to your internal representations.
For example, you watch a horror film before bed and then lie there later convinced you can hear noises and see shadows in your room. I think we’ve all done that!
Distortion can also lead to “mind-reading”, where we assume we know the thoughts, feelings and intentions of other people. Perhaps your friend calls you up and cancels a get together that night, saying they aren’t feeling well. Instead of believing them, you tell yourself that they just can’t be bothered and don’t want to go out with you. What evidence do you have to say that’s true?
It’s easy to believe your distorted beliefs are the truth, rather that in fact simply your own perception.
So, hopefully you realise now that your brain is programmed to be as efficient as possible. As part of that the brain remembers and generalises information, which helps you be able to go through your day without having to consciously process everything going on.
When we generalise information, we group similar stimuli or individuals with specific characteristics together as ‘the same’.
This is useful in some day to day activities. For example, when you buy a new car you know how to drive it, because you’ve driven a car before, just not that one, so your brain knows what to do.
However, not all generalisations are true, and to believe they are is actually harmful to you. For example, if you’ve been cheated on by a previous partner, you may believe that ‘all men are cheaters’ and when you get into a new relationship you feel insecure and certain that they will also cheat on you.
This can result in a single event creating a negative belief, that you then carry with you throughout your life, influencing how you see things, how you feel and how you behave.
Ways to develop a more Positive Mindset
So, although you might be more prone to focus on the negatives and your brain is running on a programme that isn’t helping you, all is not lost!
You have the power and the ability to start to develop a more positive mindset.
Here are some key ways to get started.
1. GET FAMILIAR WITH YOUR FILTERS
Your brain is working fast, and all this filtering is going on in your subconscious, meaning that you’re probably not aware that it’s happening.
So, what I might, dare say, is the first and most important step, is to actually become aware. Learn when these filters are preventing you from seeing the whole picture of yourself or a situation, and leading you down the negativity trail.
To do this, start asking yourself these 3 questions when you feel negative in or as a result of a specific situation.
- Is there anything that you might have ignored or not heard, seen or taken into account?
If someone seems distant with you, you might think it’s about you, but could they simply be having a bad day or have something on their mind?
- Could or would someone else see this differently?
No 2 people see anything exactly the same, this is because our perception is formed from our experiences, beliefs, values and current state of mind. So, could this be perceived differently?
- Are you bringing your past into your present?
Do you ever find yourself using past experiences to predict what’s happening right now or will happen in the future?. For example, if a previous partner was unfaithful, and your current partner seems quiet, you might assume they no longer find you attractive or are having an affair, when the reality might be that they are stressed at work.
2. CHALLENGE THE BELIEFS KEEPING YOU STUCK
Your brains filters are running on autopilot, programmed by the beliefs you hold about yourself, others and the world.
So once you start becoming aware of when you’re using the filters, it can also help you to spot what unhelpful and limiting beliefs are buried underneath.
We want to drag these beliefs out into the open and challenge them, so that you can replace them with more helpful and empowering beliefs. Your brain can then use these new helpful beliefs to filter information instead!
Here are a few questions to help you to identify those hidden (or maybe not so hidden) beliefs. When you have a negative thought, ask yourself:
- Why do I think or feel that?
- Why is this a problem for me?
- What experience did I have that caused me to believe this?
- Who do I know that thinks this or expressed this belief to me?
- How do I know that this is true?
- What evidence do I have?
Once you start to uncover those beliefs that are holding you back, take time to understand and challenge them.
3. BUILD SELF COMPASSION
Another key factor in being able to start to think more positively is to actually be able to show yourself kindness when you need it.
Perhaps when you don’t like what you see in the mirror, make a mistake at work or say something hurtful towards someone else, you start to beat yourself up and criticise yourself.
Self-Compassion can feel hard, but it’s important. We have to start to quieten that inner critic if we are to have a chance of a positive mindset.
Here are some simple practices to help you be more compassionate towards yourself.
- Listen to a meditation with a focus on self-love and kindness
- Make time for yourself, remember that self-care isn’t just bubble baths, so ask yourself often ‘what do I need right now?’
- When being critical towards yourself ask ‘what would I say to a friend who said this about themselves or treated themselves this way?
So, can we just ‘think’ more positively?
In a nutshell, if you feel and think negatively, you will continue to see the negative. If you feel and think positively, you will start to see the positive more.
You have the power to escape the self-criticism cycle, even if right now you don’t believe it. However, it’s not going to happen overnight and developing a positive mindset doesn’t mean that you will never feel negative again, but it’s a skill that you can learn.
So, to truly build your self-esteem and find body acceptance, being able to shift your thinking is 100% necessary, and you can do it. If you want support to do it, I’m completely here for you, I know it’s not easy, so just book a call and see how I can help.
Hey I’m Natalie, Supporting women like you on their road to self-acceptance and building their self-esteem is – as cliche as it sounds – my calling.