4 Steps That Actually TRAIN Your Brain to Choose Happiness
Stop psyching yourself out of happiness. Can you “decide” to feel truly happy? According to research from the Mayo clinic, the answer is a resounding yes! Great, right?
According to the study, the key to happiness is to focus your attention on the positive. Simple, got it. But wait … it’s not that easy, is it? (Or we’d already be doing it.)
Well, yes and no. The concept is that simple and straightforward, but consistently applying the concept takes tremendous control and practice. Lots and lots of practice.
But it is possible.
According to experts, the human mind is constantly scanning, resulting in a constant stream of thoughts: happy, sad, scared, angry and so on. You have to harness those thoughts and decide which ones to focus on. Yes, you really can choose (even though it’s difficult to do so).
It helps if you understand why it’s so difficult
Dr. Theodore George, author of Untangling the Mind: Why We Behave The Way We Do, has studied our ability to override survival instincts. What he found is that it is possible, over time, to gain control over what our brain perceives as a negative thought or a “threat message.”
With practice, you can re-train your brain to label that message ‘harmless,’ so that your brain no longer has to pay attention to it.
In our practice as divorce coaches, we encounter this struggle with negative thinking all of the time.
Clients come to us in all stages of divorce — but regardless of where they are in the divorce process (just starting it or years down the road), they still feel bitter, angry, and deeply unhappy. They’ve gotten stuck. In other words, they’ve permanently defaulted to negative thoughts.
We help them exercise their “muscle” of positive thinking
Over time, we shift their thinking so that they are able to default to the positive, rather than the negative.
Think about this: If you believe your ex is a vindictive monster seeking revenge, this belief will lead to feelings of hate, rage, fear, and defensiveness. You will act on these feelings and you may even take actions, that you will regret or be embarrassed about later. All of these repetitive thoughts and actions further reinforce this negative belief in your brain’s wiring.
However, by deciding to believe that your ex is just as hurt and disappointed as you are, this invites feelings of empathy, understanding, and forgiveness. Those feelings lead to more positive behaviors that you are unlikely to regret later.
We call this “taking the high road”
We like that cliché, because as clichéd as it is, everyone understands it, but oh, is it hard to do.
Let’s say your ex is undeniably making things more difficult than necessary — lying, tossing out accusations, refusing to resolve things, trying to hurt you financially — you still have a choice. You can choose to believe that your ex is making poor choices and that’s his problem, not yours. Yes, you’ll still have to deal with the fallout, there is no escaping that. But, if you work to see the positive side whenever you can, you’ll feel better and stronger and therefore be able to handle whatever comes your way.
Will you fall down along the way? Most certainly
This doesn’t come naturally to anyone.
Replacing an old thinking pattern with a new one takes repetition, persistence, and determination. Perhaps you can begin, not by trying to change how you think about anything and everything at once, but choose one thing for now. Think about something in your life that is troublesome or making you miserable, and walk through these steps:
1. Think about your thinking. What do you believe about this person or this situation? What else could be true here? What would an outsider to the situation say? How could you think about it in a neutral or positive way?
2. Choose a different path. Choose how you can think about this in a positive light. Consciously decide to think that way. How does that make you feel? As a result, how might you feel and act differently from now on?
3. Check in often. Stop regularly to take stock. This is a slow process. If you catch yourself thinking negatively, hit “reset” in your brain. Think the thought again, with a positive spin. Check in with yourself at the end of the day … was today a little better?
4. Practice (practice, practice). In addition to catching yourself, as often as you can, try journaling. Once a week, stop to write down three good things about your life. Psychologists Stephen Schueller and Acacia Parks completed a study in 2012 that found, the simple exercise of writing down three things you are grateful for “has been shown to provide, both, an immediate and lasting effect on happiness” for up to six months. Why not give it a try?
I’m guessing that if this article caught your eye, you would like to have more happiness in your life. Taking the time to focus on the positive will be worth your effort. Letting go of negativity will allow you to move forward, living a happier, fuller life — now or eventually. To get started by going deeper, connect with us for your free consultation.
-Originally published on YourTango.com