One of the unfortunate aspects of our humanity is our tendency to accentuate the negative.
When an opportunity presents itself, our excitement is quickly replaced by doubt. We recall all the things that didn’t work out. Why? Because our memories of what didn’t work are more vivid than those of what did.
In addition to these vivid negative memories, we naturally look to the wrong source for our confidence; we look at our background and experience…which are often non-existent. The absence of background and experience further accentuates the negative thoughts we have about the likelihood of success.
And the hits just keep on coming: Which do you remember most clearly and most frequently, the compliments you’ve received or the critiques of others? Our natural tendency is to dismiss compliments as something nice to hear, but unwarranted given that others do similar things. But the criticisms, the denigrating comments, are vivid because we fear there might be some element of truth to them.
Similarly, we recall our regrets more frequently, and more vividly, than our accomplishments. We know people who have accomplished a good deal more, some at an earlier age, so we’re not terribly impressed by what we’ve accomplished. Regrets linger because “there are no do-overs,” or so we think.
It’s the nurturing of these negative thoughts that deprive us of the joy we rightly deserve. It’s a natural tendency that does not serve us well. The good news is that you can overcome this tendency. You can retrain your mind to naturally view the positive instead of the negative. The even better news is that you can do so in just a few minutes a day over the course of a week.
You can overcome the tendency to accentuate the negative by:
- Recalling situations in which you had no background or experience, yet produced a positive result. Realize that your success in dealing with these situations rest solely on your ability to learn what you needed to learn in order to adapt to the situation you faced. It’s your ability to learn and adapt that assures success at whatever you choose to do.
- When others make denigrating comments about you or suggest that you’re not capable of achieving what you desire, ask yourself “Does what they’re saying help me achieve my goal?” If so, embrace it and act upon it. If not, smile, thank them, then ignore what they’re saying.
- When you experience regret, ask yourself:
- What did I learn from this experience?
- How does what I learned help me today?
- Why do I regret this experience when it’s helped me become a better person?
4. If the regret stems from the belief that there are no do-overs, remember that while the door may be closed, it’s never locked. You can reopen the door and salvage a relationship by admitting your mistake and asking for forgiveness. Most people will not only forgive you, they’ll acknowledge their contribution to the problem…and we all contribute to the problems we face.
The key to retraining your brain to default to these new ways of thinking is simple. Spend a few minutes each morning, shortly after rising, and again in the evening, shortly before retiring, revisiting the four thoughts above.
As you consistently recall the positive aspects of what you’ve experienced, you create new neural pathways which focus on the positive. These pathways are like muscles; the more they are used, the stronger they become. While your new neural pathways are gaining strength, the old ones are atrophying. Their disuse weakens them to the point that your new neural pathways become your default way of thinking…after just a few minutes effort over the course of a week or so.
Obviously, the choice is yours. You can choose to invest a few minutes each day in activities that assure you greater confidence and more joyful living. Or you can continue to accentuate the negative with the disappointments and frustration that are embodied in negative thoughts. Choose wisely.
For our kids
When you see your kids accentuating the negative, share with them that these thoughts while natural, don’t have to be their default way of thinking. Teach them how to retrain their brains away from their negative thoughts toward the more positive, life-enriching thoughts outlined above. They’ll be forever grateful for this lesson.
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