Focus on the Positive and Banish Negativity

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Is your mind overwhelmed by negativity? What can you do to combat the tendency to think in negative terms and learn to focus on the positive? 

The human brain is wired for negativity because it aids survival. However, you have the power to consciously override the negativity bias and train yourself to focus on the positive. 

Here’s why the human mind is wired for negative thinking and what you can do to reframe it for more positivity. 

The Human Mind Is Wired for Negativity

The human mind is wired for negativity: We are strongly wired to dislike and fear bad things more than we like good things. This is an inheritance from evolution. For our hominid ancestors, it was far more dangerous to misjudge a risk (like eating a plant that turned out to be poisonous) than it was to miss an opportunity (like failing to spot a new source of water).

The first type of error could lead to instant death; in the second scenario, there was likely another source of water that could be found. Therefore, those individuals who had strong fear and aversion instincts had an inherent advantage that enabled them to pass this quality along to their offspring. It’s why we evolved to startle at sudden noises that frighten us but have no equivalent emotional or physical reaction to positive stimuli. It also informs our strong biases toward loss aversion, whereby we value the avoidance of losses more than we value equivalent gains.

TITLE: The Happiness Hypothesis
AUTHOR: Jonathan Haidt
TIME: 36
READS: 119.8
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-happiness-hypothesis-summary-jonathan-haidt

How to Embrace Positivity

Your brain may be wired to prioritize the negative, but it doesn’t mean that you must give in to all the negativity—you can train yourself to focus on the positive. Here are some strategies to help you banish negativity and embrace positivity. 

Reframe Negative Thoughts

In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield lists the main types of negative thoughts and explains how to reframe them: 

  • You think someone thinks something negative about you. For example, you may think someone is mad at you, but you can’t know for sure what someone else is thinking. Instead, ask them how they’re feeling. 
  • You think of the worst-case scenario. If you think of something bad happening and convince yourself that it will happen, you may feel doomed or talk yourself out of trying something. For example, you may be convinced someone will turn you down when you ask them to go on a date. But instead of not asking them out, tell yourself you can’t know for sure whether they will accept until you ask.
  • You give yourself a negative label. For example, you might say that you’re too stupid to learn calculus. Instead, say, “Even though I struggle with math, I’m a smart person, and I know I’ll get through this.”
  • You make the situation about yourself. For example, if you text your friend and don’t hear back for several days, you might think your friend didn’t like what you said or doesn’t care about you when they’re really just busy. Instead, remind yourself that you can’t know why people do certain things, and suggest other explanations for what happened.
  • You think in extremes. Thinking in extremes means using words like always, never, everyone, no one, or every time. For example, you might say, “My supervisor never listens to me.” But it’s unlikely this is always true—your supervisor must listen to you sometimes. To counteract these statements, say what’s actually true: “I get upset when my supervisor doesn’t listen to me, but she has listened to me in the past, and she will in the future.”
  • You make yourself feel guilty. If you think about things you need to do with phrases like have to, should, or ought to, you reinforce your reluctance to do them. For example, instead of saying, “I should eat more vegetables,” say, “It would support my goals to eat more vegetables” or “It’s in my best interest to…”

TITLE: The Success Principles
AUTHOR: Jack Canfield
TIME: 90
READS: 118.1
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-success-principles-summary-jack-canfield

Harness the Power of Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are statements that you make to yourself, either out loud, in your head, or in writing, to counteract your negative thinking and focus on the positive. According to Louise Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life, positive affirmations can literally imprint positive thoughts on your subconscious mind. She argues that your subconscious mind accepts your conscious thoughts as the truth. For example, if instead of thinking, “I’m so unhappy,” you think, “I am happy,” this positive affirmation will convince your subconscious that you really are happy.

Second, Hay cautions that she doesn’t have all the answers and that different healing techniques work for different people. She advocates a holistic approach to healing that addresses the body, the mind, and the spirit, and includes practices like eating healthy foods and meditating. (Shortform note: The mind-body-spirit connection is a tenet of many ancient and indigenous belief systems, particularly as it relates to healing.)

Benefits and Risks of Positive Affirmations and the “Law of Attraction”

Hay’s theory that you can “attract” positive experiences by thinking positive thoughts is part of a long tradition of spiritual and self-help teachings often collectively referred to as the “law of attraction.” While these ideas have been around since the 1800s, they’ve been popularized in the last century by a series of best-selling books, including Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937), Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2006). All of these books have in common the message that your present thoughts create your future reality, which supports the argument for affirmations to always be stated in present tense. 

Studies show that there are many benefits to positive thinking, including increased coping skills during difficult times, lower rates of depression, greater job satisfaction and workplace productivity, and a longer life span. However, researchers caution that positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring negative thoughts or transforming reality with your mind; instead, it means being an optimistic person and meeting life’s inevitable challenges with a positive attitude.

The law of attraction also carries with it some risks. One of the most serious risks is that a person will ignore actual harm as a result of positive thinking. Positive thinking can be dangerous or even deadly if a person fails to seek necessary or life-saving medical treatment due to a belief that they can “cure” themselves of a serious illness using positive affirmations. This risk of harm doesn’t just apply to illness and disease. For example, one study found that focusing only on positive thoughts could cause victims of abuse to underestimate its severity and stay in abusive relationships longer, exposing them to increased danger of bodily harm or death.

Understand How Negative Emotions Arise

In his book The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that the first step to training your mind to focus on the positive is understanding the root of all negativity. According to the Dalai Lama, all negative thoughts and emotions stem from ignorance. That’s why the first step to eradicating negativity, he says, is to educate yourself both about your emotions and the circumstances that give rise to them. By doing this, you root out the misunderstandings of the world that lead to negative emotions and therefore unhappiness

To perform this educational self-analysis, think about when you’re happy and unhappy. Then, consider the feelings that led to your happiness or unhappiness. You’ll find that feelings like anger and hatred make you unhappy and hurt you and others, says the Dalai Lama. Because they’re hurtful, you’ll know these are negative emotions and that they’re based on a misunderstanding of the world. 

When negative emotions arise, make the effort to counter them with positive ones, advises the Dalai Lama. For instance, when you find yourself consumed with self-reproach over a bad test grade, tell yourself that your worth isn’t dependent on grades and practice kindness toward yourself. 

TITLE: The Art of Happiness
AUTHOR: Dalai Lama
TIME: 37
READS: 78.6
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-art-of-happiness-summary-dalai-lama

How to Benefit From Negative Emotions

In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins echoes the idea that we can train ourselves to focus on the positive by redirecting our negative emotions into positive ones, and adds that these negative emotions can even be a blessing in disguise. 

He explains that emotions are internal feedback of external stimuli—when we do or experience something that feels right, we feel positive emotions, and when we do or experience something that feels wrong, we experience negative emotions. So, negative emotions are invaluable because they guide us toward the life we want and away from the life we don’t. However, while negative emotions can guide us in the right direction, we also can’t let them control our state of mind. 

To process your negative emotions in a healthy way, Robbins recommends six steps:

  1. Identify and rationalize the emotion: When we experience negative emotions we can easily become so overwhelmed that we’re unable to pinpoint exactly what we’re feeling. So, take a moment to identify the feeling—jealousy, anger, sadness, disappointment—and then consider whether the circumstances of the situation warrant this response. For example, maybe your friend couldn’t meet because she’s busy studying for a big exam. Robbins says this will immediately take the sting away. 
  2. Embrace the emotion: Resist the urge to label the emotion as bad or wrong and simply embrace it as feedback that will help you learn.
  3. Decode your emotion: Now that you know the emotion is feedback, consider what the feedback is telling you—maybe you should be more considerate about what your friends are going through before getting upset that they can’t meet your requests. Maybe you need to change your beliefs or actions to prevent the negative feelings from happening again.
  4. Remember that emotions are temporary: Negative feelings always pass. To help you get over it, think of times you’ve felt this way in the past and consider what helped you get over it. 
  5. Use this experience as a reference for the future: Reflect on what you’ve learned and come up with a few additional strategies that will help you handle the emotion if it happens again in the future.
  6. Reinforce what you’ve learned: Take action to show that you’ve overcome the emotions—for example, take your friend out to lunch after her exam to congratulate her 

Final Words

While you don’t have control over every thought that comes to your mind, you do have the ability to choose not to entertain negative thoughts and, instead, choose to focus on the positive. Positive thinking is a skill, and like any skill, it requires practice. 

If you enjoyed our article about ways to focus on the positive, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

Good Vibes, Good Life

In Good Vibes, Good Life, Vex King argues that the key to living your dream life is to have positive vibrations or “good vibes.” When you put out good vibes like gratitude and joy, you attract good vibes back; however, when you put out bad vibes like resentment, regret, or impatience, you’ll attract bad vibes and consequently experience more hardships. The key to minimizing bad vibes and maximizing good ones, King argues, is self-love and acceptance.

Learned Optimism

Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism will teach you how to break out of the habitual pessimistic, and powerless mindset and train yourself to focus on the positive. Seligman is a professional psychologist, teacher, and author. His theories of learned helplessness and learned optimism are based on his own laboratory studies. He began these studies in the 1960s and has continued tweaking and reexamining them to the present day.

Focus on the Positive and Banish Negativity

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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