Did you know that our brains are literally hardwired to see the negative?
It’s natural for our brains to focus on the threats in our environments, or rather the perceived threats, and it happens from our first waking moment of each day. We immediately go to that place of thinking about what’s not working in our lives, everything that’s gone to shit, instead of all the great things we have and that are working for us.
Seeing the negative is something that shapes our days, our lives. I had never thought much about it until my eldest son, who has autism, joined an outdoor wilderness program after I had to pull him from the public school system, in which things had become unworkable. I was angry about having to constantly battle an archaic mindset of bureaucracy that was unwilling to work with my son’s much needed autism consultant and trained professionals. That was the final straw. We were done.
Instead of instantly recognizing the valuable skills being taught in the parent-driven outdoor program, I was stuck on the question of why I couldn’t get the school district to recognize my son’s right to an education. But then something magical started to happen during those two years he was in the outdoor school, which focused on integrating children with the environment and teaching skills you’d never, ever see in the public school system. One of the most valuable activities has stuck with me from the moment I saw the kids sitting in a circle around the campfire: To begin their day, each child had to say one thing he or she was grateful for, and at the end of the day, they again came into a closing circle, where the kids once more had to recount their day and say one thing that had happened that they were grateful for.
One of the mentors told us parents the importance of gratitude, saying that once you engage that part of the brain, it doesn’t allow room for negativity, intolerance of others, and bullying. What a concept! But it’s more than that. Daily gratitude is in fact the antidote to fear.
All of us fall into another pattern when we have something new, when we experience that big WOW of something amazing happening in our lives—from that new relationship where you’ve finally met Mr. or Ms. Right, to that new car you’ve always wanted, to that new home you finally have. For a while, you’re excited and happy and grateful, and you’re over the moon with joy until it becomes your new normal. Then you go right back to focusing on the negative: what’s not working, who you’re angry at because of some perceived threat, and how crappy everything is in your life. Once again, you’re fighting the natural inclination that drives you away from gratitude in a cycle that’s destructive to you!
But did you know it’s also possible to retrain your brain to focus on what’s totally fantastic in your life as opposed to what’s not working? It’s as simple as starting your day. As soon as you get up in the morning, with a pen and paper, write out a list of things you’re grateful for, whether it’s that amazing deep dark roast coffee you’re drinking, or having shoes to wear on your feet, or the fact that you can actually get out of bed in the morning and walk without your hip or some part of your body giving you grief.
Now, the reason for a pen and paper is that writing is more effective than simply listing things mentally. It keeps your head, your focus, from drifting. When someone suggested I use a pen and paper for this activity, the difference was phenomenal, because as I held that pen and that paper and scribbled the words in my chicken scratch, my focus was on the tactile, on writing the words. My brain couldn’t go anywhere else.
Make it a practice every day, because by doing that you’re in fact retraining your brain away from bad news, drama, and destruction and letting it start spotting the magic, the extraordinary. You start seeing everything that’s great in your life versus everything that’s not working and all the problems you have. Something amazing starts to happen when you clean up the clutter of negativity. If you think about it, it’s similar to cleaning your glasses when the lenses are covered in grime and spots that have hampered your vision for so long. You suddenly start to see magic in those otherwise ordinary days—from a brilliant sunrise, to optimism in others. By training your brain to focus on the good things, on the wins, you open up a world of possibilities and start to break that cycle of negativity that every one of us was born with.
Catch up with Billy Jo and Mark in HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT before the next mystery novel is released this weekend!
“…fantastic story and so in depth about what happens to some foster kids. Amazing story.” ★★★★★ BevHarro, Amazon Reviewer
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