Sometimes my own negativity stands up and slaps me in the face.
I'll hear words coming out of my mouth and before the sentence is even finished I realize my "observations" are nothing more than whiny complaints.
And that's the good news. Not my whining or being negative, but that fact that I recognize it when it happens.
Because when we have the ability for even the smallest amount of self-awareness, we have the ability to change the trajectory of our lives.
Apparently this tendency to view the world from a glass-half-empty perspective is normal. According to researchers, we humans are genetically hardwired to focus on negativity rather than positivity.
"The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positives ones."
— Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Researchers call it "negativity bias" and even though we were all born with it, it's not a trait to be proud of. At least not in today's modern world.
The theory is that we are naturally biased toward negative things because it's hardwired into our genetic code as a survival mechanism. If our Paleo ancestors saw a large hairy animal on the trail in front of them, it was far better for them to assume the creature was a deadly beast that would bite their head off, than to consider it a harmless fuzzy creature to take back to the cave as a pet.
(I wonder if cavemen had a petroglyph for "Better safe than sorry.")
But we don't live in that world any longer, and our inherent negativity isn't doing us many favors. In fact, it can be pretty harmful.
Our Perception is Not Reality
It's worth remembering there is no such thing as a common reality. There is only a view of the world around you from your own perspective. The reality you experience is yours, and yours alone.
And your reality is influenced by many things— your thoughts, your beliefs, your culture, your emotional state, and even your physical health.
Essentially how you've lived your life up until now colors the lenses from which you view the world.
The experience you are living at any given moment is unique to you. Even if someone happens to share an experience with you, your reality of what happens will be different than theirs.
Let me give you an example from real life. Oops, not real life... I meant... from my life. See how I did that automatically?
Many years ago, I went to an outdoor summer concert with a friend. The venue was beautiful and the band was incredible. I had been looking forward to it for weeks. It had been a warm summer day and the cooler evening temperatures were just settling in by the start of the show. We laughed, we danced, we sang.
Near the end of the concert, a dark cloud drifted overhead and started leaking a steady drizzle over the crowd. Not so much of a storm that everyone ran for cover, but enough to ensure that we all were completely cold and soaked by the end of the show.
Afterward, as we walked to the car, my friend asked, "What did you think of the show?"
I grumbled: "I can't believe it rained. And they didn't even play my favorite song."
My friend, taking me by the arm and leaning in sweetly, chuckled. "Really? So..." she teased, "the 2 hours of glorious weather before the rain, the other 32 amazing songs they played, and the past few hours you spent with a friend... what was all that? Chopped liver?"
She was right. I had completely fixated on the two things that annoyed me and ignored all of the other wonderful aspects of the evening.
If she had not brought it to my attention, I may have considered that concert a bust. Instead, because she helped me see things through a positive lens, that was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my young adulthood.
That was the first time in my life I realized how easily (and often) my default view of life was focused on seeing the negatives instead of the positives.
How Chronic Negativity Hinders Weight Loss
In the More Heart, Less Body program, we talk a lot about how weight loss is an inside job. You've got to work on getting happy FIRST before you work on losing weight. And happiness comes from our internal state— not from the world around us.
We see this all the time. Women struggle to reach their weight goals when they believe they MUST reach that goal in order to be happy.
Instead, when they learn to find that down-to-the-soul level of happiness (a by-product of positivity), the weight comes off much more easily. And that's because when you're happy, it's easier to inhabit a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a natural consequence of living a healthy lifestyle and loving the lifestyle you live.
We all have negative thoughts sometimes, but people who get stuck in chronic negativity simply cannot make healthy choices. Negativity takes away your ability to see options.
And, it's impossible to lose weight if you cannot see the options in front of you and make better choices.
Benefits of positivity
- Positivity allows you to see the world from a different point of view which naturally reveals more options.
- Positivity pumps up your self-confidence so that you have less "wobbly" moments and can make better choices that are more in alignment with what you want for your future.
- Positivity attracts other positive people into your world, which fills up your love tank and gives you a chance to practice loving others— which is one of the most rewarding things we can do.
- Positivity is essential for reaching a healthy, comfortable weight and maintaining it for the long run.
How to Rewire Your Brain For Positivity
Fortunately, you don't need a lobotomy to change the way your brain works. Science has proven we can actually train our brains to see the world around us differently.
Here are some things I do to foster more positivity in my everyday thinking.
- Practice self-awareness. Pay attention to your emotional state. If you find yourself whining, either to others or to yourself, or if you're feeling alone, depressed, angry, or even frustrated, it's likely there is some inner self-talk stirring up those emotions. Becoming aware of the conversation in your head is the essential first step to changing the way your brain thinks.
By the way, if you're having trouble with self-awareness, don't beat yourself up about it. The fact that you know you aren't very self-aware means that you are self-aware. Yay! But if you need more help to get started (and who doesn't?), meditation is a great tool to help you develop better self-awareness skills.
- Practice seeing. We are looking all the time, but we don't often see very well. Take some time to notice all the little things that please you. When you find things that make you smile, say it out loud, or pause for a moment to let it sink in. The better you see your world around you, the easier it becomes to spot the many things that bring you joy.
- Surround yourself with genuinely positive people. Once you become aware of your negativity and start to shift it towards positivity, you'll find that it's no longer enjoyable to be around people who are constantly whining or complaining. An essential part of expanding your capacity for positivity is to spend time with other positive people. Find some people who are genuinely excited about life and hang out with them.
- Curate your inputs. We are bombarded with information daily— news, the internet, negative people, television and movies, politics... and on and on. The best way to train your brain for positivity is to carefully curate the information you let into your world. We are creatures of our environment. Want to be a positive thinker? Do whatever it takes to keep the negativity out.
If you want to lose weight, positivity is key.
You might also find that the more you practice positivity, the richer and more joyful your life becomes. Relationships blossom, life-long worries fade away, and you become more resilient to whatever life throws at you.
Does rewiring your brain for positivity take effort and practice?
But, I can tell you from personal experience, it's worth it.