Do you wake up in the morning and find yourself imagining all the things that might go wrong today? Do you turn to your list of worries and concerns, like a not-so-favorite old friend?
My personal intention is to spend those precious first few minutes of my waking hours ‘prepaving’ my day to be the best it can possibly be. I want to visualize the various activities and meetings going as smoothly as possible. I want to open my mind and heart to the miracles that are out there waiting for me.
But, instead, I often notice myself ruminating on what didn’t go quite to my liking the day before, or anticipating potential pitfalls in the day ahead.
My inner problem-solver is sometimes the first to wake up, and before I realize what is happening she has derailed my positive intentions.
I now realize this does NOT mean I am somehow flawed in my ability to stick with my intention of positivity. I am simply succumbing to my brain’s natural (though prehistoric) proclivity to scan for danger and problems.
Who is this problem-solver? And is she friend or enemy? Well, the answer is both.
I started giving this whole issue some serious thought when it came up recently with a client.
She felt frustrated at the way she was constantly on the lookout for problems, when she would rather be noticing the good things going on all around here. Yet, at the same time she was proud of and valued the aspect of her personality that was so adept at finding solutions and solving problems.
Your Inner Problem Solver and Brain Science
Once upon a time we humans had to be on the lookout for threats to our lives on a daily basis. Once you emerged from the cave, you might encounter a tiger or other wild animal. Your eyes might light on some tempting looking berries while your belly grumbled in hunger. But, before you gobbled them up, you had to determine if they would poison you.
That might have been millions of years ago, yet our brains are still evolving to catch up with modern times.
Our frontal lobes are a relatively recent development, that’s the part of our brain responsible for many useful cognitive skills—including problem solving.
The (haha) ‘problem’ is with the more prehistoric section of the brain, the one responsible for what is known as ‘Negativity Bias’. Because we HAD to be constantly on the alert for danger and negative stimuli in ancient times, we still carry this negativity bias to this day.
This is why we naturally notice (and remember) negative experiences and stimuli much more than we do the positive.
It’s not because you’re lame, it’s just brain science
This negativity bias is what prompts you to constantly scan for potential problems, and sometimes to invent them!
The good news is we’re not slaves to this prehistoric influence in our brains. Our brains are trainable! We can form new neural pathways and literally train our brains to pay more attention to positive stimuli.
When you practice with this, the instinctive searching for problems and worries begins to fade and it becomes easier to imagine best possible outcomes rather than worst.
Negativity bias is only one of the many cognitive biases in your brain. But it is one with a huge impact.
You can train your brain to have a positive focus, to give yourself a break and get in the mood for consciously creating an experience or a day that flows.
Tips to Train Your Brain to Focus On the Positive
1. Give your inner problem solver a job.
The Problem Solver can be your helper when there really is a problem. Let’s kick her up into the frontal lobe and put her to work on something real—rather than wasting time and energy scanning for problems. She can be working in the background, without you spending a lot of mental energy on the problem itself.
Use an “I wonder” question. Your brain loves to answer questions like this. And it doesn’t need a lot of constant attention to come up with solutions. Frame your ‘I wonder’ in the positive. Such as “I wonder what the perfect job would look like?” And then let it go.
This will free up your conscious mind to follow through on some of the following steps.
2. Take Three Minutes
Start small, but be consistent. The negativity bias will always try to force it’s perceptions into your consciousness. Set a timer to remind yourself to spend just one minute, three times per day, to consciously focus on something good and positive in your life.
Do this for 45 days straight and watch how your brain changes!
3. Savor the Sweetness
When wonderful experiences are occurring—that spontaneous hug from your child or partner, a delicious meal, a fascinating conversation, a glorious sunset—consciously expand your awareness of your joy and pleasure in the experience.
Plant the positive memory in your brain by returning to it in the moments and days that follow. Teach your brain to remember the positive, as much and eventually more, than the negative experiences.
4. Get Grateful
Okay, you’ve heard this one before—on this blog and in many other places. And, we just can’t hear it enough. Appreciation is one of the highest vibrations we can flow and it allows us to open to receive more good things.
Your negativity bias will cause you to forget to be grateful, that’s why we have to do things like keep a gratitude journal or at the least have a gratitude routine. After a while, it gets easier to spontaneously flow some appreciation for what is happening, because remember: you are training your brain!
A wonderful yoga teacher I once worked with had a twist on gratitude that really struck me and I now use it all the time. We ended every practice giving thanks for all of our blessings AND all of our challenges!
Wow! That’s some advanced gratitude. but I have found it to be powerful indeed when I can find some appreciation and gratitude in my heart for even the challenging contrast that shows up!
Try these out and notice your inner problem solver getting better at doing the work she’s SUPPOSED to be —finding brilliant solutions to actual problems and leading you closer to the realization of your goals, intentions and dreams.