Stop Thinking Away Your Happiness.
As the months’ spool by, most of us are reconciled to the fact that we are going to continue to spend lots of time away from the world. This vacuum has opened up hours, where the only thing filling our minds is our thoughts. When the world gets quiet, our thoughts become loud.
This led me to think about the topic of thoughts—and mainly because I have the tendency to overthink a lot of things that don’t require much thinking at all.
Research shows that most of us have between 50-70 000 thoughts a day! When I read that, I felt like asking the researcher to come over to meet me. Only 70 000?!
Looking at that figure, and accepting that most of those thoughts are subconscious, I wondered how much energy went into all that thinking—and couldn’t it be better spent. It appears not. Apparently, our minds will always process tens of thousands of thoughts, we cannot change that, but what we can change is the type of thoughts.
The next little nugget of information also surprised me. Studies show that the majority of those thoughts are negative. We are thinking away our own happiness without even realizing it! But why are they mainly negative?
Negative thoughts predominate because negative comments/observations strike deeper and stay with us longer. It seems we take more notice of, and place more importance on, negative comments than we do positive ones. If someone makes a negative comment about your appearance, your work, your parenting, your baking skills, etc., you will continue to dwell on their words and replay the comment in your head, remembering it vividly well after the event has passed. But if someone pays us a sincere compliment, science shows, we hold on to that thought for a brief period of time before letting the good feeling evaporate.
Imagine negative thoughts are like rocks, and positive thoughts are like feathers. Picture dropping one of each into a pile of fluffy snow and guess which creates a big, ugly crater.
To add to the delightful fact that we allow negative thoughts to carry more weight, those same brainy scientists have proved that we actively seek to reinforce the negative thought—known as the negativity bias. We are working hard to make ourselves feel bad.
Let’s picture this. Someone makes a negative comment aimed at you. An acquaintance, let’s call her Mirabelle, tells you your chocolate brownies are dry. The hurtful comment hits home and continues to nibble at the edges of your mind. Then, the next time you bake, if even the slightest thing goes wrong, you grab onto this information and use it to back up Mirabelle’s negative comment. “You see, she’s right! I am a terrible baker.” Not only did you internalize Mirabelle’s comment, you actively noticed anything that would endorse it.
The scary thing is that the more a thought is activated and reinforced, the stronger the neural pathway. And, because negative thoughts predominate, we have more negative pathways than positive pathways.
Imagine your brain as a steep hill. The negative thoughts create hundreds of wide well-worn paths. The positive thoughts create a few paths that are mostly flattened grass and are hard to see. As we keep circling back to the negative thoughts, their pathways become well-defined roads. Next, we employ our negativity bias to reinforce the negative thought, and voila, the roads are now countless smooth super-highways.
So, what happens when you are tired, worn-down, stressed? You go on autopilot and pick the path of least resistance. It is so much easier to glide along the negative highway than try to hike your way up the rutted, neglected positive path.
Throughout each day, our subconscious streams our thoughts. These are not thoughts placed there by other people; they are our creation. No one in the world can plant a thought in your head without your permission. And, apparently, we are horrible at choosing our thoughts. Many of us have a “greatest horrors” track looping through our brains. “I’m scared I get sick. What if I lose my house? I’m never going to make it in my line of work,” and so on. The more energy you give these thoughts, the more your mind believes they are true.
My challenge to all of us is to stop thinking about stuff we dread! We must re-program our thoughts. If a negative thought sidles into your brain, reframe it. Positive affirmations (simple statements you create, and repeat to yourself) can help. “I am strong and healthy. I will sell my art.” Shove those negative thoughts aside, kick them off the hill, and put your energy into thinking about stuff you’d welcome.
“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you’d never think a negative thought.” Peace Pilgrim.