7 Fascinating Ways To Hack Your Brain To Be Less Negative, According To Science
One of the most common pieces of advice that you probably hear a lot is to "think positively." In all honesty, looking at the glass half full is not bad advice. Being positive isn't going to make your situation any worse. But thinking positively and getting into that mindset doesn't necessarily work for everyone. If that's you, experts say, there are some hacks you can use to help your brain be less negative.
"Basic biology is why it's so much easier to think negative than it is to think positive," Pamela Gail Johnson, Chief Happiness Officer and Founder of the Secret Society of Happy People, tells Bustle. "Once we fear something (think critters in caves during our caveman days) we then naturally look for other things that might harm us." Because of that fear, we have to make an effort to retrain our minds to say, "that's probably not going to happen," and then look for something positive.
It's why Anne Brackett, co-founder and CEO of Strengths University, tells Bustle that positivity is a talent. Some people just have that innate optimism wherever they go. If that’s not you, that's OK. "Just like with any talent, you can still learn the skills and knowledge to become more positive," Brackett says. "You’ll just have to work at it a bit more."
Fortunately, we have some useful life hacks for that. So if you want to have a less negative mindset, here are some fascinating brain hacks you should consider trying.
1. Find Sneaky Ways To Insert Positive Affirmations Into Your Daily Routine
A 2015 study by the Association for Psychological Science found that positive self-statements or affirmations can help boost your self-esteem if you truly believe in what you're saying. Another 2016 study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience further proved the power of affirmations that by using brain scans. So positive affirmations are scientifically proven to work. But unless you've already made it a habit to take time out of your busy schedule to do this, it's easy to forget.
Lifestyle and wellness expert Greg Shepard, tells Bustle, there is one pretty sneaky way you can find time to repeat these affirmations each day. "I create passwords (e-mail, online banking, etc.) based on the first letter of each word in a sentence," he says. For example, one password he used was "edIewIAgbAb<3" which spells out "Every day in every way I am getting better and better<3." "I am repeating how awesome I am each day as I log in, which seeps deep into our subconscious," Shepard says. "Your subconscious mind starts believing you are awesome, so more natural occurring positive thoughts and less of that nasty stuff will follow."
2. Use "The Mindbus Technique"
"My favorite quick hack is to treat negative thoughts like I would treat someone who has good intentions and is giving me unsolicited advice that I'm never going to follow," Dr. Jo Eckler, licensed clinical psychologist and author, tells Bustle. "I tell my mind, 'Thanks for sharing!' and politely blow it off." It's similar to "The Mindbus Technique," which a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found to be helpful in controlling your train of thought. It's a cognitive defusion strategy that helps you see your thoughts for what it is — just thoughts.
Basically, you imagine that you're the driver of a "mindbus." Your negative thoughts are the passengers. If you'd like, you can give each "passenger" a different voice and personality. They're annoying and won't stop their negative chattering. But remember, you're the bus driver. You have the power to tell them to get off. This is a great strategy to help you recognize that thoughts don't control you. So you don't have to listen to them.
3. Turn Your Negative Thoughts Intro Neutral Ones
"If you're having trouble fighting negative thoughts, an easy brain hack is to turn your thought into a neutral one," Dr. Sasha Heinz, developmental psychologist and certified life coach, tells Bustle. It's hard to go from super anxious to super positive with just one statement. For instance, if you've been single for a long time and it's making you depressed, it's not easy to feel immediately positive about your situation just by throwing out a positive affirmations. So instead, Dr. Heinz says you should aim to "neutralize the emotion and then practice that thought." It's easier to go from "I'm never going to find anyone," to "I'm still single because I haven't met the right one yet," than it is to jump from "I'm never going to find love," to "My soulmate is on their way!" According to Dr. Heinz, you're less likely to get resistance from your mind this way. It's all about taking those baby steps to a positive mindset.
4. Try "Tapping"
"A tool anyone can use is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), to quickly get them out of a negative funk," writer and lifestyle expert, Shannon Dunn, tells Bustle. "There are many online resources where you can learn the basics to take you from down and negative to a much more positive frame of mind."
EFT, which is also known as "tapping," is a "psychological acupressure" technique used to help clear emotional blocks like negativity from your system. Basically, you use your fingertips to tap certain points or "meridians" on your body like the top of your head, while repeating positive affirmations. While you're tapping and talking through your problems, EFT is supposed to access the amygdala or the part of your brain that's responsible for processing fear. According to The Tapping Solution, you can think of this technique like a massage mixed in with some psychotherapy. You can find videos online to help you get started.
Keep in mind, this technique has a lot to do with energy and balancing your mind and body. So it might be a little too out there for some. But if it sounds interesting, it doesn't hurt to give it a try.
5. Use A Weighted Blanket
If racing thoughts are keeping you up at night, you may want to switch out your regular comforter for a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets, which can weigh up to 30 pounds, were made to create a "grounding" effect on your body. By placing a "comforting weight" all around, you're more likely to feel calm and relaxed. According to a 2004 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, grounding can help reduce stress levels and pain, and improve sleep satisfaction. Since it works like deep touch pressure stimulation or DTP, a type of stress relieving therapy, it can trigger the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and even oxytocin.
6. Soothe Your Mind By Breathing In Essential Oils
Research on the effectiveness of aromatherapy is fairly limited. But a 2013 study published in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine did find that that aromatherapy can help reduce anxiety and increase sleep quality. "When essential oils are inhaled, they rapidly travel into an ancient portion of the brain called the limbic system," Dr. Lindsey Elmore, pharmacist and wellness expert, tells Bustle. "The limbic system is responsible for our emotions." So whether you inhale them directly from a bottle, use a diffuser, or just take a bath with essential oils, these can impact your emotions in a positive way. According to Dr. Elmore, bathing in lavender essential oil has also been shown to decrease anger and frustration, and improve overall wellbeing.
7. Stop Trying To Fight It
A 2017 study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion found that when people believed that their relationship was doomed to fail, their relationships eventually failed. That's because living with that mindset will affect how you behave in your relationship. You may overthink things, get into a "fight mode" and do too much. Or you may just go into flight mode and stop trying at all because you think it's not going to be worth it anyway. But this isn't just limited to relationships. When you have negative thoughts, it's easy to dive in deep and think of all the possible solutions to fix it and turn it around. But in doing so, you're only breathing more life into something that isn't necessarily the reality.
Instead, Jacqueline Pirtle, mindfulness and happiness coach, tells Bustle, you need to be aware of your thoughts, acknowledge them, and embrace them. "These steps will shift you into an 'I'm not going to fight them' mode, which is a pressure-free and resistance-free space for you to live in," she says. "From there you can shift any negative thought to positive, because you are in peace with [them] and in yourself."
Life is tough and turning into a positively happy person isn't going to happen overnight. So it's totally OK to aim for becoming less negative. Afterall, you have to start somewhere. If you can try one or two techniques each day, you can slowly shift your thinking and have a much more positive outlook.