by Turpin Mott
CHIEF COMMUNITY OFFICER
WELLNESS & SELF-CARE · October 16th, 2019
Did you know our brains have a negative bias? Because the earliest members of our species spent every waking moment battling new threats in their struggle to survive, our brains evolved to continuously scan our surroundings for life-threatening danger. Even though most of us do not have to fend off wild animals anymore, we remain hardwired to focus on the bad things that could hurt us – real or perceived. As a result, we spend so much of our time consumed by negative thoughts: What if everything goes wrong? Could I have done better? Am I clever enough?
By allowing our brains to focus on the negative, we invite stress and worry into our work and life; we squander precious energy that might be put toward more productive and meaningful actions. But fortunately, we have a choice.
Here are five simple ways you can reduce negative thinking, and adopt a more positive mindset:
Every day most of us have to do things that are boring or difficult. It’s common in life and work. But understanding what’s truly important is essential to finding fulfillment in even the most mundane or complicated tasks. When we focus on our purpose – the reason WHY we do what we do – we generate energy and excitement that can pull us through almost any challenge.
Ask yourself: What inspires me? Why do I get up every day and do what I do? As a community, our WHY is “For the love of animals and the people who love them”, but your personal WHY may be unique to you. Spend time each week reminding yourself of your purpose, and make a plan for how you will live your WHY the following week.
For many of us, the to-do list never stops growing, the emails are never-ending, and escaping our desks for a walk outside feels like a luxury. But even some of the most productive people in the world take breaks from their work to spend time in nature. Why? Nature has a way of decreasing stress and boosting positivity. Getting some fresh air or walking through a park rejuvenates us, and helps us refocus before our next big task.
Every day, take a break and spend some time with nature. You don’t need to hike through a forest — just sit under the nearest tree, or take a long look at some flowers, or even your office plant. Allow your attention to shift away from your work, and admire nature’s beauty. A small amount of time, even two minutes, might be all you need.
Yes, inhale and exhale. Deep breathing settles your nerves, and can reduce anxiety — but it takes practice. Here is a simple process called “4 – 7 – 8”:
When we are stressed, or consumed with negative thoughts, we tend to breathe erratically, as early humans would in the wild when faced with danger. But by exhaling for longer than we inhale we force more carbon dioxide from our lungs, allowing space for more oxygen. We energize our blood and wake up the body.
Today’s technology is built to command our attention at all times. The buzzing in our pockets, the flashing on our wrists, the blinking and blipping on our desks remind us constantly of new tasks to complete or information to review. When we are already in the middle of something, these interruptions split our attention, triggering stress-levels, tension, and negative thinking.
Here’s a tip: turn off your notifications. Turn off pop-ups, mute your computer, silence your phones (yes, even vibrations), and close your inbox. Set aside the time you need to complete your tasks, uninterrupted. Checking these alerts while trying to meet a deadline or enjoying time with family or friends, makes that time less productive. Even if you need to be on call for work, not every app requires your attention. Turn off notifications for the ones you don’t need. Your Facebook friend’s vacation photos will still be there when you’re done.
It’s comforting to surround ourselves with agreeable people; they provide assurance and boost our confidence. But sometimes we also need to hear the hard truth – especially when those negative thoughts get the best of us.
Find a good friend or co-worker who has your best interest at heart, but isn’t afraid to speak their mind. Share your goals, your WHY, your work-life challenges, and your plan to overcome them. When your feeling stressed, ask for their support. Schedule calls, lunch, or coffee breaks to chat about what has you upset. Their perspective could surprise you. These loving challengers can help you see what you can’t. They can motivate you, remind you of your commitments, offer constructive feedback, or give you the push you need to get out of that negative space.
Our attitudes dictate how we see the world. If we succumb to negativity and allow the stressors in our lives to dictate the way we act, behave and think, it affects our career, relationships, and even our own health and well-being.
Countering negativity means adopting a positive mindset, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The five practices listed above are called “practices” for a reason — because we have to use them regularly to really see a difference. The next time you are feeling a lot of pressure from work or life, ask yourself: Do I want to focus on the negative today, or motivate myself to overcome this challenge? Do I want to complain about my obstacles, or do I want to get through this, knowing something great can happen when I do?
Our brains may be hardwired to dwell on the negative, but when we consciously make an effort to think positive, it can have a powerful effect on ourselves and the people in our lives. Remember to laugh and enjoy the journey.
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by Turpin Mott