Q: As I’ve been reflecting on my mental health, one of the opportunities I see for myself is to work on my negative mindset. I’ve noticed that other people going through similar circumstances seem to manage much better than I do. How can I start to reframe how I see things going forward so I can be happier and less stressed?
A: You’re not alone in this. Remember, brains get good at what they do. Negative thoughts create “channels” in your brain, which means that over time, this way of thinking can become your default. If you do a lot of negative thinking, you wire your brain to be good at producing negative thoughts. Your brain also gets good at seeing things to think negatively about. (This is possible due to something called neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change based on the thoughts we think and the actions we take.)
One of the many byproducts of negative thinking is stress, which then leads to more negative thinking. So as you’re thinking about changes you want to make now that will lead to a healthier, happier year, this is a great place to start.
Here’s a suggestion: When negative thoughts come — and they will — don’t just ignore them. Instead, pay attention. Stop what you are doing. Close your eyes if you need to. Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. Hold the positive thought in your brain for a full minute, or more.
When you do this, your brain’s neuroplasticity starts to work in your favor. You become a sculptor of your own brain. How cool is that? (By the way, a book I like to recommend if you’re interested in reading more on the subject of neuroplasticity is You Are Not Your Brain, by Jeffrey Schwartz.)
Changing your thoughts can change your life. To build a habit around reframing negative thoughts, start paying closer attention to your thoughts, and practice actively replacing them.