Can a negative thought be transformed into a positive one? Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina (USA), has shown that an optimistic approach to life can help the brain fight negative emotions. The researcher found that, through certain exercises, the body can be trained to promote positive responses and multiply them, thus managing to generate a natural shock absorber against stress and depression.
The first thing to be clear about is that the thoughts we “declare war on” will attack us. If every time a negative thought occurs in our mind, we resist or deny it, this thought will persist and remain in our mind for a long time. Each thought triggers others of its own nature and so on until it generates a cognitive flood that does not help us.
The thoughts we have can affect our daily life and even our emotions and behaviors. It is important to understand the relationship between blocking negative thinking and reducing its negative consequences. To do this, the first thing to do is to identify our automatic patterns of negative thoughts which, out of habit, have become part of our core beliefs.
Our core beliefs are filled with cognitive biases or distortions. It is time to identify these distortions and fight them to generate positive thoughts in the face of each new situation. These inclinations or distortions lead our mind to eliminate information that does not help maintain our beliefs and magnify or magnify information that, instead, agrees with our way of seeing life.
Thoughts are only a modifiable part of us
The brain does not seek the truth, but it survives. In a prehistoric world this mental behavior was optimal, but many things have changed in the present one. Now it is not so necessary to give a quick answer to survive, just as it is not necessary to give a suitable answer to every situation. We must bear in mind that our brain, at times, can be wrong: maybe it shows us the situation as it thinks it is and not as it really is.
The mind tries to save energy, to quickly give us an answer in front of a concrete fact to take control and offer us security and tranquility. It is in these mental shortcuts that the greatest distortions occur. Our primitive brain tends to act quickly, as our ancestors had to act in order to survive, hence the excess of generalizations, negative filtration and mental rigidity when we process information quickly.
In our society today there are very few situations of real danger; almost all threatening situations are imaginary or we overstate the consequences. Processing information quickly causes us to fall into inclinations that try to sharpen an image distorted by the haste with which we tried to process it.
One of the major involuntary distortions is to accept the likelihood of something happening as absolute truth. This leads us to act anxious or depressed without the fact having happened. Only about 20% of our thoughts actually happen. Our thoughts, therefore, must not be the judges of our life, but the spectators.
Understand your mind and your mind will understand you
Most of us devote part of our attention to the activities we are doing in the moment, while our mind and thoughts work on another problem. Doing so is defined as living on “automatic pilot” by dealing with what we do with little awareness of the details of the moment.
Being fully aware of what is happening in the here and now is the ideal state to combat negative thoughts. Accepting that these thoughts are necessary in certain circumstances, and that they initiate a vicious cycle of self-sustaining negative premonitions, gives us the key to arresting them with thoughts more suited to reality.
Perhaps there are elements of certain situations that we will not be able to change, such as pain, illness or a difficult circumstance, but at least we can realize how we react or respond to everything that happens to us. By doing so, we will be in a position to develop strategies to change the relationship we have with our circumstances and the – not always friendly – filters we use to process them.