The reticular activating system is how we put our attention on certain things and not others. Close your eyes and see a color any color, focus on it. Now open your eyes and what is the first color you see? Nobody painted your room, it’s just a change in focus
We tend to miss what we are not seeing if it’s not the focus. Have you ever been so engrossed in what you are doing that you didn’t hear your spouse or kids talking to you? That can cause a few problems at the moment but the bigger issue goes back to mindset and opportunities. You are so focused on a specific task or project you miss opportunities.
Why is this important; especially now? With everything happening in the world we tend to focus on negative thoughts, Instead of creating a cognitive pattern that looks for negatives and blocks success, we need to focus on training our brains to scan the world for opportunities and fresh ideas. When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude and optimism.
When faced with setbacks and challenges, we’ve all received the well-meaning advice to “stay positive.” It’s hard to find the motivation to focus on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking.
The real obstacle to positivity is that our brains are hardwired to look for and focus on threats. This survival mechanism served humankind well when we were hunters and gatherers, living each day with the very real threat of being killed by someone or something in our immediate surroundings.
Although that was technically a long time ago ago; today this mechanism breeds pessimism and negativity through the mind’s tendency to wander until it finds a threat. These “threats” magnify the perceived likelihood that things are going to go—poorly. When the threat is real and lurking in the bushes down the path, this mechanism serves you well. When the threat is imagined and you spend two months convinced the project you’re working on is going to flop, this mechanism leaves you with a soured view of reality that wreaks havoc in your life.
Now more than ever we need to recognize the impact of the pessimistic filter on our health. How many of you are stressed/ have body aches, headaches, stomach issues etc.? . Numerous studies have shown that optimists are physically and psychologically healthier than pessimists.
Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted extensive research on the topic. Seligman finds much higher rates of depression in people who pessimistically attribute their failures to personal deficits. Optimists, however, treat failure as a learning experience and believe they can do better in the future.The researchers found optimists had a significantly stronger immune response than pessimists.
Your brain just needs a little help to defeat its negative inner voice. Here are two simple steps you can take that will train your brain to focus on the positive.
1. Separate fact from fiction.
The first step in learning to focus on the positive requires knowing how to stop negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts.
When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. . You can bet the statements aren’t true any time you see words like never, always, worst, ever, etc. Another method is saying to the thoughts I know you are saying this to protect me but I am OK and you can leave now.. No this self talk isn’t insanity it’s a way to conquer the old fight or flight survival in the limbic brain and prefrontal cortex
Aligned with this is confirmation bias seeking to have negative thoughts reinforced through social media, news sources or negative friends. As Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it” change your focus
When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.
2. Identify a positive.
Now that you have a tool to snap yourself out of self-defeating, negative thoughts, it’s time to help your brain learn what you want it to focus on—the positive.
This will come naturally after some practice, but first you have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will help refocus your brain’s attention. When things are going well and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.
The point here is you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your focus to when your thoughts turn negative.
I realize these two steps sound incredibly basic, but they have tremendous power because they retrain your brain to have a positive focus. Remember if you think you can or you think you can’t, youare right; now decide which way you need to go
Given the mind’s natural tendency to wander toward negative thoughts, we can all use a little help with staying positive. Put these steps to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.