How many times has someone said to you “just think positive,” when you’re feeling at your lowest? Did that make you want to scream inside? Or scream at them? Believe it or not, thinking positively does affect our overall well-being. There is so little we have control over in our lives. It may seem so simplistic but one of the things we do have control over is our thoughts.
The brain is the most complex and smartest organ in the body. Just thinking utilizes enormous amounts of energy. To conserve the energy that is needed for day to day functioning, the brain creates pathways that are built on consistency in our thoughts and behaviors. For example, thinking negatively over and over creates pathways in our brain much like a trail that is created when we repeatedly walk across the same patch of grass. The brain, recognizing these thoughts and actions as reoccurring regularly, conserves energy by creating automatic pathways to these negative thoughts. If you’re consistently consumed by feelings of negativity and shame, the brain will become accustomed to these pathways and lead to automatic negative reactions, thoughts and even behaviors. This affects not only how we feel about ourselves, but also how we behave towards others. What the brain may have intended for efficiency and energy conservation, can ultimately lead to poor self-esteem and behaviors.
The good news is that we can create new pathways in our brain, simply by yes, you guessed it, “thinking positive.” Cognitive behavioral specialists believe that utilizing and practicing positive affirmations is the first step to correcting negative self-thoughts. Taking time out to think positive thoughts may change the way we feel and behave toward ourselves and others. Give it a try. What do you have to lose?
The next time you start to think negatively try telling yourself:
- I can do whatever I need to do in my life today
- I am a capable person
- I can remain stable regardless of my circumstances
- I deserve to have happiness in my life
- It is ok if I make a mistake, I am human
- I am……. (The possibilities are endless)
Start practicing positive affirmations like these every day. Remember that those automatic negative thought pathways did not develop overnight. It will take time to build new, positive pathways. Consistency is key, so don’t give up. Say your affirmations whether you truly feel them or not. The more you practice, the easier it will become and the more you’ll begin to believe in them and in yourself.
Denise Driscoll, RNC, CARN, CS, NPP is the Assistant Vice President for Behavioral Health at Mather Hospital.