Our brain’s evolutionary purpose has always been to keep us alive: our brain is ideally wired for survival… but our happiness was never very high on the evolution’s list.
That means that the natural habits and “wiring” of our brain – as well as the environment and setting of our modern world – are not exactly setting us up for happiness and feeling relaxed, fulfilled and joyful.
Many traps around us can easily pull our brain into negativity – starting from the negativity bias (blog post on this one coming up on 8th of August 2019), which is simply the tendency of our brain to give more attention to negative things;
continuing with the fact that our brain will usually follow the loudest stimuli (which is not always the best thing for our happiness);
to picking up other people’s bad habits of thinking, such as complaining or worrying…
Our brains are wired to look for danger ahead of anything else – meaning that they pay a lot of attention to danger and negativity, are build up to get used to good things quickly, and missing out to appreciate or strengthen all the positive aspects in our life.
The good news is: Brain can be rewired.
Paths in our brain are kind of similar to paths in the woods – the one that is used often is the one that is easy to use.
The path in the brain that is related to a habit of thinking that we use often – for example, it might be a path of panicking when in a new situation or overthinking whenever good things happen – is a big, strong, beaten path which is easy to use. Our thoughts are inclined to easily and naturally slip down that path.
Beaten paths have been formed to be so wide and easy through two elements: by our old habits and by natural way that our brain randomly developed under the influence of environment and people around us.
But that does not mean that we cannot consciously decide to build some new, better paths… and let the old negative ones disappear under the weeds 😉
Building a new path of thinking, same as the one in the woods, is initially a bit difficult – the first few times when you pass through it, it will be a bumpy walk.
But after you use it couple of times, it gets easier and easier.
How do we make those new paths in our brain, you might be wondering?
What is the best way to train the brain?
As you know, our brain is in many ways like a puppy.
And, when training it, the principle is similar: puppy follows the most vivid balls.
If we wish to take it down a new path, we need to throw virtual ball (and that ball is our intention) somewhere into the woods, and the puppy (that puppy is our focus) will run after that ball.
The key is to trick our focus into it, tease it into it, play it into it, by using the ball of our intention.
You can train your puppy-brain with several shiny toys: you can use visualisations, meditations, order it to go there, trick it into going down that path…
But the most powerful virtual ball that exists – simply because it is easiest, quickest and the most colourful for our puppy brain – is questions.
Like a puppy when they see a ball thrown, brain simply cannot resist questions!
But what do I ask my brain, you might be wondering?
There are four powerful questions that can help you train your brain for more positivity and more happiness in any situation:
• What is positive about this?
• What can I be grateful for?
• What can I learn out of this?
• How can I be curious about it?
Try them out, test, experiment – and find the one that works best for you.
You can use this questions in a challenging and negative situations to gain a new perspective and more positivity and optimism, but they are even more powerful if you also use them in positive situations to train your brain and use the moments when it is easy to “go down that new path” – it will train your brain to go there more often.
As for difficult situations, that is something where you need to explore the questions a bit and see which one works best for you.
You are looking for a question that is mildly challenging you into a new perspective and flipping your way of thinking, yet that is not too difficult or impossible for you to answer in that situation.
They can also be used in a gradual way – checking if you can find something positive in a situation, yet if that ends up being to difficult, moving to look for something you can be grateful for.
Should that also be too challenging, look for learning, or, as a last resort, curiosity is something that can be evoked even in the most challenging situation and it will always gives you a bit of space and diminish the negative emotion in a situation.
These four questions are probably the most powerful yet simple tool to change your thinking for one that will bring you more happiness, confidence, optimism, positive emotions and success – but they work only if used often, consistently, until they become a habit and a new “wiring” in the forrest of your brain.
What are you waiting for? 🙂 Start using them!
How about you?
Which of these questions do you like most and would like to use it to train your brain more?
Any other favourite powerful questions that you can add to this list?
Do share in comments – but also to start a conversation in our Positive Psychology Tribe virtual community for meaningful conversations.