It’s been estimated that humans have anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. With that amount of information running through your brain, it’s only natural that the emotions assigned to each thought will vary from wildly positive to strikingly negative.
But while we all have our “Debbie Downer” moments, there is actually a way to train your brain so that those moments are fewer and farther between. Here are 4 ways to start flexing that positive-thinking muscle.
1. Practice noticing and counteracting negative moments.
Oftentimes, simply becoming aware of a problem is the biggest step you can take to solve it. This goes for negative thinking, too. When an unfavorable thought arises, make a point to note it--and then let it go. Yes, this is easier said than done, but remember that letting negative thoughts build and fester does you absolutely no good.
2. Develop lists of healthy and unhealthy distractions.
World renowned researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson suggests making lists of healthy ways you can distract yourself from negative thinking, as well as unhealthy methods. These distraction tools will differ from person to person, but identifying your go-to healthy methods will help to stop you from spiraling into a pattern of negative thinking, and pinpointing the unhealthy distractions will enable you to avoid doing something that will inevitably make you feel even worse.
3. Build a positivity circuit.
According to Loretta Breuning, PhD, the brain is hardwired to focus on negative moments, while positive moments are rather fleeting. Therefore, we need to be incredibly intentional about identifying and appreciating when those happy thoughts arise. Breuning advises spending one minute looking for positives three times a day, and repeating that process for 45 days.
4. Start measuring your positivity.
Through Dr. Fredrickson’s extensive research on the power of positivity, she found that humans must maintain a ratio of 3 to 1 positive to negative thoughts to truly flourish. She created an online test that enables people to measure and track their own positivity ratios in just two minutes. Here’s how it works:
Instructions: How have you felt in the past day? Look back over the past day (i.e., from this time yesterday up to right now). Using the 0-4 scale below, indicate the greatest degree that you've experienced of each of the following feelings.
0 = Not at all
1 = A little bit
2 = Moderately
3 = Quite a bit
4 = Extremely
What is the most amused, fun-loving, or silly you felt?
What is the most angry, irritated, or annoyed you felt?
What is the most ashamed, humiliated, or disgraced you felt?
What is the most awe, wonder, or amazement you felt?
What is the most contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful you felt?
What is the most disgust, distaste, or revulsion you felt?
What is the most embarrassed, self-conscious, or blushing you felt?
What is the most grateful, appreciative, or thankful you felt?
What is the most guilty, repentant, or blameworthy you felt?
What is the most hate, distrust, or suspicion you felt?
What is the most hopeful, optimistic, or encouraged you felt?
What is the most inspired, uplifted, or elevated you felt?
What is the most interested, alert, or curious you felt?
What is the most joyful, glad, or happy you felt?
What is the most love, closeness, or trust you felt?
What is the most proud, confident, or self-assured you felt?
What is the most sad, downhearted, or unhappy you felt?
What is the most scared, fearful, or afraid you felt?
What is the most serene, content, or peaceful you felt?
What is the most stressed, nervous, or overwhelmed you felt?
By regularly performing this exercise and seeing how your positivity ratio changes over time, you can broaden your mind and improve your life (NBD).
Retraining your brain to think positively is similar to working out to build and strengthen muscle. It may not come naturally at first, but with time and practice the skill of positive thinking will become stronger and stronger--and you'll become a happier, more fulfilled person in the process.
Kaitlin Bitting is a vice president of public relations at Allen & Gerritsen and a certified health & wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.