Don’t Let Negative Thoughts Breed Like Rabbits

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What is your Monday morning routine?

Feeling a bit sluggish…sure can use another half hour of sleep. You’re packing your work bag, which reminds you of the workweek ahead… a proposal prepared for the boss is due on Wednesday…(big sigh)…he wasted 40 minutes bragging about his accomplishments in the last meeting…and he’s going to make a bunch of useless tweaks…none of your coworkers want to help out but sure are waiting around like vultures to take undeserved credit…MAN!! This proposal shouldn’t even be your responsibility in the first place (you roll your eyes)…but you’re STUCK!…you can’t believe you will be stuck in the office all day while it’s sunny out…Friday and the weekend can’t come soon enough, but then so what? There will be more Mondays and work days to come. Just endless…

Sound familiar?

One negative thought leads to another that leads to many more until we hit bottom. Negative thoughts breed like rabbits.

 

We get what we think

“A basic truth in psychology is that people get more of whatever they focus on,” copy writer Joe Vitale aptly said in his book Hypnotic Writing.

Once a word, person or object occupies our mind, the human brain tends to free associate based on that first item.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize Laureate Daniel Kahneman described two systems of the human brain. “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control,” he wrote.

Actions of the System 1 are completely involuntary, because we are designed to automatically perceive the world. We can’t prevent ourselves from detecting that one object is more distant than another, identifying the source of a sudden sound or reading words on a billboard.

 

It’s like word associations

System 1 is also capable of learned association. Once you’ve received the knowledge that Paris is the capital of France, in the future, whenever you hear the phrase “Capital of France”, the word “Paris” will pop into your head. You can’t help it.

Unfortunately, System 1 often treats the associations as “representation of reality,” Kahnemand said. “Your body (reacts) in a attenuated replica of a reaction to the real thing and the emotional response and physical recoil were part of the interpretation of the event,” he added. In the Monday morning scenario earlier, in addition to accessing negative memories, the mental and physical responses could create a false “reality” that you are indeed stuck and with no options whatsoever.

 

It goes into stealth mode

System 1 has another ace in the pocket – “priming”, which is defined as “increased sensitivity to certain stimuli due to prior experience,” according to Kendra Cherry, author of Everything Psychology Book.

The most famous priming research experiment was conducted by social psychologist John A. Bargh. He exposed a group of students from New York University to words and images related to senior citizens. Afterwards the students were observed walking out of the laboratory at a much slower pace compared to subjects that were not exposed to the elderly materials. This priming effect is even more stealth compared with the concepts already mentioned. Which means you could fall into bad moods and negativity without you even knowing why.

 

Our brain is lazy

The human brain is naturally lazy and there are multiple functions competing for limited capacity at all times, Kahnemand pointed out, and therefore, the brain instinctively seeks the easiest channel to interpret and to solve.

It is due to the effortless System 1 and combination of natural instinct, learned association, sensitivity to previous experiences and laziness that we enable negative thoughts to multiply and impact us both psychologically and physically.

System 1 will run wild unless System 2 intervenes.

 

Be mindful

“System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations,” Kahnemand explained.

When you are driving down an empty road with wide lanes, it’s System 1 doing the driving. However, when the road narrows and turns become tighter, more concentration is required and System 2 takes over.

As soon as you recognized that negative thoughts are spinning out of control, take a deep breath, and allow the activation of System 2. Force yourself to think or do something positive to brake up the negative chain reaction.

For example: Monday sucks…I’m tired…I don’t like my job…STOP RIGHT THERE!!! Slow down…think happy thoughts, look at a picture of your lovely family, treat yourself to a nice breakfast, meditate for 5 minutes, go to your favorite coffee shop, think of a colleague that you enjoy hanging out with at work. You get the point.

System 1 is not the enemy though

On the flip side, this means that positivity and optimism can be just as prolific. A single positive thought could be the ignition for forward momentum towards a meaningful goal.

Place a family photo on your desk. Make a list of things that you are thankful for on the cover of your planner or computer screen saver. On Sunday nights and Mondays watch, tweet or post positive things. Have regular conversations with inspiring people.

Sometimes a little positivity here and there can make the difference.

My family…happy family gatherings…gratefulness…grateful for health…grateful for friendships…good times with friends…feel loved… supportive…return the favor and pass on the love…life ain’t so bad after all…let’s do more and make it even better….

Positive thoughts can breed as well.

 

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