Brain research indicate that we remember negative experiences more vividly than positive ones and that we notice negative interactions more intensely that positive ones. For example, if you have a good day at work and your manager praises your work but your co-worker criticizes, what will you think about when you return home? If you’ve invited family members over for a special party, will you remember the 14 you came or the 2 who didn’t show up or call?
Because it’s easy to think about and remember the bad stuff that happens it our lives, we can retrain our brains so that we can experience greater peace of mind. We do this by allowing ourselves to feel negative emotions and then releasing these feelings. As we focus on the things that are going right in our lives, we can more easily ignore the things that are going wrong.
The great news is that the brain is constantly rebuilding itself. "The brain is not like a computer that has fixed wiring and connections," says neuroscientist Michael M. Merzenich, "Every aspect of you is created by the brain revising itself in response to your interactions in the world—and I mean everything. How you define yourself—the person you are—is a product of plastic changes in your brain. That includes things that relate to your attitude and your emotional construct. What you are is a result of how your brain has tried to create a model of the world, and the brain is plastic until you die."
Since our brains are constantly rebuilding themselves, we can retrain our minds to remember the good stuff. As we notice the negative things we are telling ourselves, we can reframe our thinking and remind ourselves that life isn’t as bad as we’re pretending it is. Sure, a couple of family members may have disappointed you, but 14 showed up with a lot of love and compassion. Perhaps a co-worker was surly, but your other co-workers and your boss respect your work and treat you well. As we focus on all the positive experiences in our lives, we can put the negative ones into better perspective.
Someone once said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape.” We become more optimistic, forgiving, and peaceful when we choose thoughts that are accepting, patient, and merciful. We can’t change other people’s behavior, but we can change the way we react to it—and it all begins with our thoughts.
© Carol Brown