Did you know that it is significantly easier to recall negative memories than positive ones? And the more we remember those negative thoughts, the more they are reinforced in our mind. Suppose you feel like an idiot because of a careless mistake at work. You keep telling yourself you are a disaster. And soon you begin to think it’s the truth.
Clearly, this is an unproductive way of thinking. Convincing yourself you’re an idiot does nothing to help you tackle your next challenge. Now for some better news: there’s a way to train your brain to turn down the negative feedback in your head.
It’s known as cognitive reappraisal. It’s about doing a reality check so your brain starts to understand those nagging negative thoughts have no real ground to stand on. Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein wrote about using cognitive reappraisal and the science behind this branch of mindfulness.
“People who do this have better mental health and more life satisfaction, and even better-functioning hearts, research shows,” Bernstein writes. “The result will be stronger neural networks devoted to positive thoughts, or a happier brain.” For her piece in the Wall Street Journal, Bernstein interviewed neuroscientists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and brain researchers to capture their best cognitive reappraisal tips. You can use these immediately to make it a better day:
1. Write them down. Forcing yourself to put these negative thoughts down on paper is the first step to turning off the negative loop tape playing in your mind. Be sure to include what caused the negative feelings or events.
2. Question your reality. Turn the negative thoughts around with a question. Instead of saying in your mind, “I’m a disaster,” try asking yourself, “Am I a disaster?” Bernstein believes you likely will not find significant evidence to support the question because negative thoughts are not based on reality. Look for answers to prove you are wrong.
3. Pretend to be someone else. We are our own biggest critics. To distance yourself from all that negativity, pretend you’re a good friend. Your friend is facing the same challenges. But she is looking for some positive reinforcement. Whatever you would tell your friend – tell yourself.