Post No.: 0061
Continuing from Post No.: 0037 on our quest in understanding that happiness can be trained – some positive mental habits include self-compassion (which is like self-esteem but without the risk of narcissism or seeing oneself as better than others), optimism/positive thinking (without venturing into wishful thinking), experiencing more flow-inducing activities (flow is that feeling when you’re ‘pleasantly lost in the present moment’ whilst doing a task), realistic goal setting and pursuing life experiences that are infused with meaning, a higher purpose or the greater good (these don’t need to be grand though). But performing these habits requires authenticity, focus and persistence to cultivate i.e. don’t expect any quick fixes.
Positive expectations are related to the technique of ‘visualisation’ during playing sports e.g. seeing in one’s mind’s eye the puck bulging the net of the goal before taking a penalty shot improves one’s chances of actually slotting the puck into the net. The power of visualisation is most effective though for such simple objectives where the steps to achieve it are clear, rather than e.g. visualising yourself on your own super yacht, which can amount to mere wishful thinking – so this is something very crucial to note about the limitations of visualisation and where many people have over-extrapolated the contexts where this technique can work. Visualisation is also no substitute for preparation, application and practice – it works best when you’ve put in the training but you then have sudden doubts about performing on the big occasion, for instance. So no one is saying that any of these thought patterns or techniques are alone enough to get you what you may want (although you may feel happier regardless of whether or not you actually get what you wanted). Optimism needs a fine balance – we want to persevere in the face of obstacles yet pervasive optimism bias can be detrimental. Adaptive optimism is about the positive side of realistic.
Some negative mental habit traps include perfectionism, putting too much pressure on oneself, harsh self-judgements, striving to always ‘maximise’ pleasure (as opposed to ‘satisfice’ or being satisfied with enough), ruminating on regrets, social comparisons (that lead to envy or haughtiness) and materialism. We are generally more critical of ourselves than others (especially for many people when it comes to things like how they look). Self-help is not so much about introspection but outrospection – looking outwards and being interested in being more social and compassionate. Humans evolved advantageously as a social and gregarious species, not as a solitary or overly individualist species. Woof!
Our brains shape our minds and thoughts, and our minds and thoughts shape our brains, because, in my view, our minds and brains are essentially one and the same. The brain is the biophysical machine and the mind is the output of this brain – hence mind and body are really one e.g. brain damage will affect one’s mind and thoughts, and one’s mind and frequent or infrequent thoughts will respectively strengthen or weaken certain physical neural connections in the brain. Therefore you must use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better!
Use it or lose it – the neural pathways that get used the most get strengthened, and vice-versa, leading to ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’, even to the point of being observably physically thicker in the brain via scans, and making these thoughts or functions easier to recall or do. Every single little experience, as well as every single major habit, matters, in the lasting effects that it leaves on our minds/brains, which includes our moment-to-moment well-being. Well if you have any memory of an event, it means your brain has accommodated this memory into its very physical structure somehow (not that if you cannot consciously remember something then it cannot possibly nevertheless have had or be having an unconscious effect on your brain – we can hold stored memories that we cannot quite consciously retrieve, at least without the right prompts).
‘Self-directed neuroplasticity’ is like, we can possibly build strong muscles just by going through normal daily life but we can also build them intentionally in the gym, and more effectively so when backed with the right knowledge and skills too. Although it generally gets progressively more difficult to learn new things and change old habits as we age – it never gets impossible because we have neuroplasticity right until we die.
In principle, no trauma can’t be overcome with more positive and adaptive patterns of thought. So focus and pay attention to your furry blessings and both your little and big achievements, rather than any resentments or regrets. Take in the good (e.g. let learning a good fact or piece or wisdom become a good experience). Recognise the positive moments and savour these moments, and maybe even feel it as if it’s some soothing, warm light glowing inside of you that gets banked in your heart.
Ultimately, we want to reinforce the positive mental habits and extinguish the negative mental habits as much as possible – analogous to training the rest of the body, we want to do more of the walking and less of the sitting down! We want to feed the virtuous cycle of positive thoughts and starve the vicious cycle of negative thoughts.
Woof! Please share with us some of your own tips for thinking more positively and adaptively if you have some, via the Twitter comment button below?