It’s hard to believe that summer’s here. You’re suddenly aware of your summer wardrobe and how you look in your bikini or swim trunks. You often think about being in good physical shape but have you ever asked yourself, “What kind of mental shape am I in?” If you’re a chronic worrier or you often think negatively, what can you do to get your brain in shape?
Picture this in your mind. You’re on vacation trying to appreciate all the good things in your life: your great job, your health, your family. Your mind, however, starts to worry:
- Can I even afford to be on this vacation in the first place?
- What did my boss mean, when he said, Let’s talk when you get back? You think, Oh God, maybe he’s going to fire me!
Ever wonder why it seems you think about what is wrong versus what is right? The reason for this is that your brain has one job and that is to protect you from danger! As a result, your brain focuses on things in your environment that are potential ‘threats’ to you. As a prehistoric man, it was adaptive to scan the environment for potential predators the ideology was, “drop your guard and well you might be someone’s lunch.”
Even though your brain’s primitive function is to sense danger it’s not as good figuring out which are real threats or false alarms. In many ways, your brain is like my new Arlo home monitoring system. I get a ping on my phone when Arlo senses someone is at my front door. The system itself doesn’t know who’s at the door; an intruder or just my neighbor stopping by to say hello?
Given your brain’s tendency to pick up on false threats, YOU must filter which threats are real and which one’s aren’t. Often you worry for no reason you’re not the only one who does this. It turns out that 85% of things we worry about never happens.
Get your brain in shape
In Psychology one of the best ways to train your brain is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or (CBT) to change your negative thinking. In many ways, it’s more important to neutralize negative thoughts than to think overly positive ones. If you tell yourself something like “My boss loves me!” this may not be entirely true or specific enough to neutralize your worry.
So how can you train your brain to think in more neutral or healthy ways? I work with patients on a daily basis where I teach the following
5-Steps for Healthier Thinking:
- STEP 1: WHAT BOTHERS ME THE MOST? When you notice that you have a negative thought like the one above, imagine for a moment your thought is true. What if your boss were to fire you, what does this mean for you as a person? What is the “I” message behind your thought? Does this mean, “I’ll never take a family vacation again? I’ll never work again? Instead of focusing on what your boss thinks, what does this mean for you? This is the thought you need to change.
- STEP 2: IS MY THINKING ACCURATE? Remember your brain is just doing its job. Is it possible this is a false alarm? Are you thinking in bleak ways, ‘black-or-white’ terms, do you ‘catastrophize’ or to take things personally? Look here for a list of cognitive errors
- STEP 3: HOW DO I FEEL WHEN I THINK THIS THOUGHT? OK, I feel anxious, worried, freaked out.
- STEP 4: WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE MY THOUGHT IS TRUE? Hmm, last week your boss gave you a positive review. Ask yourself: Is there an alternative explanation for him making this statement? Maybe he wants to talk to me to discuss leading the new group? What is the worst-case scenario even if I were to get fired? Why would I think I would be unemployed forever? I always have recruiters contacting me.
- STEP 5: WHAT CAN I SAY TO MYSELF INSTEAD? In order to neutralize how you feel you must replace your negative thought with one, you believe to the same extent. What if you said, “Even if my boss fires me, I will be OK, I’ve never been unemployed for long, I might find an even better job.” Do you believe this new thought? If this new thought doesn’t fit for you, keep trying until you find one you do believe.
Think of this 5 step process like lifting weights for your brain. Instead of focusing on whether something bad will happen or not, focus on your resiliency. Even if bad things were to happen, imagine how you will survive.
Negative thinking can also show up in how you think about your love life. The next time your partner or the person you’re dating says, “We need to talk,” try this five-step process before you assume there’s a breakup coming your way.
Secure Tip: If you’re trying to have a healthier mind use my 5 Step CBT approach. Replace your negative thoughts with neutral ones. repeat your new thoughts like you would a YOGA POSE, TRY TO BE FLEXIBLE in your thinking. a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy heart and body.