Thoughts That Stick
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
"This is the worst day ever!"
“Why did I just say that? I’m so embarrassed!”
“I can’t stop thinking about that horrible article I read online today.”
“So much kind feedback was given to me today, but I can’t let go of that ONE negative.”
“I can’t believe how rude that person was to me in the store today!”
If you’re like just about everyone else in the entire world, these are the kinds of sticky questions and thoughts latching onto your mind. As humans, we tend to notice and remember things our brains perceive as bad much more vividly than the good. Not only do we pay closer attention to and learn more from negative events than positive ones, but we also tend to make decisions based off of information that is negative rather than positive.
As it turns out, there is an evolutionary reason for this phenomenon, otherwise known as the negativity bias. As Nicole Libin, Ph.D. explains in her children’s book, Sticky Brains, “A long, long time ago…people really needed to watch out for scary things. If they didn’t notice a mean tiger, they could be in danger. But if they missed the good stuff, like a juicy orange or a beautiful sunset, they would still be okay.”
Libin goes on to explain that our brains evolved to focus on the bad stuff because doing so helps us stay safe. She also shares the idea that negative thoughts stick to our brains much more easily and for longer periods of time than positive thoughts. This means that we have to work extra hard at recognizing the positive. The exciting part is that we can actually change our brains to allow more positive thoughts to stick! In order to do this, we have to be intentional with our positive thoughts, but a few things need to be in place before we can get there.
Dr. Libin encourages practices such as mindful breathing and simple gratitude practices to help our brains see more positive. She has some excellent ideas and resources on her website (followyourbreath.com) as well. Here are some of the ways I, personally, encourage positive thoughts to stick. Hopefully they can work for you, too!
First, we need to invite awareness into our minds and bodies. Awareness in this context means simply to pay attention without applying judgement. We can’t get very far in our efforts to see the positive if we don’t commit ourselves to this endeavor. To do this, we need to give our minds and bodies gentle reminders to be aware on the inside and outside. These reminders can come in the form of a few deep belly breaths or the simple acknowledgement that awareness is important to our overall well-being.
Second, we need to pay attention through daily mindfulness practice. Dedicating time each day to a mindful practice, such as meditation, breathing practices, yoga, observing nature, etc., we become more aware of our own negativity bias.
Third, we must choose to let in the light! By letting in some positive light inside our often darkening minds, we make intentional efforts to identify and acknowledge positive aspects of our life at any given moment. For example, from the moment we feel anger inside because a package didn’t arrive on time, we can instead choose to feel gratitude for the fact that so many people are working tirelessly along the supply chain to get us what we need, even if delivery isn’t within our own expected timeline.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well…there’s one small catch: “…our brains need FIVE good things to balance out every ONE bad one,” according to Sticky Brains author, Nicole Libin. So here’s a new daily challenge for you: each time you’re aware of a negative thought sticking to your brain, identify and allow FIVE positive thoughts to stick as well.
Now go forth, superheroes, and activate your brain-changing powers!