“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” ~Buddha
Warmer temperatures and longer sunny days has many of us emerging from our houses to tend to our yards in preparation for the summer months. We’re planting new florals for a pop of color by our front walkway. We are starting tomatoes, herbs and other delights destined for our kitchens.
Tending to this outdoor garden is an ongoing process as grass and weeds threaten to overtake our young plantings. We must keep them watered and flourishing and free of invasive species.
In order to keep our life flourishing, it is vital to tend to our own mental garden. While it is standard to pull a weed as soon as it is spotted in our garden, people often let invasive negative thoughts spread and weave their unhappiness into a dark, tangled mess.
According to Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of Positivity, “experiencing positive emotions broadens people’s minds and builds their resourcefulness in ways that help them become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine.”
According to Fredrickson, for every negative thought, it takes THREE positive thoughts or actions to bounce back from it. That’s planting three orchids for every weed you find in your garden. While it may be overkill in your background, it just goes to show how powerful negative thoughts can be.
So, how does one go about reducing the negative muck in our minds? Well, it’s not easy, but the end result is worth it. Science has shown that positive emotions make us happy in the short term and help to build our well being in the long run.
Here are a three ways to reduce negativity to help you get started:
1) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment without passing judgement. It is seeing our thoughts as thoughts and our emotions as emotions — not letting either one control us. When you recognize a thought for what it is, it passes and you take its ability to harm or stress you.
2) Put the Brakes on Rumination
Like an actor rehearsing the lines of a play, our minds often go over and over it again and again events in our past. Whether it was a fight with a loved one yesterday or something you did in high school, our minds love to Tivo these negative moments and call them up, playing the scene over and over.
Know that you control your thoughts. You turn off the Tivo. You hit stop on the CD player. Recognize that your thinking is not going anywhere and distract your mind with another activity.
3) The Switch Negative for Positive
Stress and helplessness comes from how we perceive things, which is often not the most accurate picture. Our mind is a great painter who can exaggerate and blow something out of proportion.
The goal is to recognize that when you feel angry, sad or even happy — there was a thought that created it. Sometimes they are so automatic that you don’t even know you are doing it. It takes time to develop this awareness (hence the not so easy but worth it statement above). Identify the thought and substitute more realistic, self-enhancing (or positive) thoughts. The goal is to break the habit of spiraling into negativity.
Just like gardening, raising your positivity ratio is a daily work in progress. You will have kick-butt days and others that may not be worth writing home to mom about. But in the end, it will start to shape your world.