Getting Unstuck from Automatic Negative Thinking
If you were sitting in a room and just outside you heard the waves of the ocean on one side and a jack hammer on the left side, assuming the decibel level was the same, which would your brain be drawn to?
If you guessed the jack hammer, you’re right. But why is it that our brains are drawn toward what’s annoying or negative more than what’s pleasant and positive? And how can we rebalance this automatic nature of our minds?
This is a tricky one. It’s been well established that our brains have an automatic negativity bias. In the animal kingdom the magic rule was, as author of Just One Thing Rick Hanson puts it, “Every day, eat lunch, but don’t be lunch.” Those people whose minds were not primed to immediately target danger didn’t pass their genes on through the evolutionary chain. So our brains, over time, became more deeply ingrained with the bias toward focusing on threats and negativity.
An awareness of this bias alone can help you with the old adage “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Simply the knowledge that your thoughts are more inclined toward the negative primes your mind to begin to question these thoughts as they come. For example, in a moment you find your mind swirling on negative details you may start to also have a thought arise, “my mind has a bias toward the negative.” This thought pops you into a mindful space, a moment of clarity and choice that I call The Now Effect.
In this space you will have the awareness to ask the question “Is this thought true? What evidence do I have for this thought? Is there another way I can see this situation?” This opens the door to see opportunities and possibilities you never knew existed.
As we intentionally practice and repeat having these experiences they get stored as implicit memories. These are the memories that influence our immediate snap judgments and decision making from moment-to-moment.
So imagine a time where you get caught in a swirl of automatic negative thinking about the future, yourself, or the past and seconds later an awareness comes over you like a moment of grace allowing you to break free from this cycle and into a space of choice to be your own best friend in that moment instead of a reactive enemy.
The truth is, just reading this right now has already primed your mind to see these moments of choice to break free from the confines and unhealthy habitual patterns in the mind and into a space of choice, possibility and freedom. As intentionally practice this, you’ll literally retrain the auto-pilot of the mind toward healthier and more effective ways of responding to life, this is one of the greatest gifts of the Now Effect.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Man with jackhammer photo available from Shutterstock.
Goldstein, E. (2012). Getting Unstuck from Automatic Negative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 7, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2012/02/getting-unstuck-from-automatic-negative-thinking/