The Neuroscience behind Mental Fitness
What do you think of when someone says ‘you need to have a positive mindset’, ‘be happy’ or ‘learn to look on the bright side’, does it inspire you, frustrate you, annoy you perhaps? I have encountered all types of reactions and at some point I was probably one of those people that thought, you can’t just choose to be happy and a positive mindset can’t be that helpful, that was until my confidence and self image took a real hit and I realised that my thinking, my mindset was absolutely the problem.
Having a positive mindset isn’t just about being happy, it creates the right programs in you brain that sets you up for success, and there is science behind it.
From a psychological perspective we are conditioned to have negative thinking patterns. As we grow up we learn how to operate in this world through mimicking and learning from parents, family, friends, your environment, religion, the media, schooling, your culture etc. We form conditioned (subconscious) conclusions about who were are, our abilities and our capabilities from the social conditioning we were exposed to.
This means that a many of the beliefs we have about are ourselves, are not even ours to begin with. They were formed to ‘fit into’ the environment and the people you were surrounded by, as belonging is a key fundamental driver in us, because we want to feel safe. From a primal standpoint being in the biggest and best tribe will keep you safer.
The problem with safety is that it is in direct conflict with success – as success requires you to take risks, to be uncomfortable, to compete and be vulnerable.
As you grow up your subconscious mind has learned and programmed the beliefs that will keep you safe; predominately around fear, doubt and scarcity, so your subconscious mind is programmed to protect you from these things, keep you safe and your ego’s job is to provide you with proof that it’s right. This is where the battle begins.
If you believe you are unworthy of success, the ego will find ways to stop you from taking any action that might result that success, it will actively work against you to prove to you that you are unworthy – helpful eh!!!
Take for example you want to loose weight and you have bought an amazing outfit to wear when you reach your target weight. If you have been conditioned to believe that you are not worthy or able to loose that weight then your ego will look for and find that proof – and it will do most of this through your negative thinking, and the negative thinking will take over, you will start to question ‘I’m not good enough”, ‘I’m not committed enough’, ‘what if I try and don’t look good, will people laugh at me’. This is how our mind works. It protects you from change by bringing up fear, failure, judgment with examples from your past, because the subconscious mind doesn’t forget, nor does it know what is good or bad, it has the sole responsibility to keep you safe, keep you the same, so it will give you all the examples you need in an effort to stop you from trying.
See overprotective minds are machines that were built to survive in the ‘fight or flight’ times when we were being chased by animals and in that time most things were a threat so the over protective mind was a good thing.
However today, most of our basic needs are met so we no longer need the over protective mind, but unless you become aware of and understand what is happening then you could easily live your life still as though you are in the jungle and be preventing yourself from success.
So how can we start to re-programme our minds to respond and act differently. Well there are many different therapies and trainings you can do, but I will share some very simple and basic pointers that can help you start the process or thinking more positively.
- Acceptance – Focus on the controllable – we are so use to going through life resisting; we resist change, we battle to prove we are right or someone else is wrong. If you have no control over it, accept the situation. If you just accept a situation for what it is, even if you don’t like it, instead of fighting against it or resisting it, then instantly you gain peace. We accept the pain of the situation which eliminates the suffering. Suffering is optional, it comes from resisting pain. When you resist something that we cannot change then you choose to suffer, but if you let go and focus on what we can control then our perspective changes and we free ourselves. Strengthen the change that you want.
- Positive Affirmations – Our subconscious mind learns through repetition, they say it takes roughly 21 days to form a new habit (habits sit within the subconscious mind). So the repetition of positive affirmations is very powerful, if you repeat it enough times then you start to form a belief about it, when we have a good feeling about a new belief then our lives are happier. It’s like training a muscle, you can train the positivity or the negativity, which ever one you work out the most will be the strongest. And conversely the other will weaken. When we use “I am” at the start of any affirmations it has the impact of change at an identity level, this is who you believe you are as a person. Work out the positivity.
- Reframing your thoughts – It’s like the mental gym again, whatever thoughts you pay attention to and focus on will be the ones that get stronger, however we need to be aware of the thoughts first, so spend some time and become aware of your thoughts. Challenge whether they are helpful or not, if not then evict them from your mental gym and invite new positive thoughts in and work them out, by repeating them over and over.
It is important to understand that you cannot control the thoughts that come into your head, but you can certainly do something with them when you become aware of them.
This is why I call the work I do Mental Fitness, so what are you going to work on today…