Preschool teachers know the importance of today’s habit for happiness, think positive. You don’t tell a 2-year-old “not” to run and scream in the hallway. They are two and need more direction than that. You tell them to walk. You tell them walk quietly. At my daughter’s elementary school, Kindergartners are told to put a bubble in their mouth and hands behind their backs. This is how the school teaches them to walk quietly, hands to oneself, through the halls. The positive actions that are expected are the focus, not the negative behavior.
That’s what this habit is all about. It’s the adage of where focus goes, energy flows.
When we think about not doing something, we are still focusing on the “something.” The minute I start thinking “don’t eat that cookie,” I know I’m going to eat a cookie. I’m focusing on the cookie. The more I say to myself, do not eat the cookie, the more my brain thinks about cookies. It thinks about past cookies, and how good they were. It thinks this cookie would taste good too. It starts singing the Cookie Monster song, but that might not be a normal response, but it’s mine. Anyhow, the not part is irrelevant. I’m not thinking or focusing on my fitness goals. I’m thinking and focusing on the cookie. The negative word can’t stop the brain from thinking how enjoyable cookie eating is.
Consequently, beating yourself up for past mistakes does nothing to improve your future. All that does is focus energy on what you don’t want in your life. To change and have more good things in your life, you must think about them. Practice the forgiveness we talked about on day 11, Forgive easily, and fix your thoughts on the positive.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Ever seen the children’s movie, The Croods? This caveman dad is trying to keep his family alive. He teaches them anything new will kill you. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator and daughter of the family, Eep, explains that her dad kept them alive by following the rules. “Anything new is bad. Curiosity is bad. Going out at night is bad. Basically, anything fun is bad.”
You are a highly evolved, intelligent being, but parts of your brain are very primitive. Changing habits taps into primitive survival instincts. Your primitive brain says no to change, because that’s unknown and scary.
That’s how our brains work, because they used to have to work that way. But now we have Google! We can change and try new things without it being life or death situation. We’ve figured out which plants are poisonous. We don’t have to fear a new food, like a caveman or two-year-old does.
So, I guess what I’m telling you is that when working on self-improvement and trying to add more happiness to your life, treat your brain like a two-year old! Fill it with the positive new habits and avoid negative phrasing. Change the “don’t eat a cookie” to what you want to do. Eat a carrot or read a book or drink a glass of water or go for a walk.
But don’t just take it from me. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina, has been studying the role of positive emotions since 1998. She developed the Broaden and Build Theory, which says that positive emotions opens people up to new ideas (that’s the broaden part). Moreover, positive emotions trigger growth in physical, intellectual, and social resources (body, mind, and soul).
“Just like water lilies retract when sunlight faces, so do our minds when positivity fades.” – Barbara Fredrickson
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich
This is where the awareness that Nicole wrote about for us on Day 4 can be helpful. If we’re going through our day, on autopilot and not aware of the things we are focusing our energy on, we can’t change them. You must first start being mindful of the times you are filling yourself with negative or just staying in that safe caveman brain that says, do the same thing as yesterday and we’ll make it through today. We’re not cavemen.
We can do more than survive. We can thrive.