Recently I was working with a new life coach client. At our first meeting he got very emotional and asked me why he felt he was always struggling with a sense of negativity. He said he had looked into whether he was clinically depressed and felt that this was not the case. “I’m not really depressed I don’t think,” he said, “but I just hear myself being negative too often and I don’t like it. I don’t want to be that way all the time.”
My first response to him was, “First, understand that you are most definitely not alone, and, it’s not really your fault. Let me tell you why. Let me open your eyes to an absolutely life changing fact that most people have never been taught. I am sure that no one ever told you that your brain is literally hardwired to focus on the negative. The hardware is designed that way.” In my view, understanding this is one of the first secrets to making your entire life better
For ages the human brain spent most of its evolution in survival mode. The brains that could survive got really good at scanning for and perceiving threats. And we’ve all inherited that. That’s why too frequently we find our minds stuck on all the things we’re frustrated about and fretting over. This tendency to focus on the negative is the brain’s default so it’s always creeping into our thoughts and perceptions.
Think about this – how long ago was it that you said or thought something negative? Even if it seemed insignificant. Take a moment to recall. This can be so pervasive that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Was it five minutes? A few hours? Yesterday?
It happens ALL THE TIME. And you know that this default is active when:
You’re dwelling on a negative experience or maybe something that was said.
You hear yourself complaining a lot – sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
You find yourself being irritable and overreacting to things.
You’re stuck obsessing over a problem instead of finding a solution.
You’re focused on whatever or whoever you believe is in your way. You hear yourself saying things like if only this was or that wasn’t.
It’s a bit of a bummer, but it seems our brains are like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones. As I said, this negative focus is the default operating space for your mind, and it is affecting your entire life. Even if life’s pretty good, it can be a whole lot better. You see, Negative experiences create (and that’s the operative word here – create) vicious cycles, that make it easier, and more “comfortable”, for you to be pessimistic, overreactive, discouraged and generally negative. The more you allow those default tendencies to take over, the easier it is to keep going back there. On top of that, as humans we have a relatively new part of our brain, called the neocortex, that’s really good at imagining and making things up. If this part of your brain is constantly influenced by these negative tendencies it can, and will, cause you all kinds of problems.
I call that dominant part of your brain your survival conscience, it’s always nudging your mind into your field of fear and frustration. It’s always prompting your mind to be scanning for danger and threats, and what’s worse is, your brain doesn’t even care if these things are real or imagined. That’s it’s job. That’s what it does. And it’s a good thing we have it – It just gets off the leash. It causes us to get in our own way in all kinds of ways. It is involved in creating way more of your personal reality than it ever should be. And you’re probably not aware of it. It is a fact that the vast majority of our suffering, stress and strife, is self-inflicted wounds. And remember, this survival conscience is your mind’s default space. It’s true for all of us – it’s part of the human condition. It’s part of what it means to be human. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s getting in your way.
Now, let’s talk about reality for a minute. In one sense we all live in the same reality, right? The sky above us, the earth below, and gravity keeping us from floating away. But in another, more important sense, we all live in our own reality, our own world. You are the center of your universe, and that universe is all created by your individual three pound reality generator. And, if you’re like most people, far too often your world feels beyond your control, and it isn’t evolving the way you would like it to.
We know for a fact that your mind and your brain are creating the majority of your stress and suffering. This tells us that, clearly, your mind and brain can also be the cure. So we need simple tricks, tools, and practices that will help us manage the brain’s default hardwiring. If we choose to make a conscious effort to be aware of and manage this challenging part of the human condition we can dramatically change the realities we are creating for ourselves every day.
In my next installment I will share with you what I believe is a very good place to start. For now, just work on developing and increased awareness of this default mind space. That alone sets in motion life altering changes.