How Observation and Mindfulness Affect Negativity

Last week, I wrote about how humans are conditioned to be negative.  We live in fear, we hold ourselves to high standards, and often are too hard on ourselves for our mistakes.  According to Professor Clifford Naas, “This is a general tendency for everyone.  Almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”  Our brains actually take more care and detail in processing our negative experiences and stores it so it can flag future similar experiences for survival.  Some say our brains are like Velcro to negativity and Teflon to positivity, how interesting.  So what to do about this?  Are we all doomed to be miserable and live in a world where we see the glass as half empty?  The truth is, the choice is yours.

 In order for us to live more positively, we have to make an effort to observe and be more mindful.  Since the mind wants to be negative, we must take action, and action can come in many forms.  There are very simple things we can do day to day like observation.  Taking a few moments after something unwanted comes our way and just observing how we are feel both physically and mentally is huge.  We can do this simply by sitting down and taking mental notes or even get out some paper and pen for journaling.  The technic of observation is used not only in modern therapy, but has been around for thousands of years in eastern philosophies, styles of meditation, and of course, yoga.
Thousands of years ago, a text called the Yoga Sutras was written by someone named Patanjali.  In this text, yoga is defined as learning to calm the fluctuations of the mind, learning to master the mind.  Once we learn to calm the mind, it is easier for us to align themselves ourselves with peace, which according to the sutras, is in all things true nature.  In order to find peace, the sutras teach about the mind.  There are five different fluctuations, both painful and non that the sutras describe, and once we can learn to observe these fluctuations, we can calm the mind so it doesn’t just blindly react to negativity. It’s like waves.  When waves are big, we often react with big emotions and actions, but when we can observe and learn to calm the waves, we don’t get too carried away with our reactions.  I bring up this text because it still stands true despite it’s thousands of year old age.  There are many different styles of observation as well as the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be defined as recognizing our emotions, actions, feelings, and reality, but also finding gratitude and celebrating the little things in everyday life.  Our mind often makes things out to be more extreme than they really are, so often, we can take a moment, observe, and ask is this really as extreme am I making it?  Another way to counter negativity with mindfulness is to remind yourself of what you have and the good things that happened during your day.  Did you make someone smile?  Did you get through your work commute without traffic?  Did you get to spend time with a friend or family member?  These are a few examples of things to find gratitude for.  Celebrate and be grateful for even the smallest almost seemingly unimportant good things that happen in your day because for every negative experience, it takes about five good ones to counteract.  So the more gratitude you can find, the more reasons you can celebrate, the better.
The key to coming out of negativity is all in your hands.  Yes, as humans, we are more prone to the negative bias, but with a regiment of mindfulness and observation, we can train our minds to be less negative.  It’s almost like training a puppy.  If we let the puppy wander around and do whatever it wants, we can’t expect it to listen to our commands when we need it to behave.  The mind is very similar in the way that even though it will automatically wander to the negative, with a little training, it can become disciplined to behave when we need it- like when negative things happen.  A strong, trained mind can realize the beauty of every moment.  To live a happier life, be happy for the little things and be happy for others.  Remember, you control your happiness.

Moon, Tom.  Are We Hardwired for Unhappiness?  2009.

Toohill, Kathleen.  “What Negative Thinking Does to Your Brain.” Attn: 31 July, 2015.
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