Mind over Brain – Using your mind to re-train your brain to think positive!

December 1st, 2011 Comments Off on Mind over Brain – Using your mind to re-train your brain to think positive!

Did you know that, as humans, we have evolved to focus on the negative? When it comes to our survival, it is easy to understand why we are built with a propensity to focus on the negative instead of the positive. Using the analogy of carrots for positive experiences or stimuli, and sticks for negative experiences or stimuli, we find that our mammalian ancestors who focused on “dodging the sticks” may not have had as much fun, but they lived longer. Because, by focusing on negative stimuli, they avoided death.

Our mammalian ancestors lived in a world where it was paramount to their existence to be on the constant look out for danger, always looking over their shoulders, alert to the slightest sound out of place, ready to run, fight, or freeze, depending on the situation. Missing out on positive opportunities usually did not result in death. However, failing to pay attention to the warning signs that a predator, or other life threatening stimuli, was nearby, often resulted in death. The result? Our brains have developed six ingenious ways to “dodge sticks”, by focusing on the negative, to ensure our survival. (Hanson & Mendius, 2010)

These are great strategies that may occasionally still help us in our current state of evolution, but since negative events have more impact than positive, many of us feel great frustration with this focus on the negative in practically every part of our lives.

Let’s take a look at these six strategies, why our brain developed the way it did, and how we can use hypnosis to train our mind to overcome this propensity of our brain to focus on the negative side of life.

Strategy #1 Vigilance and Anxiety
Ah, anxiety–the number one reason clients come in to Intuitive Hypnosis. According to Rick Hanson in Buddha’s Brain (ibid.), when we are awake and not engaged in anything in particular, our brain falls into a kind of “default” state of being, and one of the functions of this state includes tracking our physical body and our environment for any possible threats. This makes sense if you’re living in the jungle or other environment where you are prey as well as predator.

However, most people in our culture are never faced with this degree of threat as a reality and find this constant unexplainable sense of anxiety very unsettling. It can also have long-term adverse health effects.

Most clients are very successful at using hypnosis to diminish this unnecessary brain state that causes a steady, low grade, feeling of anxiety and unease.

Strategy #2 Sensitivity to Negative Information
Our brains are drawn to bad news. As a culture, we are addicted to exposing ourselves to the nightly news, or other sources of negative stimuli that pervades our culture. Our brains actually detect negative information faster than positive information. For example, fearful faces are perceived much more rapidly than happy or even neutral ones. How many people do you know who constantly focus on the negative aspects of their job, their neighborhoods, government, or even their relationships? Again, this makes more sense if you imagine humankind in a do or die environment, but in today’s world this makes little sense, and, in fact, often results in the increase of negative perceptions, making us even more unhappy. Hypnosis provides an opportunity to change this natural sensitivity to negative information by introducing and reinforcing the “habit” of focusing on the positive. Repetition is the key. For example, by using your mind to train your brain to be in a state of gratitude and appreciation you can learn to focus on the best of your environment no matter what is going on. By using hypnosis, you can use your mind to train your brain to be on the lookout for what you want to see all day long.

Strategy #3 High-Priority Storage
If we were to categorize all of our experiences, most of us would find that they fall into either the positive or neutral categories. However, when an event, or experience, falls into the negative realm of things, our hippocampus stores it in a very particular manner. It does this for future reference, for our protection. Our brains are like Velcro for negative stimuli and Teflon for the positive ones. In addition to placing these negative memories in a special location for quick retrieval, the associated emotions that we experienced at the onset of the initial event are also stored. With repeated viewing, or “re-living” of these experiences, we actually reinforce the negative experience as though it has happened repeatedly. This explains how one horrible experience can live with us, and haunt us, for years. Under hypnosis, examining an initial sensitizing event and putting it into perspective, relative to the present moment, many people are able to find great relief from this high-priority storage of negative perceptions. Whether you have a fear of spiders or heights, or memories of a traumatic experience, hypnosis can offer relief by creating neural pathways that steer your focus and reactions in a positive direction.

Strategy #4 Negative Trumps Positive
Did you realize that in relationships it usually takes about five positive interactions with someone to undo or overcome one negative interaction? Think about our politicians. They can have a great voting record, high ratings in the polls, but as soon as they do something even slightly controversial, their reputation suffers. The fact is, negative information carries more weight than positive. It’s easy to acquire learned helplessness with just a few experiences, but it takes many, many positive experiences to diminish it. How does the fact that “negative trumps positive” reflect on your relationships, your opinions, your preferences? Hypnosis is very effective in helping to identify and diminish the out of balance perspectives that can develop because of this evolutionary propensity.

Strategy #5 Lingering Traces
In the “dodging of sticks” referred to in the introduction, it is true that even if you have successfully used your mind to unlearn a negative experience, it still leaves an indelible trace in your brain.  This is good news. It is good because even though using hypnosis can go a long way to help you unlearn negative experiences, stop reacting to past traumas, and focus on all the good things in your life, in the event that you need to “reactivate” a fear provoking response, you are able to do so. Having the benefit of our evolutionary development without the unnecessary side effects is very advantageous.

Strategy #6 Vicious Cycles
Because of our propensity as humans to focus on the negative, many people live with the vicious cycles that negative perceptions create. This can result in our becoming pessimistic, overreactive, and very negative about life. It can be a big relief to many people when they learn that it is in our nature as humans to focus on the negative. This means it’s not your fault if you lean toward the negative, you’re not a bad person, and most importantly, real relief from the patterns of negative thinking is available.

It is impossible to change the past, or even the present, but we can attend to the causes of a better, more positive, future. We can use our mind to change our brain to override the propensity to focus on the negative side of life. Using hypnosis, we can actually change the physiology of our brain to the point where we develop the habit of focusing on the positive side of life. The changes are subtle but powerful. The use of hypnosis can accelerate these changes, and make them permanent.

Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2010). Buddha’s brain, the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom. (p. 40). New Harbinger Pubns Inc.

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