‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ Leonard Cohen
I work with a young woman who’s been finding life tough lately. She’s clever, funny and kind and from the outside, even though she has recently faced some challenges, it looks as though her life is on track. But on the inside, she’s struggling and a lot of that struggle relates to how she perceives herself.
This is an issue for many of my clients and it largely stems from habitual thinking and the negative bias of the brain. In her book, Happy for No Reason, Marci Shimoff quotes research that says the average person has around 60,000 thoughts per day and 95 percent of those thoughts are the same as the thoughts they had the day before (and the day before that). Even more startling is that 80 percent of those habitual thoughts are negative. Which means most people have more than 45,000 negative thoughts every day.
I don’t doubt that this is largely the problem for my beautiful young client. For the most part, she defines herself by her flaws and when things go wrong in her life, she’s excessively hard on herself. If we made a list of all of her qualities, it’s likely we’d find that 90% are positive, but like most of us, she focuses on the few that aren’t. At an intellectual level she understands that she’ll never be perfect, but her thinking becomes distorted because of a generalised feeling she has of not being good enough.
One of Marci Shimoff’s suggestions is that we can change the way we think by working on improving our baseline for happiness, which she argues is largely changeable. If we incline our minds to joy, we can literally rewire our brains.
Once we learn not to automatically internalise negative thoughts we develop a more balanced view of ourselves. From this place, it’s easier to maintain a healthy sense of perspective when things don’t go to plan in our lives.
It takes some work training our brains to think differently but ultimately, it’s one of the shortest pathways to a happier life.
Try these tips to help shift you towards thinking in a more positive way:
- Journal about the good things in your life
- Balance out the negative bias of the brain by bringing your strengths to mind every day
- When you’re noticing difficult thoughts, place one your hand over your heart and breathe in a sense of self-compassion
- Cultivate nurturing relationships
- Do things that nourish your body and soul
- Do something loving for yourself or someone else
- Live a purposeful life.