In an article entitled How to Undo Negative Muscle Memory on Hello Giggles, Sarah May Bates described the cycle of negative thinking as such:
“What happens over time is your brain gets trained into feeling certain emotions and you grow used to them. You literally memorize the feelings and they become intertwined with your memory of the literal experiences. Once your body has memorized a specific emotion associated with a particular experience, it will automatically trigger you to feel that emotion when any new and related experience occurs. Feeling these old emotions becomes routine – just like when you have peeled an apple so many times, you don’t think about it anymore, an emotion can be embedded into your muscle memory. Even if they are unpleasant, they become where you feel the most inclined to be because they feel “comfortable.” When you feel an emotion repeatedly, your body grows a tolerance to the feeling and it becomes simply “normal” and therefore, to move opposite the feeling causes a sense of fear and anxiety. The feelings you’re used to, just like the way you peel that apple – that feeling is what you know, it’s where you feel safe.”
To me, Bates’ description made perfect sense. As human beings we are extremely adaptive; we conform to survive. It’s completely possible to develop an undesirable psychological response to something. So is it possible that I may have learned to be more comfortable in the misery than the happiness? Could my own mental pathways be what’s keeping me down?
I haven’t always been the most positive person. I’ll be the first to admit that a “glass half empty” point of view comes pretty naturally to me at this point. But I’ve been trying to change that. For the last few years I’ve been pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone in little ways and trying new things to become a better version of myself. I want to be brave enough to experience the things that make me anxious and I want to be confident enough to do them with a smile on my face. But it’s incredibly hard to break the habit of not trying. It’s hard to reprogram my brain to not feel afraid and overwhelmed.
Bates’ suggestion for overcoming the cyclical negativity was to constantly push away from it. Every time you start to have a negative thought or to interpret a compliment or suggestion in a way that you don’t like, turn away from it and immediately do something else. But I have to wonder if it’s really as simple as all that. Can you make yourself not think something, especially when you’re so used to feeling it? Is this just another example of a “fake it till you make it” routine in order to blindly build confidence over time? Act the way you want to be and your brain will eventually catch up to believing it?
Bates seemed to think so. “You’re going to have to decide to accept the outcome of your decisions–despite the fact that you’re worried about them. It’s like when you turn off your phone and you freak out, thinking “everything might have gone to hell” and then you turn it on and everything’s the same. You’ve got to let go of that panicky feeling and decide you’re sticking to this goal no matter what.”
Learning to think positively is just like learning to do anything else. It takes time, practice, and hard work, but it is possible to separate negative reactions and emotions from my everyday life. I just have to want it enough to see the job through.
Do negative thoughts bring you down, too? What do you think of Bates’ strategy? Let me know in the comments down below!