Our brain is a fascinating and complex organ. Scientists have yet to understand the full workings of the brain, but thanks to modern neuroscience, they are discovering more and more intriguing facts about the way it functions. And this includes a growing understanding of the role of thoughts in supporting our mental well-being. It is now possible to identify which areas of the brain are used in generating certain types of thought, for example the intellectual brain, specifically the left pre-frontal cortex, is where positive thoughts are generated. Modern brain scanning techniques also show how neural pathways in a particular area of the brain are strengthened and augmented with repeated use. So, the more we indulge in positive ways of thinking, the more adept we will become at this. In a nutshell, positive thinking makes us feel better. It can help us counter negative ways of thinking, such as worrying, doubting ourselves, feeling hopeless etc. It’s a bit like cutting a pathway through the jungle – the more we walk the same path, the wider and clearer it will become, and the easier it will be to take that particular path. Conversely, the pathways concerned with negative patterns of thinking can become overgrown and fall into disuse as we abandon negative thoughts in favour of positive ones. Science also shows us that positive thoughts, such as reliving happy memories, reviewing what has been good about our day or practicing gratitude, actually stimulate the release of various neurotransmitters, those ‘happy chemicals’ that boost our mood and help us cope better with whatever life has in store for us. A good steady flow of neurotransmitters are vital to boost our mental well-being and prevent us from entering a downward spiral of anxiety and depression.
So now we know the importance of positive thinking, how can we actually put this into practice? Well, here are a few ideas to help you get started:
Writing a gratitude journal, or making a mental note of all the good things in your life.
Regularly reviewing what’s gone well for you e.g. writing down your wins each day.
Mentally reliving good times and happy memories e.g. looking at old holiday photos, or chatting about an enjoyable past event.
Making the effort to be tolerant and see the good in others.
Refraining from self criticism – acknowledging your good qualities.
Watching the language you use, consciously choosing upbeat ways of expressing yourself.
Trying to avoid moaning or gossiping.
It may take a bit of effort at first to develop new ways of thinking, but as that path in the jungle gets more use, so it will become easier, until positive thinking and all its benefits become second nature!