By Corrie Pikul
Send negative memories, worries and obsessions packing with these no-nonsense strategies.
Show It The Door
We've all had the frustrating experience of going into another room to get something and then realizing... we've totally forgotten why we're there. What's happening, say scientists from Notre Dame University, is that the <a href=" http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-walking-through-doorway-makes-you-forget" target="_blank">act of passing through the doorway</a> serves as a cue (an "event model" in science-speak) to your brain, telling it that it's finished with the immediate task and to move on to something else, freeing up space and energy for new memories. You can take advantage of this mechanism in order to help you "forget" more strategically: If you find yourself getting worked up about something while you're preparing dinner, stop and exit the room. And if you happen to have an open-plan layout, keep on walking right out the front door (just come back in before the water boils and the pot overflows).
Try The Lady Macbeth Method On It (With More Success)
Decisive people have no idea how lucky they are to be spared the kind of second-guessing that can lead to sleeplessness, queasiness and general obsessiveness. But the rest of us now have a secret weapon against waffling: soap. Psychologists at the University of Michigan <a href="http://sitemaker.umich.edu/norbert.schwarz/files/lee___schwarz_clean_slate_cdps_in-press_pri.pdf" target="_blank">found that washing your hands with soap and water</a> can help you stop questioning your judgment. The study authors explain that the act of washing up serves as a powerful metaphor of "cleaning the slate" and helps us mentally wipe away doubts and misgivings.
Head It Off With A Decoy
When our brain insists on reminding us of that awful thing we said at the party last night, most of us react by suppressing the thought (and perhaps groaning). This often works, found British neuroscientists Roland Benoit and Michael Anderson, <a href="http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(13)00093-7" target="_hplink">who used an fMRI machine to trace the brain activity of people who were trying to forget something</a>. In a study published in the journal Neuron, they explained that when we push a memory out of our head, activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain critical for remembering the past, is inhibited. However, there's always the threat that the thought will pop up again... and again. Another trick that the scientists tested was thought substitution: Whenever you start rehashing the night, tell yourself instead to think about your vacation to Aruba, or reimagine every bite of a meal you enjoyed. Doing this will induce frenetic activity in the parts of the brain that need to work to retrieve memories and along the pathways to consciousness. The two thoughts will literally compete for your attention, so make the substitution memory engaging and pleasurable enough to win.
Treat It Like A Heartbroken Poet Would
Those troubled souls who vent their grievances on paper are on to something, found Ohio State University psychologist <a href="http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/matthoughts.htm" target="_blank">Richard Petty, Ph.D., and his colleagues</a>. In one of their studies, high school students who were asked to write down thoughts about body image and then rate their own figures were only affected by their thoughts if they were asked to hold on to their papers and review them. <a href="http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/january-13/throw-negative-thoughts-away-in-2013.html" target="_hplink">Those who were told to chuck the papers in the trash showed no difference in how they rated themselves</a>, regardless of whether they confessed positive or negative thoughts. "By physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts," Petty said. So write them down and then -- this is key -- be sure to shred them, burn them, toss them in the compactor or drag them into the trash can on your desktop -- and empty it.
Work It Out -- But Choose The Right Kind Of Exercise
At any road race, you'll find dozens of running enthusiasts who have successfully kicked bad habits (as well as chronic bad moods) by following a regular training schedule. And intense physical activity has been shown in studies to raise serotonin and dopamine levels and lower the stress response. But while distance running, biking and swimming can boost general mental wellness, these solitary, repetitive activities can be the worst thing when you're dwelling on something specific and unchangeable. They can provide you with uninterrupted time to obsess, and that may reinforce negative thought patterns. During those times, consider seeking out <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/Meditation-for-Running-or-Walking-Meditation-Series" target="_blank">physical activity</a> that makes your brain work as hard as your body, like a class (Spinning, Zumba, Bikram or Ashtanga yoga), a group sport (community soccer, pickup basketball) or a team activity (rowing, a running group, a master's swim team). You could also try going for <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/Meditation-for-Running-or-Walking-Meditation-Series" target="_hplink">a meditative run</a>, in which you focus so intently on your breathing or the rhythm of your footsteps that your mind doesn't have an opportunity to wander into a dark place.
Turn It Into A Mantra
If you've ever tried to teach English to a child or a friend, you know how repeating the same word over and over -- "water," "water," "waawderr" -- can make it sound like gibberish. You can use a similar strategy on words -- and, therefore, concepts -- that are bothering you, according to therapists who practice a form of clinical psychology called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). A tenet of ACT is that when something upsetting happens, we cause ourselves additional pain by rehashing how wrong it is, how unjust life is and how it may prove that we're a bad person. One technique to stop yourself from doing this, called <a href=" http://www.personal.kent.edu/~dfresco/CBT_Readings/Luoma_Cognitive_Defusion.pdf" target="_blank">cognitive defusion</a>, is to repeat a troubling word or phrase over and over for at least a minute. This helps you drop the baggage around the word and focus on what it is: a combination of sounds. You can then change the context around the word and give it a new, more positive meaning (or at least a less powerful one), explains Dennis Tirch, Ph.D., author of <em><a href=" http://www.mindfulcompassion.com/" target="_blank">The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety</a></em>. Try it first with a neutral word, like "laptop," and then say your troubling thought aloud ("taxes," "flare-up," "failure") and keep repeating until it no longer has the power to disturb you.
Show It Your Studious Side
You're surprisingly vulnerable to negative thinking when you're doing something that's practically second nature to you, says psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding, MD, coauthor of <em><a href="http://www.youarenotyourbrain.com/" target="_hplink">You Are Not Your Brain</a></em>. When you're in the flow -- say, knitting another scarf -- the brain's prefrontal cortex, which handles executive function, kicks back and lets the basal ganglia, or the habit center, take over. This is when the toxic thought sneaks in and gains control, while your knitting needles continue to clack away rhythmically. Get your prefrontal cortex to refocus by turning your attention to a challenging activity that requires your full attention, like listening to Coffee Break French podcasts, playing Words With Friends with a responsive pal or cooking (only if you aren't a gourmet chef). Gladding says that it's important to do this quickly, because the more time you spend dwelling on things, the stronger those mental pathways become. "Then every time you get anxious, you'll automatically switch into obsessive mode," she says -- and that's something you definitely want to avoid.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.
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Remembering all the good things that you have makes it a whole lot easier not to focus on what you <em>don't </em>have. Being thankful and appreciating the abundance in your life -- rather than dwelling on what feels lacking -- is rule #1 for shifting your thinking from negative to positive.
Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Once you've minimized your interaction with the negative Nancies in your life, creating an inner circle filled with support and encouragement is the next step. Having people around who see the best in you will help you see the best in yourself.
Ditch The Drama
Break up with your toxic friends and say goodbye to the boyfriend or girlfriend who brings you down. Minimizing negative energy in your environment is a prerequisite to overcoming negativity in your thinking.
The easiest way to fall into the negativity trap is by making yourself a victim. But on the flipside, to take responsibility for your own actions is to take charge of your own happiness. Remind yourself daily that although we may not be able to control what happens to us, we are always in charge of our reactions.
Turn Your 'Can't's Into 'Can's
This one may take practice, but it really works. Changing your sentence structure from negative to positive (From "Why do I always get bad grades on chem exams?" to "It might not have been what I hoped, but I know my next grade will be better") is key to shifting your perceptions from can't to can. Make a concerted effort to see challenges as opportunities, and watch as doors open where there were none before.
Getting into the habit of being kind and forgiving to others will help you extend the same courtesy to yourself. And when you're a friend to yourself, it's a whole lot easier to forgive yourself for your mistakes and cultivate a positive outlook for your future. And if you believe in karma, well, what goes around comes around.
Find The Silver Lining
Events and situations aren't inherently good or bad -- we just project those descriptions onto them. This means that we have a great deal of power over how we choose to view whatever comes our way -- deciding to focus on the positive is a powerful way to take charge in your life.
Signing up for a weekly yoga class or committing to 10 minutes of mediation before bed each night can go a long way in helping you slow down your mind so that you can observe and recognize your thought patterns. Even just talking a walk in nature or reminding yourself to breathe deeply can help reset your brain and clear out unnecessary worries.
Set Your Own Standards
Becoming the captain of your own ship is a must in developing a positive outlook. Instead of worrying what other people think of you and trying to live up the their standards, decide for yourself who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. Following your own path will give you a boost of confidence and self-esteem that makes the future -- and the present -- seem brighter.
Remember to Laugh
Laughing at yourself, seeking out opportunities to play and enjoy humor, and making others laugh can go a long way in creating an optimistic mindset. Laughter relieves stress and reminds you not to take life so seriously.
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When you need a quick breather, there's no place like <a href="http://calm.com">calm.com</a>. With a soothing nature backdrop, the site allows you to choose between two-minute and 10-minute meditations, with our without music and auditory guidance.
HuffPost Good News
OK, so we may be a LITTLE biased on this one, but we love HuffPost Good News as a destination for finding the most feel-good stories on the Internet. If you could use a boost, a few powerful stories of kindess and the triumph of the human spirit should put that extra spring in your step.
Make Everything OK
A technologically-advanced way to make everything in life good again.
A teen-run non-profit dedicated to raising self-esteem in teenagers through videos, social media interaction, and confidence-boosting campaigns, <a href="http://westophate.org/">WeStopHate.org</a> is one of the most accepting places on the Internet. A quick visit to We Stop Hate's website will leave you feeling happy, positive and empowered.
Tumblr's 'Positivity' Page
Search the tag <a href="http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/positivity">"positivity"</a> on micro-blogging platform Tumblr, and you'll be met with a stream of heart-warming, inspiring, and uplifting quotes and images on the tag's landing page. Take it to the next level by creating your own happiness-themed Tumblr blog!
We're of the school of thought that cute animal videos and GIFs pretty make pretty much everything in life better. Look no further than <a href="http://cuteroulette.com">Cute Roulette</a> for all the adorableness your heart may desire.
1,000 Awesome Things
As the name suggests, the site devoted to all the little -- and big -- <a href="http://1000awesomethings.com/">awesome things</a> in life will remind you of everything that makes you happy.
'Nicest Place On The Internet'
Need a hug? Head over to the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/nicest-place-on-the-inter_n_1202749.html">Nicest Place on the Internet</a>, where you'll be audience to an endless stream of friendly strangers blowing you kisses and giving virtual hugs. If this doesn't cheer you up, we don't know what will.
Filled with inspiring videos and touching stories, Hooplaha is one of our new favorite happy-places. Check out <a href="http://hooplaha.com/">the site </a>and sign up for their "Daily Smile" newsletter to start your day off right!
Get your daily dose of whimsy on <a href="http://weheartit.com/">We Heart It</a>, a happiness-inducing website with thousands of user-created inspiration boards.