The Human Brain: Mighty Machine or Monster Maker

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The human brain is a true marvel. With its assistance, we can plan, learn, coordinate, analyze, and apply all the information we receive. At night, while we’re sleeping, our brains can cull information, deleting the non-essentials yet leaving the data we use most often and find more necessary.

The brain is also given major responsibility in helping turn repeated behaviors into habits. This is wonderful when one thinks of the many activities we complete on a daily basis: how to walk, put glasses on our face or contact lenses in our eyes, tie shoes, drive cars, and greet those in our lives. Also, we seldom need a second reminder that walking across a busy street is dangerous, driving a car the wrong way on a one-way street is a bad idea, or that we will not like the result if we stick our hands in fire. These examples reflect positive and helpful ways our brains act like Velcro, that amazing material designed to hold items together.

During the days of cave men, this was a good thing: Remember that dinosaurs will chase us if we get too close; That mean guy with the big club likes to hit people over the head; If we run out of food, we might get really hungry, or have an even more disastrous result!

Today, we aren’t concerned with dinosaurs, or running out of food. Prehistoric animals are gone, or have evolved into different creatures, and many of us are lucky not to find ourselves in the position of living with hunger. But we do remember every instance that frightens us, hurts our feelings, or makes us feel sad or lonely. And, often, the negative influence of our Velcro-like brains will turn our worries and upsets to negative rumination, replaying what happened, or imagining that it might reoccur. Not only do we replay the actual events in our minds, but our brains often take situations to another level, altogether.

Negative thinking becomes a problem for many people. Scientists tell us each person has somewhere between 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day and many of those thoughts are on the same subject. Sometimes we imagine catastrophes (The sky really is going to fall this time!) or exaggerate the negative (I made the biggest fool of myself; no one will ever forget that happened!). We engage in negative self-talk (I am such a klutz!), discount the positive (I might have lost weight, but it still isn’t enough!), and imagine what others might be saying (They’re always whispering about me!). And, when all else fails, we may place blame on others for whatever is or isn’t happening in our lives (I’d be on easy-street if that boss hadn’t fired me!).

Having negative thoughts soon becomes a habit, just like reaching for the same snack food from day to day. But this is a habit that does not promote a happy life, and will not enrich your days. However, you can employ mindfulness by paying attention, on purpose, to what is happening in the present moment, and can add deliberate acts that focus on positivity to break the negative habits before they have a chance to overrun your life!

* Make a point of looking for the positives in your days.
* Keep a journal of all the good things you notice and appreciate around you.
* Keep a record of all the positive things you do each day.
* Go out of your way to smile and speak with an up-beat attitude.
* Every time you notice a negative thought, stop yourself and focus on a positive instead.
* Post some positive messages where they will be easy for you to access when you need them.

Just remember, your brain may like to act like Velcro, but practicing mindfulness can turn it into a non-stick teflon with just a bit of extra effort.

You can do it; I believe in you.
Dr. W

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