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Want To Be Happier? How to Take Charge of Your Thoughts

Marta Brzosko
Dec 12, 2017 · 13 min read

“We do not know what a thought is, yet we’re thinking them all the time.” — Ani Tenzin Palmo

Here’s a typical thought pattern when I feel very angry:

“Neuroplasticity refers to the malleable nature of the brain, and its constant, ongoing. Self-directed neuroplasticity means doing it with clarity and skillfulness and intention.” — Rick Hanson

In this article I’ll show you how to engage in self-directed neuroplasticity. At any point in life, we have an ability and (in my opinion) a responsibility to improve our mental habits. I’m going to give you some exercises for how to do just that, and some examples of the kinds of transformed thought patterns you can work towards.

Negative cognitive bias

“Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason — to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it.” — Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

Scientists believe that negative cognitive bias is a result of evolution. Our brains are inclined to identify as many potential problems and threats as possible in order to help us survive.

“[…] if you regularly rest your mind upon worries, self criticism, and anger, then your brain will gradually take that shape — will develop neural structures and dynamics of anxiety, low sense of worth, and prickly reactivity to others. On the other hand, if you regularly rest your mind upon, for example noticing you’re all right right now, seeing the good in yourself and letting go…then your brain will gradually take the shape of calm strength, self confidence, and inner peace.” — Rick Hanson

What separates happy and unhappy people is often the mental habits they cultivate on a daily basis.

Your Happiness Tools: Consciousness and Attention

3 steps for taking charge of your mental habits

Step 1: Become aware

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” — Mindful.org

The first step in developing beneficial mental habits is becoming aware of the thoughts that you’re already having. You can practice this awareness in two main ways: (1) meditation and (2) prompted awareness.

Step 2: Establish a healthy relationship with your thoughts

Thoughts are not reality— yet they can impact you in a very real way, depending on how you perceive them.

  • Do I toss and turn this thought in my head, or do I let it go?
  • Can I accept the thought in the shape it appears, or am I trying to change it?
  • Can I welcome other thoughts or am I closing myself away from them?
  • What feelings does this thought trigger in me?

Step 3: Accept and make a choice

After you have asked yourself the right questions and observed the answers long enough, you will notice something. This might feel like unlocking a new level of consciousness.

Habit: Living in the past or future instead the present

Situation: You are in the middle of a dentist treatment.

Habit: Judgment instead of kindness

Situation: You are given a summary of sales results at work, where your outcomes are listed alongside your colleagues’.

Habit: Hurrying vs. patience

Situation: After dinner you want to make yourself cozy on a sofa and read a book — but there are dishes to be washed first.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Marta Brzosko

Written by

Writer, meditator, seeker. Visit my blog at: https://selfawareness.blog/

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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