If you are like most people, you may find that you
spend a lot of time dwelling on what's not working instead of what is. Before
you decide you are destined to be a Debby or Donald Downer, you may want to try
these simple exercises designed to bring out your Inner Pollyanna.
As competitive equestrians, it's important to focus
on our 'areas of improvement' which is a nice way of saying the things we suck
at. But sometimes we can get to the point where all we are doing is noticing
what isn't right and what isn't working. When we focus on the negative more
than the positive, over time our confidence and motivation will decrease and so
will our performance. While the prognosis for positive thinking looks grim,
there are a few easy things you can do to turn it all around.
It's not me, It's you
Yeah, I get that George Costanza from the tv show Seinfeld said it the other
way around, but in the case of how our brain works, it isn't your fault, it is
your brain’s fault. Let me explain.
You Are Not Your Brain
Your mind is your conscious awareness and
attention, and the part of you that sets goals, determines the best course of
action and takes time to smell the roses. Your brain is an organ, just like
your heart, skin or lungs. Your mind gives directions to your brain and your
brain runs programs to get things done efficiently and unconsciously. That is
why you can drive home without thinking about how to drive, you
just need to know where you want to go, and the mechanics of inserting the key,
turning the steering wheel and using the pedals don't need your mind to get
involved. Just like your brain is wired for driving, it is also wired to
notice risks and threats. In other words, or brain has a built in negativity
bias, it sorts for what is wrong, not what is right.
Lions, Tigers and Bears,
Back in the caveman days, it didn't take an
executive retreat to craft a mission statement because the only thing that
mattered back then was to pass on your genetic goodness to the next generation.
In order to do that, you had to find food, reproduce and cooperate with your
tribe. Pretty simple stuff. Except for the fact that all of the other
inhabitants on the planet had the same three things on their to-do list. So
while the rewards of having a nice hand caught, home cooked meal with a possible
mate were motivating, the simple cave person's brain was always on the lookout
for danger. After all, if you missed a meal, you could always eat the next day.
But if you missed the hungry lion hiding in the bushes, there is no need for
food. Fast forward to 2012. Our modern day life is free from the eat or be
eaten rules, however, our brain is still on high alert looking for lions, and
to make sure we are aware of a threat, negative events produce more neural
activity easier and faster than positive events. According to one of the
leading Neuropsychologists Rick Hanson, Ph.D., “The brain is like Velcro for
negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. That's why researchers have
found that animals, including humans, generally learn faster from pain than
pleasure. To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that
routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats,
underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with
threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene
copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life”.
Good vs. Bad
For the next few days, become aware of the things
that you are paying attention to, and just for fun, keep a scorecard so you can
get a clear picture of how you operate. You feel threatened by your boss? That's
one for the Negative Team. Trainer pays you a compliment? Chalk one up for the
Positive Guys. After a few days of tracking, you will have a good idea of what
you pay attention to, and you will probably also have a good sense of the fact
that what you react to shapes your overall attitude about your life.
What Can You Do About It?
Now that you know what your tendencies are, the
real fun begins. The next time you find yourself having a meltdown because you
ticked the log in an otherwise perfect western riding pattern, it's time to
take a step back and have a meeting between your mind and your brain, and if
you were observing their meeting it might go something like this:
Mind:Wow! That was an awesome pattern! I got all of my lead changes and
I barely ticked the log. That is so much better than last time.
Brain: Hello? Really? You ticked the log!!! You ticked the log!!
Mind: Yeah, but, the rest was kinda OK, wasn't it”
Brain: You probably can't hear what I just said because you hit the log
so loudly you probably blew out your eardrum. What part of ticked the log,
don't you get?
Mind: Hey, I know that you are doing your job, and paying attention to
what goes wrong, but you don't really have to do that, it's just what you were
conditioned to do. I read an article on GoHorseShow and I have decided that
while I want to focus on what I can fix, I would also like to take a bit of
time and reflect on what is working. That way, I won't be stressed out all the
time because I will be aware of more happy, good and positive things. So when I
do something right, I am going to just let that soak in a bit, and take time to
acknowledge and appreciate my accomplishments. The article said that for every
negative thing that crosses my mind, I need to think of three positive things.
Then you, my little brainiac, will be able to grow new dendrites and you will
help me look for some good things too. What do you think about that?
Brain: Well, you did have some good changes, I
guess. Thanks for having this little chat with me. I do need repetition to get
this stuff burned in, so keep reminding me, OK?
Mind: OK, I will. Just to be clear, here is how it will work:
1) When something negative comes up, I will say,
“That is just my negativity bias. You will be happy because you got your
message through. Then we can just let that go.
2) I will think about two to three things that are
happening around me that are positive, and take about 30 seconds to let that
really soak in. Then I can take a deep breath and we can just let that go.
3) When I see random things during that day that I
really like, I will also take time to really experience them.
What Do You Think Of That?
Brain:You know, I kind of like being able to learn new things. This
could actually get me out of some of the ruts I've been in. I am really glad we
had this little chat.
Mind: Me too. I feel like some big changes are right around the corner.
And They Lived Happily Ever After!
If this information about Neuroscience has you a
bit curious, you may want to check out Rick Hansen's website.There are some great resources and simple things
that you can use to decrease stress and increase happiness in and out of the