Do you have negative thoughts – about your tinnitus, about your life as it used to be, or about the future?
It’s not surprising. In fact, it’s perfectly natural. But perhaps not in the way you think…
Scientific studies show that all humans are hardwired with a ‘negativity bias’. This means our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news and a tendency to embed negative experiences more strongly than positive ones. As Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, puts it: “The brain is like velcro for negative experiences but teflon for positive ones.”
While once necessary for our survival, this evolutionary trait now causes 21st Century humans a lot of suffering. The good news is we can break this bias. Studies show that mindfulness can help to rewire the brain and increase our capacity for happiness and wellbeing. Here’s how:
Mindfulness spots negative thinking
In mindfulness we pay attention to the present moment and observe any thoughts and feelings that arise. As we practise we become more skilful at noticing when our minds are caught up in negative and discouraging patterns of thought. We then have a choice – to carry on thinking that way and be dragged down into a negative cycle of “what-if” and “why-me”. Or to choose to shift to a more positive and self-compassionate mode of thinking.
Mindfulness helps us focus on the good stuff
One of the exercises everyone in my mindfulness courses practises is finding ‘simple pleasures’. Happiness doesn’t just have to come from the big “wow” moments. It can come from a myriad of small, treasures, things that we’re often too busy or too unhappy to notice. The ‘simple pleasures’ practice encourages us to actively look for the good stuff. Even when tinnitus is raging and we’re feeling pretty down about it, we can still appreciate the taste of chocolate, the feel of a cosy blanket around us or the smell of a favourite flower. These simple pleasures soon add up to a more positive experience of life.
Mindfulness promotes gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful antidote to negative thinking. Cultivating an awareness and appreciation of the things that are going well and developing a daily gratitude practice shows us that there are positives as well as negatives in our life. It also reinforces positive connections in the brain that increase our capacity for happiness.
Mindfulness rewires the brain
Our brain changes constantly throughout life and rewires itself in response to our feelings, thoughts and experiences. This is known as ‘neuroplasticity’. Research has shown that every time we use a particular pathway of thinking – either positive or negative – it increases the likelihood that we will do it again. If we keep thinking negatively that pathway becomes a lane, then a furrow, then a ditch that can feel impossible to climb out of. The good news is that, no matter how deep that trench becomes, mindfulness can chart new, more nurturing pathways in its place. And the more we practice mindfulness the deeper these positive pathways become.