Why It’s Hard to Think Positive and What to Do About It

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Did you know?

Did you know that humans have 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day and around 90% of these thoughts are the same as they had the previous day? It is because neurons that fire together wire together. When we think the same thoughts repeatedly, it becomes a habit, and as the connections get stronger, it becomes harder to think new thoughts. That is… when you are living your life on autopilot.

The key to interrupting old habits and changing old programing is to make unconscious patterns conscious and choose more deliberately what we want to think about. Simply put, we are all Pavlov’s dog, letting our subconscious run our lives 95% of the time, until we decide to reclaim control over our own minds.

Why am I telling you this? Because personal empowerment begins when you choose to stop repeating old programs out of habit and start living deliberately. Higher ed. leaders have highly demanding jobs but some experience more stress than others. The difference is rarely their circumstances but how they deal with and respond to their circumstances.

The 2 elements of stress

Stress is not created by outside circumstances but by the person experiencing it. Stress, just like frustration or anger, is how someone responds to events. Put in the same situation, different people react in different ways. Some will have a stress response and others won’t. How we react to events is an internal process and we can choose to change how we respond.  

1.     Thoughts

I covered this part in last week’s article (click here if you’d like to read it). In a nutshell, stress is created by our thoughts. If we worry about the future, have regrets about the past, try to control everything, or doubt our ability to succeed, we will create stress. Humans have the ability to create stress in their body by thought alone. A fearful thought, even when nothing is actually happening, can trigger a physiological fight or flight response.

2.     Body

The human body is not designed to be in fight or flight for extended periods of time. Having too much stress interferes with the body’s ability to stay healthy because energy needed for our digestive, endocrine, and immune systems is redirected to the muscles to be able to run away from a predator. Stress accelerates our heart rate and changes our body chemistry. You probably already knew that.

But do you know about brain waves? I have to admit, while I am not a scientist, I am fascinated by neuroscience. It explains why some of my clients can easily reduce their stress level by changing their thoughts, while others have such a hard time breaking old habits. During waking hours, we are primarily in Beta brain waves; low range Beta when we give relaxed attention to something, mid-range Beta when we are more focused, and high-range Beta when we’re so intensely focused on a problem that we’re stressed.

In high-range Beta, the person will experience anxiety, fear, worry, frustration, impatience and other unpleasant emotions. When we are in high-range Beta, we are cut off from our ability to be positive, think rationally, have empathy, and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

Thinking positively or showing kindness is extremely difficult for anyone whose body is tense, flooded by cortisol and adrenaline, whose breathing is shallow, and whose brain waves are in high Beta. That’s why they can’t just change their thoughts and be calm and happy again. Their bodies won’t let them. It’s not that they lack willpower but that they lost their free will.

What will you choose for yourself?

I don’t know about you but for me, the idea of losing my free will because my body is so conditioned that I exhibit stimulus-responses without conscious choice is simply not acceptable. My mind and my body are mine. I have to take full responsibility for what happens within myself. Would you agree?

Many higher ed. administrators are overly focused on controlling what happens externally and spend very little time, if any, learning how to regain control over their own minds and bodies. It takes humility and a strong desire to feel better to agree to put the ego aside and choose to become a more empowered person and leader. But trust me, it’s worth the effort!

Relax your body

It’s not realistic to expect yourself to be better and do better when you are in high-range Beta brain waves. It would be like trying to smell the roses when you’re driving 100 miles an hour on the freeway. It can’t happen. You have to slow down.

During work hours: You want to be in low-range Beta as often as you can throughout the day. There are countless ways to change your brain waves such as breathing exercises, physical activity, or mindfulness practices. When you are in the office, you want to give relaxed attention to your work and be productive. You don’t need a yoga mat and an hour-long break to go into low-Beta. A few deep breaths or bringing your attention to your body and its sensations will suffice.

When you’re off the clock: If you are committed to reclaiming control over your thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions, you must develop new habits and daily practices. Begin by developing a daily meditation practice. With your eyes closed, your nervous system won’t be overly stimulated by sensory data. As you clear your head or listen to a guided meditation, you will become more present, and less analytical, which will move you to Alpha brain waves.

It is a delightful gift to your body. Your body needs a break. Your endocrine system needs a break. Your mind needs a break too.

The more you practice, the easier it will get. Eventually, you can enter meditative states so deep that your brain is in Theta, which is the best time to reprogram your brain, access the subconscious, and make lasting changes. But don’t worry about this for now. Your first goal is so spend less time in high-range Beta and more in low-range Beta.

If you want to learn more, I strongly recommend you read Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book “Breaking the Habits of Being Yourself”. It will change your life!

If you’d like to work with me to reduce your stress and reclaim your personal power over your own mind, click here to schedule a complimentary call.

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.