How to Train Your Brain for Positive Thinking
People ask me, “How do I reprogram my mind?” Why? Did somebody ninjutsu your brain and hypnotize you into thinking something horrible?
Here’s the thing. Most people don’t need to reprogram anything; they just need to program for the first time.
There are all these patterns of instances and circumstances that have all coalesced into these automatic thoughts and behaviors that people aren’t necessarily being responsible for. They come up automatically and they happen. It’s not as if someone said, “I want you to think this.” No one ever sat them down and wooed them into it.
What they’re really struggling to do is master their mind in a more capable way.
- I need to get a hold of my mind because sometimes I just have constant negative recurring thoughts that come up. I can’t get rid of them.
- Sometimes I get obsessed about this one bad thing that happened to me.
- Sometimes I can’t even control my attention.
Let’s talk about how your thoughts are generated. I’m going to give you one simple framework to think through and then some tips, tools and strategies that you can immediately input into your life to better manage your mind.
First of all, if you’re having negative recurring thoughts and feelings, those are “easy,” and here’s what I mean by that.
Psychologists say we have two systems of thought: System 1 theory, which is your automatic, unconscious immediate thoughts and impulses that come from your body. Usually your brain is saying, Hey dude, we’ve thought through this before, or Hey dude, we’re trying to protect you. It’s running at a baseline easy energetic level.
Your brain loves to optimize itself. It doesn’t like to have to do a lot of thinking. It just likes to say, What do we already know? How can we apply it to this situation?
If you had fears in the past and a similar situation is here, your body generates those fears and says, Hey man, run away again. If you had challenges in the past and you want to protect yourself, your brain just says, Hey, protect yourself right now—we’re worried about this.
But sometimes those are not helpful thoughts. They’re automatic, but they aren’t actually helpful; it’s just your brain saying, This is the easiest route we know.
Part of becoming a more mature, conscious, enlightened person is to take better control of our System 2, which is the conscious dashboard in our mind. It’s our ability to more directly work, control, generate and create our own thoughts and behaviors in the moment, not relying too much on just the things that come up for us.
Of course, most of our lives are very System 1 driven, unconscious, automatic; we’re just going through the emotions.
But the people who achieve the peak amounts of success, the highest performers in the world, say differently. They say, You know what, I need to discipline my mind to support me even when it comes up with automatic immediate thoughts. I want those to be
positive, buoyant, confident and strong, something that leads me to healthy decisions for my life, not just things that protect me.
We have to learn how to do that. One of the simplest ways to do that is this framework to understand how thoughts develop into strong and automatic thoughts. I call the framework “RWID,” which stands for relative weight of importance and duration.
People who often have negative recurring thoughts and feelings in their life, the reason those keep coming up is because at some point in their lives (or continually), they are giving those thoughts, the negative ones, more attention than any other thoughts.
That simple repetition causes the negative thought to keep coming up over and over.
In other words, the relative weight they give those thoughts is high. They keep thinking about those thoughts, and it’s all that repetition that seals it in the back of their head. Now their head says, This is an easy thing, I know this one, and it pulls the thought forward. So that simple repetition causes the negative thought to keep coming up over and over.
There’s a negative and a positive aspect to that. The negative is, if you keep obsessing about negative things, your mind will be automatically conditioned to bring it up without your control—automatically. The positive aspect is that we can use that same skillset and same rule to apply positive thoughts into our own life.
We can give positive thinking, positive questions, positive approaches a lot of importance in our life. Focus on them and give a lot of duration to them over a period of time, and they get sealed in the brain as well. Now the brain says, That’s easy, and automatically thinks about positive things.
I’ve done this so much in my life that I automatically think about the best possible outcomes in almost everything I do. I used to think about the negative outcomes, but I thought that wasn’t supporting me. Leveraging RWID helped. I’ll break it down for you.
The first thing you have to do in order to improve your mind is to take total control of your attention and notice where your thoughts are right now. On a continual basis you have to think:
- Where are my thoughts right now?
- Are they supporting me or are they automatically coming up negative and self-protective in ways that are not advancing my life?
Be aware, be conscious of what’s going on in your body, in your sense of feeling and emotion, and have a sense of the thoughts you’re actually having. Just start paying attention.
Start paying attention to your thoughts any time you’re in line from now on. If you’re in line at Starbucks, just say, What are my thoughts saying right now? Check in. If you’re in line in traffic waiting for the next car, just sit and think, What are my thoughts right now? Notice what you’ve been thinking about. The more we notice what we’ve been thinking about, the more we can interrupt what we’ve been thinking about.
If it’s negative and it’s not supporting you, redirect it.
If we just allow that feeling to keep coming up and we don’t pay attention to it, our life can be frazzled and highly anxious. But once we say, What’s my mind on right now? and we redirect it, that’s where personal power comes from. First awareness, an understanding and the consciousness to what’s going on, but then the ability now to be self-directed to choose what we want to focus on.
If it’s negative and it’s not supporting you, redirect it. How do you redirect it? Say, What would be the opposite of this negative thing?Think about the positive thing. Focus on that and repeat it to yourself. For many people, that might include closing their eyes and visualizing a more positive outcome. Or even just thinking, What are the next steps I should take?
Visualize that positive thing and assign a high amount of importance and duration to it. Make that thing important to you by giving it a sensation.
- You feel that thing.
- You sense it.
- You sense what your next step would be.
- You sense how it would feel if the outcome would be better.
- How would it feel emotionally, psychologically, spiritually for that thing?
Allow it to have a lot of emotion. Pay attention to it with your eyes closed. You see that thing, you feel it and sense a different step, you know what you’re going to do, you pay attention to it and you keep focusing on that over a period of minutes.
When your mind automatically wants to go back to the easy, which might be negative, you think, No, no, I’m not into easy right now—I’m into conditioning my mind.
Focus, give attention, duration and sensation to positive thinking. Attention, duration, sensation. Attention, duration, sensation.
By repeating a positive alternative to a negative impulse, we give ourselves personal power.
You can either give a negative thought more time, energy and focus, or you can just stop it and force your brain—creatively force and direct it—to a different possible alternative. Force it. I’m sensing this negative thing coming up for me. I’m sensing it. Stop! OK, get to work, brain! What positive thing could I create and focus on? Close your eyes and think about it, focus on it and build it out. Make it a labyrinth in your mind so you can visualize and see the positive thing, feel it and focus on it. Later in the evening, focus on it again. You start building in that capacity.
If this all sounds way too philosophical and you’re like, How do I make it happen? Here’s a very simple thing you can do to reprogram your mind. Create a sheet of two simple things.
First, write down five positive questions that you’re going to ask yourself three or four times a day. Every day you’re going to read these questions to yourself and answer them. They can be questions like…
- What can I feel incredibly grateful for right now?
- How could I surprise somebody right now?
- How could I have fun right now?
- How could I demonstrate love or excellence right now?
Do this for 30 days and you will recognize a total shift in your life.
They’re simple questions, but you’re giving them weight by focusing on them three times during the day. You have duration by focusing on them over 30 days. Your mind starts to re-shift its gears to give automatic ease to answering those questions and living in that mindset versus an undirected, unconscious mindset.
Second, come up with three words that describe your ideal self. Mine are “present, excited and bold.” Focus on those questions three times a day as well. Put them on your phone where they come up as an alarm three different times during the day. My phone buzzes and those words are there. I might be in a bad mood and completely detached. And then I look and I’m like, Dude! No! I’m an excited person. Break that thought and get back into this. I’ve got this. This is who I am.
That might sound so simple, but people won’t do the discipline. They are so frustrated with their mind because they haven’t done the conscious discipline to program it.
Our unconscious and conscious mind are incredibly programmed not just by thought, but it’s also incredibly conditioned by action and behavior. You’ve heard the saying, “Fake it till you make it.” I don’t love that, I’d rather just say, “Be authentic over and over again.”
If you take action on a consistent basis, it teaches your mind to do that. So do things that are positive for you. Take bolder actions. Teach yourself, I’m just going to be confident for no other reason.
The more you take action, the more your brain is automatically conditioned to understand that’s what we do.
I want you to really think about this. The more you take action, the more your brain is automatically conditioned to understand that’s what we do. You can actually condition your mind without doing any thought other than just behaving in a more positive manner… and suddenly you find yourself thinking more positively.
I know it sounds duplicitous but I want you to really think about that: Your actions condition your mind as much as your recurring thoughts condition your mind. So be a person of good positive thinking. Be a person of good positive action. And suddenly, one day you’ll wake up and be like, I feel amazing, extraordinary, positive.