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Is There Power in Positivity?

Updated: Jan 19

"Doctors have found that people with high levels of negativity are more likely to suffer from degenerative brain diseases, cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, and recover from sickness much slower than those with a positive mindset," says Bree from Marque Medical in Newport Beach, CA.

Excuse me, whaaaat?!

Does that mean we can never have negative thoughts/emotions?

Negative Emotions

Here are a few examples of negative emotions: frustration, anger, stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. Those emotions live in the Survive portion of our brain. More specifically, in the brainstem, limbic system, and parts of the left brain. Sometimes, we can feel those emotions immediately, and sometimes it takes a bit to recognize a state of negativity. For example, you have a deadline fast approaching. You wake up in the morning ready to eat the frog and tackle that necessary action item when suddenly, you get a phone call from the vet; you have to find new food because your fur baby is suddenly allergic to a food he's been eating for two years. You make your way to Chuck & Don's to buy every food possible (takes forever) -- you stop to grab lunch (why such a line today?!) -- you have to swing by the pharmacy (they are on lunch) -- and your deadline is fast approaching (gahhhh).

The whole morning, you were in a state of angst, a negative emotion.

The longer we hang out here, the stronger the negative neural pathway becomes.

Let's take a look at that scenario from another angle. You wake up in the morning ready to eat the frog, and you get that call from the vet. It irritates you -- you recognize the irritation -- you bring yourself back to calm. You still have to run to grab new food for the little monster, but you made a plan with the vet and have recommendations ready. You buzz in to grab the food, swing by a lunch spot you ordered from ahead of time (skip the line!), and while you wait for your Rx, you brainstorm how you'll handle that task right when you get home.

In that morning scenario, you were in negative emotions for a fraction of the time. You were calm, came up with a plan, and acted on it with ease and flow.

Positive Emotions

The second example came from the Thrive portion of your brain, the middle prefrontal cortex, and parts of your right brain. I love this quote from the Mayo Clinic.

Positive thinking doesn't mean that you ignore life's less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

In that same article, they outline some of the impacts of positive thinking:

  • Increased life span

  • Lower rates of depression

  • Lower levels of distress and pain

  • Greater resistance to illnesses

Sounds delightful. But the realist would ask... is it too good to be true?!

Toxic Positivity

According to Psychology Today, toxic positivity is the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences. This may take the form of denying your own emotions or someone else denying your emotions, insisting on positive thinking instead.

So can we have negative emotions?

Yes. 100% yes. We won't ever get rid of negative emotions. Life is full of moments that aren't perfect. That's a fact (I think).

The point here is that recognition and awareness can lead us to use our Thrive brain more often than our Survive brain.

Shirzad Chamine, the author of Positive Intelligence*, uses this analogy. If we put our hand on the hot stove, how much time do we need to realize it's burning us? We recognize the burning sensation (our alert) and then yank our hand away. Who needs to contemplate how it possibly got so hot?!

It used to take me a long time to recognize the negativity spiral in myself. It would start with a minor irritation, then the next, and the next. Before you know it, I'm catastrophizing the rest of my day. That Zoom meeting is going to be so annoying. I won't get as much time outside as I hoped. When I'm ready to start my loads, the laundry facilities will probably be in use. And on and on. I was annoying myself with how quickly I could go from "This is going to be the best day of my life" to "Everything is awful."

Now, I think about the hot stove. Sometimes, it still takes me a while to shake the negativity spiral, and sometimes, it's a quick turnaround. However, I'm certain that I'm creating new neural pathways, and slipping into negativity is becoming less automatic.

Agree? Disagree? If you're on Instagram, send a DM and let me know!

Here's to you,

Melissa Mittelstaedt

Money Coach | Accredited Financial Counselor®

*an affiliate link


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