The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 141: Creating a Positive Mental Attitude

Political divisiveness often gives rise to a tirade of reasons on social media why the other side is wrong.
With the rise of right wing extremism throughout Europe and the USA there seems to be a lot of people wanting Brexit to fail and Donald Trump to fail as President simply to prove themselves right.
But it’s worth looking at these things with a more positive stance. Whether you think these are good ideas or not we should still want things to work out well.
Deliberately wanting things to fail just so you can be proved right is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. A phrase with a nasty origin that goes back to the year 870 when St. Aebbe the Younger, the Mother Superior of a Scottish monastery, talked her fellow Nuns into disfiguring their faces order to render themselves unattractive to the incoming Viking invaders, so as to protect their chastity.
It worked, the Viking pirates saw the noseless Nuns and were so disgusted by their faces they turned their backs on them. But the Nuns never got much of a chance to high five as the Viking Pirates burnt their Monastery to the ground with them still inside to teach them a lesson. Hey ho.
But 9th Century Catholic Martyrs aside, we should all pull together in some way to make things work for the best. But that does mean we need to be as optimistic and positive as possible.

To do that, I think it’s important to look at what we mean by “Positive Thinking”. Because, complicated as the brain is, it can also be a bit basic at times. Which means that you have to use internal language carefully.
There’s a big difference between “Don’t Panic” and “Keep Calm”, you might think that you’d lead yourself in the same direction but you don’t.
The brain can’t not think about the thing you’re trying to avoid, without thinking about it. To try and think about something that isn’t the colour green means your brain has to think about something that IS green first in order to know what isn’t green so as to then maybe think about something that’s red.
Now, this is a very fast process of the brain but it’s a process none the less and does mean that to tell a child NOT to touch something is almost a waste of time, whereas to tell them to keep away from it gets the result you want more often.
Never bother telling a toddler to stop doing something, you need to tell them what to do instead, and the same works for our internal dialogue.
If you drive a car you hopefully don’t have the internal dialogue of “Don’t crash into the car in front”.
Also, bear in mind that the brain does not know the difference between reality and imagination. Thinking about something uses the same neurons in the brain as doing it for real, so if there’s something that you DON’T want to see happen, you need to deliberately think about something completely different.
Use this thought stopping technique, and train your brain. Anything that you repeat will get easier, you get more neurons to do the job, that’s how skills are developed.
Even thinking positively will become a skill. Meditation or Hypnosis will definitely help with that and if you haven’t already subscribe to my newsletter and you’ll get a link to some free hypnosis tracks to chill out with.

Having a nice cosy chill out and improving positivity can also help with something else, because one of the things we know about feeling positive and optimistic is that it’s also related to trust. And negativity and pessimism is related to mistrust.
This may explain the rather odd research findings that showed that despite the fact that we normally find it quite hard to recognise the faces of people from a different ethnic background, when people are under the influence of positive emotions, that effect disappears completely and we’re just as good at recognising faces from any race at all.
As if the things that tend to divide us disappears and we are more likely to see people as an “Us” rather than seeing people as “Me and you”.
It is built into us to try and feel connected with people but our instincts kick in and try and force us to only feel connected with those who are part of our own culture. Experiments have shown that, as a football fan, you’re more likely to help someone who you know is also a football fan and are way more likely to help if you know that they support the same team as you.
So it’s no surprise that we’d feel less of a connection with someone who we instinctively think of as an outsider.

But we can do something about this. You may have already heard of the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, it helps bond mothers with babies as it gets produced when breastfeeding, and even just cuddling.

The same with adults, sexual partners particularly, but even just hugging someone will produce oxytocin and when our oxytocin levels increase we feel empathy, connection, trust, respect.
Oxytocin makes you happier and more positive. and according to research the best number of hugs per day is 8.
That’s a lot of hugs but if you wouldn’t normally give anyone a hug at all then even 1 hug is better than what you’re doing at the minute.
Massage will have a similar effect, even petting your dog.
Oxytocin can also be produced when just simply interacting with someone, chatting, listening, sharing thoughts, sitting down with your family and having a meal rather than watching the TV.
Even Facebook is connecting as well, but it’s not quite the same, although it will still boost oxytocin, because your brain is still feeling that interaction, but it needs to be with someone that you actually care about. watching some random old school friends holiday video isn’t going to have the same effect as looking at pictures of your best friend or close family.

So, feeling positive isn’t just about positive thinking, it’s also about positive doing. And when it comes to feeling optimistic and positive you can’t beat a hug especially as it also improves the immune system and reduces cardiovascular stress as well.