One of the most common issues I deal with as a therapist is helping people change their negative thinking. As humans, we are wired to negative input more easily than positive. This most likely evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm’s way. From the beginning of human history, our survival depended on our ability to avoid danger. The brain developed systems that would make it notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it. Having the built-in brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that the same bad-news sensitivity also is at work in every other aspect of our lives too. We no longer have the need to be hyper-vigilant, but many of us still are and therefore we notice the negative and discount the positive.
One day a friend brought a large, beautiful, decorative glass jar filled with rocks to my office. She explained to me that she had started to collect these rocks on the beach at St. Michael’s. One day she picked up a rock and noticed that it was shaped like a heart. She decided to start “looking for the hearts” on the beach. It surprised her how many heart rocks she started to find. When she was intentionally looking for the hearts, she started to find them everywhere. In the past, she had never noticed the rocks that were shaped like hearts. She just saw rocks because she wasn’t trying to find the hearts.
I realized that this was a way that I could explain how our thinking and what we focus on is what we will find. If we are expecting negative and on the alert for it, that is most likely what we will find. If we want to find the positive, we must look for it in our every day lives. The more we try to notice and look for the positive, the more it will appear. Trying to change our negative thinking bias is much like building a muscle. We have to keep working at it for it to get stronger. Over time, it does grow stronger and the positive thinking bias is stronger than the negative.
I encourage all of you to start looking for the hearts. I bet you will find a lot more than you ever knew existed.