The other day I was speaking to my son about practicing positivity. There was a lot to unfold and explain in this conversation.
When we were well into our chat, he said, “Mom, I think you should write about this on your blog. It’s interesting and could help a lot of people.”
So, to begin. What is “practicing positivity”? Is it as simple as telling yourself, “think positive right now”?
Think Positive Now
No. Not at all. Commanding oneself to think positive is about as useful as telling oneself to run a six minute mile. Right now.
I once spent time with a person who would raise her voice and hiss, “relax!” when a situation became tense.
Did it help? Not even a little.
We all know someone like that. They mean well, and have the best of intentions, but on a simple level, do not understand their impact on others.
Understanding the Nervous System
On a more complex level, they do not have a remote understanding of the chemistry of the nervous system.
Flexing a Muscle
Good things like positive thinking and relaxation don’t happen in an instant or with a thought. They take time. And great practice.
Training the nervous system is like flexing a muscle.
I first came upon the concept that we could change our thoughts for the better in 1989 when I read Creative Visualization.
It helped me understand that we have the potential to shape our own reality.
I was thrilled to become a student of this philosophy at the tender age of twenty-two, and it would change the course of my life.
Working with Mental Imagery
I deepened my understanding and practice of the power of positive thinking during my three-year yoga teacher’s training.
I continued along this path when I trained with Maria Gomori and her colleagues up in Canada for several years.
Find Your Happy Place
One main theme in all of my training was finding a place of inner peace, which is just a fancy way of saying, find your happy place.
Your happy place may be a thought, visual image, smell (cookies baking in the oven is a big one for me).
There are no rules. Other than –it makes you HAPPY.
The Placebo Effect
When I was speaking with my son about practicing positivity our conversation veered into a discussion of the placebo effect.
What is the Placebo Effect?
The placebo effect is a beneficial impact produced by a drug, or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the drug or treatment itself.
Placebo Effect Defined
Basically, the placebo effect is a fancy way of stating that your unconscious or subconscious is involved in every treatment you receive.
What does this have to do with practicing positivity? We’ll get there!
Power of the Placebo
Your medical and alternative practitioners are powerful too. A good one can help you unlock the placebo effect inside your mind-body.
Anything or anyone involved in doing something “to” or “with” your body has power over you.
I always make sure such people are using that power for the good –to help me heal myself.
Placebo Effect Psychology
When you find the right people, they know they have this power and use it for the good to heal you.
What this means is that they help you recruit your subconscious for the benefit of your body and being.
It is actually quite simple.
Activating the Placebo Effect
If you believe in these people in “positions of authority,” you are in fact activating your placebo effect.
If you don’t, well that doesn’t mean you can’t get the placebo effect, but it is much more challenging to do so.
The Placebo Effect Means…
So, the placebo effect means something magical.
Along those lines, I told my son that the placebo effect is thirty-three percent of every medical treatment.
In clinical trials, patients who receive a placebo pill often do better than those who receive no treatment at all.
According to Dr. Jon Tilburt:
“Twenty to thirty percent of the benefit seen in rheumatism drug studies are due to the placebo effect.” 1
Framing Your Mental View to Shape Your Thoughts
Another part of recruiting your subconscious for an optimal placebo effect involves shaping how you look at things.
I call this “framing your view.”
In his phenomenal book Chatter, Ethan Kross calls it zooming out.
Another fantastic book on this subject is Your Body Believes Every Word You Say.
The premise here is that our brains listen to our words and thoughts closely.
Essentially, how we speak to ourselves, and how we speak about ourselves is important in framing our outlook, and in taking responsibility to activate our own placebo effect.
We do this through positive thinking.
Moving Toward and Moving Away
It is also critical to frame choices in a way that is empowering.
This is not simply new-age gibberish.
This is the difference between moving towards and moving away.
Motivation: Fear vs Desire
Framing a decision can make all the difference between acting on our desire vs acting on fear.
The action is the same. The framework is different.
Is Desire Better than Fear?
I am not stating that desire is better than fear. Neither of these biological states is superior to the other.
Fear is part of who we are, just as desire is. We are built for both.
The Wear and Tear of Fear
We are meant to use fear, and fight or flight, in little bursts, to sprint from the saber tooth tiger to safety.
Fight or Flight
However, our bodies are not built to exist in a constant state of fight or flight, or to bathe in the stress hormones and neuro-chemicals that go along with it.
Cortisol and Adrenaline
Cortisol and adrenaline are the hormones of fight or flight.
They can help to save our lives by heightening our senses –this gives us the awareness needed to get out of dangerous situations.
But living in a constant state of threat is unhealthy. It wears us down, and can result in negative epigenetic expression, and ultimately, autoimmune disease.
It’s Okay to be Anxious
But remember, it’s ok to feel Anxious from time to time during stressful moments. In fact, it’s very normal.
These tools for practicing positivity are meant to help you during these moments.
Study vs Practice
As I mentioned above, I’ve spent decades studying how to be happy, but I rarely practiced it until I read Wired for Healing by Annie Hopper back in 2014.
Wired for Healing
This book is a treasure that brought together everything I had studied for over three decades.
My yoga teacher’s training, my therapy facilitation training, as well as all of the reading on the subject of mind-body balance.
The only way to change is through practice.
And so, here were are. Practicing positivity.
Training Like an Athlete
As a college athlete I know that training for performance requires commitment and a lot of time.
Positive thinking is like a sport, in that to see any real change in brain function, it must be practiced daily.
A coach of mine once said it takes six months to get into shape, and two weeks to get out of shape. Do not ever stop your training.
And so it is. This is the case with changing your brain.
The Marathon of Life
How do we practice positivity for the marathon that is life?
To start, I told my son, set aside time to think of something you really like for ten minutes straight every single day.
It could be snuggling with our cat (she is incredibly cuddly and comforting). It could be walking on the beach. A favorite sunset.
Thinking the Happy Thoughts
One of my favorite memories is walking on the beach at night with Mr. Pantry and our two boys under a super moon.
I visualize the beach in detail through each and every one of my five senses.
The beach is brightly lit by the moon, the water glowing, the white surf almost neon. The smell of the saltwater fills my nostrils, so strong I can almost taste it.
The cool ocean breeze brushes my skin. The warm voices of my family float on the backdrop of the crashing waves.
This is a happy memory I relive, and a happy place I revisit, over and over again.
My Memory Jukebox
I store my happy memories in something I call my “Memory Jukebox.”
I coined the term “memory jukebox” to indicate that there is a place in my brain I can go to at any time to visit my happy place. This is a loop to play on repeat.
Here are some of the greatest hits in my Memory Jukebox:
- Family Time (husband and boys)
- Kitty Cuddles
- Visits to Nancy’s Farm
- Walking on the Beach
Practice Does Make Perfect
Thanks to Annie Hopper I now have more than knowledge, I have a practice for happiness.
It is as simple as that.
How to Practice Positivity
Here are my shortcut tips for practicing positivity:
- Choose a positive experience
- Go to a quiet place where you are not interrupted
- Visualize the happy experience for ten minutes
- Use imagination to engage your senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, smell
You Can Have All the Happy Things
It’s true, you can be largely in a state of happiness a lot of the time.
We Are Not Weaponizing Positivity
But look out! This is not about telling people to “relax!” or be “happy” when they’re not. I write about that extensively in Happiness and the Self Help Industrial Complex.
We simply practice so we have the choice to experience the happiness that is already available to us.
We Are Practicing Happiness
That’s why we practice happiness. To make it an option, something we are able to see when it’s right in front of our nose.
What makes you happy? What’s your favorite happy place or memory? Leave a comment and let me know!