Life’s complicated. Each of us is a complex being whose day-to-day life depends on an endless list of factors that make us different from each other and make our experiences unique: from family dynamics and job prospects to physical and mental health, relationship status, self-esteem, and the list goes on.
When times are good, we may have managed to strike a healthy balance among the aspects of our lives that we hold most important, but even the luckiest among us experience their share of sadnesses and difficulties; it’s unavoidable! It’s life.
Much like the tides that are in a constant state of flux, the paths our lives take present us with regular highs and lows. Life couldn’t be any sweeter than when we’re on an upswing. Unfortunately, every so often, a cog in the intricate mechanism of life falls out of balance.
When we hit an unexpected bump in the road, it interferes with the other aspects of life: our professional or personal lives might suffer after a breakup, for example. It can be hard to focus on productivity or even get out of bed, in such cases. While we can’t control every disappointment or their (often very bad) timing, there is something we can control to get us through a rough slump: the way our brains react to and process bad news.
Contrary to what was once thought, scientific research concludes that the brain, even in adulthood, has the ability to constantly rework its structure and adapt to major life occurrences by a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
Based on our daily interaction with our thoughts and environment, our brains can create new pathways, and those can have either a negative or positive impact on our brain function.
When something bad happens to us, it’s actually easier for those strong, negative thoughts to carve out a pattern in our brains. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety or depression, you know just how easy it can be to get caught in a loop of negative thinking. While it’s more difficult to create positive thought habits, there are many things in our control that we can do to foster positive plasticity for a healthier, more optimistic outlook on life.
Mindfulness is simply living deliberately in the present moment.
For starters, exercise and healthy eating habits encourage neurons (brain cells that send each other signals) to grow and create brand-new connections. So, if you’re feeling particularly low, physical activity and fresh meals are key to getting back on top. If your thoughts sound like a broken record of sad songs, it’s going to take a concerted effort to turn that record off and replace it with something more upbeat.
Luckily, there are many mental exercises specifically designed to aid encouraging positive changes in your brain activity. According to the Positive Psychology Program, “As we practice gratitude, optimism and self-compassion, the neurons in our brain form more connections and the area of the brain grows and becomes stronger.” In other words, thinking happy thoughts can actually manifest happiness in our hearts and minds.
Furthermore, if we strive for mindfulness in our everyday lives, we become more likely to make a habit out of having a more positive outlook on life. Mindfulness is simply living deliberately in the present moment and can be achieved in various ways, however, the goal is always to get out of your head—which is likely stuck worrying about past experiences or future uncertainties.
When we live mindfully, we accept our thoughts and feelings without judging them, instead of being enslaved to our fears, worries and sadnesses.
In the end, thoughts are not unwavering truths, rather they change day-to-day, minute-to-minute.
Who’s to say that tomorrow or a year from now, you won’t feel or think the exact opposite of what you’re experiencing in this very moment? There are many ways to achieve mindfulness: from yoga routines to meditation practices and other thought-based exercises explored through psychology (check out this link to thought-based exercises).
The sooner we realize that we are the writers of our own lives (and brains!), the sooner we can enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from manifesting a sense of peace within that, let’s face it, we all deserve.