Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have a problem with being negative all the time. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s just the way I seem to be. Compared to my wife, I notice I always seem to put a negative, cynical spin on things. I’d like to be more positive, but I can’t. When I try to be positive it feels like I’m just pretending, or denying the truth. It bothers my wife that I’m always so negative – but how can I be different if this is the only thing that feels true to me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I can see your predicament. You are perplexed about how you can be genuine and true to yourself and be positive at the same time. What you need to learn is how to have a positive take on life and have this feel genuine and true. Do you believe that those who have a positive approach to life are just duping themselves? Could it be that life could be viewed either positively or negatively, and both would be true in the eye of the perceiver?
There is an immense advantage for those who have learned to view things from a positive perspective. They tend to be healthier (both physically and emotionally), their experience of life is more satisfying and enjoyable, and their relationships tend to be richer, much more rewarding. Given this, which approach would you consciously choose?
Research using the MRI is illuminating how our experiences shape neurological development (see J. LeDoux, “The Synaptic Brain,” 2002). This research shows that the brain can be re-wired as a result of changes in our thinking and in our experiencing.
I’d suggest that you practice providing for yourself an experience of the world as positive and trustworthy. To do this, recall a time (even if it was just for a moment) when you felt positive – the way you would like to experience the world on a regular basis. Step into this memory and make sure you are actually in the experience (i.e., in the movie, not watching it from the outside).
Notice what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, and sensing. Play with this memory to make it just the way you like it. Turn up the sounds. Make the picture larger and brighter. Make the colors more intense. Notice also how you feel in your body when you are positive.
Practice this experience frequently (several times a day for 3 or 4 weeks) until it feels like a normal, familiar way to view the world. In so doing, you are stimulating your brain to respond to, assimilate and affirm this experience as real and genuine. This exercise can be used to consciously create and practice any cognitive-emotional-physiological experience that you would like to enhance. Try it and see!
Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog GrowingThroughParenting.com
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2018 Chaitanya Counseling Services