What are the secrets for a successful life?
We all have heard about the power of positive thinking. And from experience, we all know it’s easier said than done. The reason it’s not easy is because our survival mechanism gives us a propensity for negative thinking that many experts say comprises about 80% of the average person’s thoughts.
That means if we’re not lucky enough to have learned to think positive thoughts on purpose and in a way that really works, 80% of our time will be spent thinking negatively.
The human propensity for negative thinking is so strong that it supports an annual $10+ Billion dollar self-help industry in the US alone. It includes costly and time-consuming coaching, workshops, rehabilitation, and a ton of self-help products and courses. All this is designed to help people develop and maintain a habit of positive thinking in a variety of subjects to achieve a goal that they believe will give them new and better outcomes. But if we don’t understand how something works–like electricity–and if we haven’t yet experienced it working–unlike electricity–we are hard-pressed to believe it works at all.
The conundrum, or issue with being able to apply positive thinking is threefold:
1) We don’t get positive experiences unless we think positively;
2) we can’t productively think positively unless we believe it works; and
3) we can’t believe it works without consciously understanding how it works.
The key to being able to think positively and thereby create positive life outcomes begins with consciously understanding how positive thinking works.
Once I understood the conundrum, and then learned how positive thinking affects the brain–which makes it all worthwhile–positive thinking finally had real meaning for me. That’s when I believed my positive affirmations could work, and so they finally did! Not until then did Dr. Wayne Dyer’s saying (and book with the title), “Believe it and you’ll see it,” have meaning for me, which finally led to experiences–like electricity–that proved it does work. Let’s explore the underlying mechanics and principles of the brain so we can gain clarity about both how and why positive thinking works, so you can “believe it before you see it,” and finally use it effectively.
Changing the default brain to the intentional brain
We humans have carried with us from ancient times a part of our brain called the amygdala. It is responsible for our survival mechanism of fight-or-flight. When we have a problem, our amygdala’s warning signals are triggered and we respond or react. Most of the time our response is to worry and fret, or we even become fearful and have an anxiety attack.
Worry, which is a form of fear, triggers our fight-or-flight mechanism, which shuts down the brain (to at least some degree, depending on the depth of our fear) because our energy (our blood) concentrates in our extremities. This happens so we can muster our best ability to punch, kick, bite or run. This was useful when we had the sabre-toothed tiger to be concerned about. But in today’s world, we rarely need to react to the degree we do. Because of this response mechanism we often over-react with a burst of inappropriate emotion.
Even when we have little problems, the negative thinking in which we engage, at an average person’s base rate of 80%, reduces our potential brain function and puts us in enough of a fight-or-flight response that we are prone to over-react. Just when we need our brain the most to help us come up with good solutions, our hard-wiring causes us to have a poor response that not only doesn’t help us, it usually makes things worse.
Part of my story is that I suffered for decades with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a life full of problems on top of problems–all the while affirming every positive statement known to man and thinking everyone was suffering as badly as I. I was raised to think negatively and cynically about everything, I over-reacted to everything, and positive regurgitating didn’t help me much because I didn’t believe the positive statements I was stating. I experienced a pretty poor quality of life, especially considering how hard I worked at trying to make it better, and how nice, externally, my life really was! Once I understood the brain science, I could “believe it before I saw it” and carry on with positive thinking in a realistic and effective manner. (For more about my personal story, you can visit the About RoriO page.)
The first thing to understand about the brain is that our lives are ruled by our subconscious mind. We can’t consciously work with any idea unless it’s already been accepted and believed by our subconscious. But it has to be understood by the conscious mind first, and then the subconscious can have an “Ah-Hah!” moment, and use the information to override an old belief with a new one. Once a new belief has registered in the subconscious, we are free to consciously act according to the new belief, make changes in our lives, and reach loftier goals. Let’s look at some practical examples of how new beliefs are formed and how someone might use them to achieve a specific goal.
How to use the subconscious mind
Before Tightrope Walkers and Olympians can accomplish the goals they envision, they need a conscious understanding of gravity and biomechanics as it affects their ability to perform.
They can get these by watching others perform, by learning new ways to strengthen the body for better leverage while performing, and by practice that gives experience to their new understanding. Practicing is where they consciously apply new understandings to instill correct focus and muscle memory. Telling themselves they can reach the goal of a specific level of performance is only helpful if they understand and have put into practice the underlying principles of the required skills.
It’s the same for positive thinking. As stated previously, we need the background information of 3) how it works so we can 2) believe it will work, and then 1) experience it working. That fills in the conundrum and inspires us to continue working it!
Remember, it is first the understanding of how something works that gives us the belief that inspires us to practice. Then the practice gives us the experience that it does work. Now I think we’re ready to examine the underlying principles of how positive thinking affects the brain, and then link it to the manifestation–or goal–of positive life outcomes.
The neuroscience behind applying positive thinking effectively
Independent studies by several neuroscientists concluded that when people notice a negative thought and override it with three or more value ideas, such as peace, love, and calm, then brain function improves. They watched study participants’ brains on scanning machines as they overrode negative thoughts with positive values, and their brains lit up, indicating improved functioning. At the same time, participants reported feeling joy. Later on, participants who made a habit of noticing their negative thoughts out in the field of life, and purposely overrode them with three or more positive value thoughts, reported that their relationships improved.[2, 3]
A big surprise came when the scientists saw that over time, those who maintained a practice of three or more positive value thoughts to every negative thought had changed their brain structure. Their amygdalae had shrunk! Remember what I said about the amygdala? It’s responsible for our emotional fight-or-flight survival response. Override your negative thoughts with positive values and your amygdala will probably shrink, which in turn should reduce the number of your knee-jerk responses that get you into trouble!
When you override your negative thoughts with positive, your brain functions well, you feel joy, your relationships improve, and you become more appropriately emotionally responsive. Something else the scientists discovered is that three or more positive thoughts to override each negative thought kept the study participants just above depression, while more caused greater joy.[5,6] The added bonus, besides creating better relationships, is that this level of positive thinking allows us to more easily find solutions to our problems, which serves to make us think even more positively, and feel even more joy. Not bad for simply thinking positively on purpose!
Let’s talk about why good relationships are the most crucial element to our well being and are key to improving our life outcomes.
When we are appropriately responsive, we are nicer people while standing in alignment with serving ourselves. We are not a doormat nor are we aggressive, we are simply assertive while smartly considering all involved. Nicer people have better relationships because they are likely to be fair, honest, and respectful while aggressive people do and say mean things. We trust nice people, and we want to do business with them, work with them, work for them, or have them work for us. Get the picture? Good relationships not only are satisfying in their own right, they lead to more economic opportunities. And we all know that having opportunities can lead to a richer experience of life.
Brain power is the horse that pulls us to success
Good relationships are triggered by positive thinking, but it’s not the positive thinking or good relationships alone that cause successful life outcomes or achievement of goals. It’s the optimal functioning of the brain that makes us smarter that is the cause of our success!
Simply understanding how the brain works when thinking positive thoughts improved my belief in the power in positive thinking. Linking what positive thinking could do to improve my relationships, which in turn could increase my economic opportunities (the carrot), inspired me to notice my negative thoughts (the stick) and replace them with positive thoughts consistently. As my positive brain experienced working smarter (more efficiently), I could consciously tap into positive thinking more and more easily, and consistently experience better brain function and problem-solving abilities to reach my goals.
Positive thinking works, but there is a formula to it. It starts with developing a habit of monitoring your thoughts. Then it boils down to thinking enough positive value thoughts to override any given negative thought. Let’s review.
What’s next? The 5:1 Override©
Now that you understand a bit about how positive thinking affects the brain, and how that leads to achieving goals or better life outcomes, it will be easier to apply. I’ve taken what the scientists discovered about thinking positively in general, along with using the value words, such as peace, love, trust, calm, etc., and adapted it to creating affirmations that are true. It absolutely works for me and for those I’ve taught who have tried it and use it. Here’s how and when apply it:
Whenever you feel bad, take note of the thought that caused the bad feeling. Then override the negative thought with positive thoughts at a ratio of at least three or more to one, five to one to be more effective. Think either value words or about the positive truths in your life, or a combination of both. This generates a feeling of appreciation for your life, and if you do this often enough, your life will change accordingly!
I named this process The 5:1 Positive Override©. There is much more detail to The 5:1 Positive Override than the room on this page allows for, but now you have the basics. You can learn more in my upcoming online course, 3 Systems for Successful Life Outcomes©, which teaches this and two other techniques in detail. I encourage you to play with The 5:1 Positive Override as you now understand it, because although it can always be done more effectively, it generally can’t be done incorrectly.
My upcoming book, Hero versus Heroin: Generational Tragedies, Medical Travesties, Political Primacy and Success Strategies, has already garnered some awesome testimonials even before my final edits and publishing.
My upcoming online course, 3 Systems for Successful Life Outcomes©, includes three learning objectives:
1) Positive Thinking That Really Works!
2) Discovering and Living Your Passion!, and
3) Build Your Skills Up To 6 Times Faster!
The systems in the online course work in real life, and you can easily turn them into good habits that will quickly have you enjoying a life freer of your propensity toward self-sabotage.
The synchronous effect of using all three of these techniques together can accelerate your improved life outcomes in a profound way. You can learn more about my book and online course on my page, Success Systems by RoriO.
I have taught my techniques at speaking engagements, and they have proven useful to those who struggle as well as the lucky few who don’t exactly struggle but appreciated improvements. They can be used by anyone of just about any age and any walk of life, and I invite you to teach them to those you love and care about, especially children. You can also invite me to speak to your group about how these work in real life, and how to quickly apply them. Please send a note to me via the Contact page by clicking on the underlined words here that highlight with your mouse, or via the Contact Us page listed on the menu at the top of this website.
You already understand how better brain function leads to better relationships, more economic opportunities, and better life outcomes, and that it starts with positive thinking. It takes positive thinking to pursue the life you really want.
Besides applying and benefitting immediately from what you learned here today, you can also benefit by checking out my blog topics, listed in the right-side banner.
…has posts loaded with information like you learned here. Once I develop my online course I’ll be focusing on blogs again, adding controversial information on the subjects of education, aptitude testing, employment, and skills versus talent. Those topics are all in my book and I discuss all of this on radio talk shows. These affect life outcomes, and I suggest ways to improve on current systems and institutions. Most of all, I educate about the growing heroin epidemic that primarily affects teens and young adults, and what we can do to solve the problem. That is where Success Systems Institute started, but it isn’t only for addicts. I hope you’re ready to learn more and willing to become an agent for change!
Wishing you your best possible life,
- Ph.D., B. M. (2013, May 7). Shyness Is Nice. Stop Fighting Your Negative Thoughts. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is- nice/201305/stop-fighting-your-negative-thoughts.
- Newberg, A. B., & Waldman, M. R. (2012). Words can change your brain: 12 conversation strategies to build trust, resolve conflict, and increase intimacy. New York: Hudson Street Press, pp. 130-132.
- Mark Robert Waldman (Executive MBA Faculty at Loyola Marymount University) in an interview by Janet Bray Attwood with Certified Passion Test Facilitators listening in as part of their training with Attwood, 2013.
- Newberg, pp. 189-190.