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Transform Negative Thoughts; Breathing & The Vagus Nerve

We have all been there, aggravated, let down, hurt, disappointed, upset by a loss, whatever the negative emotion is. Whether it was big or small, everyone has a different perception of failing and not being successful, and it can affect people differently. These leave an everlasting mark or memory in our brain, we have emotions to them we react to them, those emotions can trigger behaviors that might not be the most beneficial or lead us in the a completely wrong direction. Life will always have it’s up and downs, we hope there are more ups but along the journey, there are always downs. In the grand scheme of things we don't know where the now will take us later, I'd encourage you to lookup the "story of the Chinese farmer," a 3 minute video on YouTube. Nonetheless, the "downs" cannot be avoided, they cannot be suppressed, they cant be hidden. Often we try to avoid, suppress and cover up with something else that only provides a temporary comfort.


Unfortunately, that option is not the best, it may seem like it in the short term but that’s it. The brain knows the event that took place, it was a disruption to its normal comfortable world and those disruptions can become a learning lesson. It will come with a negative emotion that will make you think about what went wrong, what didn’t, the things you could have done, the things that were in your control and it will always bring you to the WHAT IF?


The What if? The question we ask as we reflect on the past, look at past events where the outcome did not go the way we want. The what-if question allows us to analyze, break down, learn and grow, just like an NFL coach will break down a play and learn how to prevent it or make it better. This is inherently true for all brains, there is a constant learning process going on, it allows us as humans to adapt and overcome situations to make sure the next time something happens it can happen better or easier.


Sometimes we get stuck in a loop, the negative emotion loop that compiles it self and creates a downward spiral. One poor decision can lead our brain to repeat its mistake. The brain isn’t programmed to do this but it can become conditioned to it over time. The brain plasticity is incredible, it is always learning from the environment, interactions, experiences to ensure a better outcome and be prepared for the future. As we mentioned when that gets thrown off it runs on repeat, then we get stuck in a comfort zone that is not beneficial but it is not threatening. The brain is built for survival to keep the organism going and able to live, so less threatening things in life are preferable. But we know that is not always beneficial. Another way to describe this is known as "interoceptive predictions in the brain."



Through my struggles and adversities, I have found there are a couple of ways to take control of your mind, control how we feel and decide how we feel. Now this is not a simple trick or hack, when we are working with the brain and neurological system we have to respect its nature so the process takes repetition to really master it. This takes conscious effort and deliberate focus, it might not be easy at first but overtime these tools will be useful to move past negative emotions. Simple breathing exercises can be accredited for a lot of success in helping the brain re-learn and program for a more optimal function. Consistency is key. Remember this is not pushing negative thoughts away and covering them up, this is about changing the thought process. Covering up negative emotions with things, behaviors, vices is not the answer, and ultimately only makes it worse.



Tool #1: The 5 minute Rule


This one I have used greatly in the past and even now. It is a great way to address your emotions, feelings and then move on. I use it as a coach with clients to help them reset or jumpstart their mindset. This technique allows us to focus on the negative thought, analyze it and think about it, what caused it why it happened, question the thought or feeling. You have 5 minutes to be sad, angry, frustrated whatever. Then after 5 minutes you are not allowed to think about it anymore you have to take what you learned from reflecting and now change the thought. You have to move on to a different thought, go do something with your life.


One of the biggest things that has helped me is take the emotions and spin it in your mind to create a reality that you want, live in that reality, soak it in, make the reality happy, successful, this will start building the basis of your goals and purpose and lead your thinking away from the negative thought. This forces you to make a change, as much as you might want to sit and dwell and sulk you cannot, its time to move forward.


Now there are times throughout the day where emotions will come back that is fine, as they trickled back in then instill the 5 minute rule again. This will allow your brain to create an imaginary reality that it will be seeking reward and that will change how you feel towards the negative emotions. Over time the feelings will diminish, the old saying "time heals all" is accurate for negative thoughts.


Tool #2- Think and Breathe



Breathing is the best tool to stimulate the vagus nerve which can influence our parasympathetic nervous system. This can bring us out of a stressed negative emotion and influence our neurological system. So it is only fitting that this technique has some breath work involved. When you get the negative thought stop, think to yourself what do I know about this and what can I do about it. After you answer the question take an inhale through the nose for 5 seconds hold your breath for 5 seconds exhale through the nose for 6 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds and repeat for 5 inhales and exhales.


This addresses the thought, feeling or emotion and gives you space between thought and action. Space allows for a clearer processing while breathing through the diaphragm helps reset so you can deal with the negative thought from a more conscience place than a reactive one. We would refer to this as pre-frontal cortex processing vs amygdala processing.



Training the mind to be more powerful is a simple task but the work will be difficult and uneasy at times, but the idea is to challenge the thought process, get into the unknown and lead that thought towards a positive one. Be the one who knows, observing the thoughts as they pass and have the composure to label your own stream of consciousness with "judging" or "worrying" or "planning" or "imagining" or "obsessing" and link your mind and body by focusing your attention to your breath. The unknown is the scary part, the turbulence, the rough seas but getting through it forces the brain to grow in the right direction; learning and getting stronger for the next time a negative thought, emotion or experience comes along.


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