The brain is not always our friend.
Thoughts come that are unhelpful, and undermining:
❌ “I am a failure”
❌ “I am a fraud”
❌ “I’m not good enough”
But you can learn how to replace these thoughts with more empowering ones:
✅ “I’ve got this”
✅ “I am worthy”
✅ “I am good at what I do”.
This is what I call turning an internal critic into a powerful internal cheerleader.
And that’s the subject of this week’s blog!
(This is self-empowerment, the Second Pillar of my approach to Banishing Your Imposter and Building Your Naked Confidence™. To read about my First Pillar, Self-awareness, click here.)
Why do we get negative thoughts?
The brain's foremost job is to keep us safe - to keep us alive so we can spread our genes.
Unfortunately this means we are programmed with a strong “negativity bias”: to notice the negative things more, because they are the ones that could harm us.
You may have noticed that there are many words to describe negative feelings in our language, but fewer to describe positive ones.
One research study found that when a group of people, were asked to list the names of as many emotions as they could, 50% of the words were negative, with only 30% positive and 20% neutral (regardless of culture, background or age).
In addition, our brains are more stimulated by negative inputs.
In one study, participants were shown pictures of positive, negative, and neutral images.
Negative images created much more electrical activity in the brain than the positive or negative images: ie they have far more influence on us.
And this negativity bias starts very young: researchers have seen it emerging in babies from 3 months upwards (as they get more mobile, the brain needs to do more to keep them safe).
So negative thoughts are a natural part of being human - and in fact, are partly responsible for our survival as a species.
But they do not contribute to us living happy and fulfilled lives in the modern world.
Not only do those negative thoughts undermine our confidence, and stunt our careers.
They also create dangerous impacts in the mind and body.
I’ve written before about the fight-or-flight response, and how this ancient programming to help us respond effectively to threats is triggered excessively in the modern world - including by negative thoughts.
The chemical reaction we have in our body as a result are proven to result in a wide range of negative impacts, from increased propensity to anxiety and depression, to weight gain, digestive issues, sleep problems, and inflammation.
So negative thoughts are both natural, and dangerous!
BUT THEY ARE NOT INEVITABLE.
There is something else in the brain’s make-up that actually helps you change your negative thoughts and limiting beliefs into an internal cheerleader: the power of neuroplasticity.
What is neuroplasticity?
Imagine a field with two gates.
As people walk across the field between the gates, the grass is worn away and that becomes the obvious path for the next person to take.
A pathway is created through repetition.
The same happens in the brain.
When we think a thought, a neural pathway is fired in our brains.
The more often we think a thought, the more easily we go down that neural pathway again in the future.
This means that thought patterns - including those unhelpful negative ones - get more and more ingrained over time.
But the power of neuroplasticity works both ways.
Let’s go back to that field.
If you imagine one of those gates is moved.
People will still be travelling across the field, but on a different route than before.
Over time, a new pathway will be created - and crucially, the grass will regrow over the old one.
The same happens in the brain.
If you choose to redirect your thoughts away from these negative pathways, you can actually create new, more positive pathways (that become the paths of least resistance).