Killing negative, worrisome and stressful thoughts is simple. If you use a bit of neuroscience.
We’ve heard people claiming that we use only 20% of our brain (or is it 10%). It’s wrong! We know beyond doubt that the brain is a finite resource and the demand placed on it often surpasses the resources available.
When the brain is assigned more than one task, they compete inside the brain for resources and the energy hungry tasks usually are sacrificed. Of course, unless it is more critical or more rewarding (in which case, other tasks are sacrificed).
The neocortex (and particularly, the Pre-Frontal Cortex) is central in high cognition (though, higher cognition occurs outside the cortex too). It is also the most energy inefficient part of the brain. Evolutionarily, it is the most recent part of the brain, whereas the rest of the brain has been around for millions of years more. The rest of the brain has had time to evolve better efficiency.
Neocortex is the part of the brain where you hold a thought and process it. It is also where we hold a negative thought and ruminate over it. If such a thought is about something that happened in the past, we call it sadness or regret. If the negative thought is about the future, we call it worry.
Ruminating the past doesn’t change a thing. We all know it but we often find ourselves unable (the thought it too powerful) or unwilling (we feel guilty to let go) to extricate ourselves from this thought pattern. The sad thing here is that none of this will ever change the past. But the rumination will deprive our ability to be available to the people and the challenges that are right in front of us today.
But there is a very interesting perspective to worrying that is not immediately obvious. When we are facing a future challenge, we ‘usually’ do not need more than a few seconds (if not minutes) of thinking to find the solution. If we are unable to find a solution after a short reflection, we probably lack data/skill and we need to go out and get some. In the former case, worrying is a meaningless sacrifice of our mental health. In the later case, worrying stunts our ability to acquire additional resources that will help us actually solve the problem. Either way, worrying extracts huge cost from us. Almost always, it is a wasteful exercise.
Here is a simple technique to stop from dwelving in a past or future negative event:
Do something that shifts the flow of blood (i.e. energy) from the neo-cortex! It is that simple!!
Get up and walk. Exercise. Dance. All these things shift the energy flow inside your brain to the regions that have the motor control. If you are good at it, sing a song, play a music or simply listen to a type of music that doesn’t accentuates your negative mood. Play with kids, play with pets, go to a movie, go to some chat room, spend time with friends. Start a movement, contribute time to a cause, join a mission, join a competition. Meditate. Cook. Shop. Party. Watch a movie. Fall in love. Travel. Bunjee jump. Wear Spandex and fight crime.
The choices are limitless. The point is to get on to something that shifts the blood flow from the structures that ruminate or worry, to anything other structure in the brain. All the grand strategies that are taught to stop worrying/ruminating all boil down to this simple thing.
Most of the typical anti-worry or anti-rumination methodologies work ‘on’ the negative thought. While working on a thought, you must hold it in your mind. The more you hold a thought in your mind, the more deeply entrenched it becomes and the more difficult it is to extinguish it. There lies the simple elegance of the shift-blood-flow technique. It takes just a second to implement and it doesn’t ever involve working ‘on’ the negative thought!