Four Questions for a More Resilient Brain
How we can beat the negativity bias and encourage positive neuroplasticity
Posted December 17, 2014
When it comes to our self-critical thinking, Byron Katie has created a brilliant set of four questions
to free us from our negative depressive minds. For example, if you say, “I’m such an idiot,” we ask 1) Is it true? 2) Is it absolutely true? 3) What happens when you believe that thought? and 4) Who would you be without that thought? The effect of this is that it objectifies the self-judgment, gives us freedom from it and opens us up to a sense of freedom that’s there. They can be really effective.
When it comes to overcoming longstanding emotional struggles we have to not only get space from the self-critical mind, but also encourage the positive beliefs about ourselves that the critical mind has buried. In one part of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I share the following four questions to work with in order to open us up to possibility, install these positive beliefs a bit more and even encourage positive neuroplasticity. In doing this we can become more confident in ourselves and ultimately more resilient (and a bit happier).
Four Questions for Uncovering Happiness
From time to time, you might notice a nourishing thought arise, such as “I’m good enough,” “Life is fine as it is,” “I’m worthy of love,” or “What a beautiful moment.” We can be on the lookout for these thoughts and fan the flame with a play on these same questions:
- “Is it true?” Because of the strength of our inner critics, our minds are often quick to dismiss positive thoughts, so you may notice a quick “No, it’s not true. I’m not really beautiful, worthy of love, good enough [and so on] . . .”
- “Is it possible that it’s true?” Here is where we open the door a bit and ask if there is any possibility that it’s true, no matter how small our minds may say it is. The answer inevitably here is “Yes, I guess there is a possibility.”
- “If you step into that possibility for a moment, how does that make you feel?” Two things can happen here. You may find that fear arises: the fear of the unknown. This can be an opportunity for self-compassion. What would life be like if I stepped into this light? It reminds me of a poem by spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson that starts, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Remind yourself that it doesn't serve you or the world to be in your small self. However, you might also experience a positive emotion such as joy, contentment, or confidence.
- “Can I allow myself to linger in this feeling for a few moments?” When we allow ourselves to savor what’s good, our “good-feeling” neurons fire together. And as psychologist Donald Hebb put it memorably, “Neurons that fire together wire together,” promoting resiliency in the future.
What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if you were more open to this possibility? Try this on right now with any potential positive belief about yourself and see what you notice.
The fact is, the belief we have in our negative thinking is one of our worst habits as a human species and often times doesn't serve us. The positive belief in ourselves could go a long way and my hope is that Uncovering Happiness can help in awakening what I call our "Natural Anti-Depressants" and inspire the hope that having had emotional struggles in the past doesn't mean you need to suffer from them in the same way in the future. There are specific seeds within each and every one of us that if we understand and water, we can literally create a more resilient and joyful life.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy