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How to Achieve Greater Mental Balance

Psychological exercise for achieving greater mental balance

Molly was described by her friends as a well~developed negative personality. "She's very good at seeing the dark side of things, but she does not often detect the positive aspects of ber experiences," they observed. One of her friends actually called her "mentally lopsided, " and wondered if there was some way for Molly to attain a more balanced outlook.

While it is somewhat of an oversimplification, the brain can be thought of as being similar to a muscle. In the same way that muscles grow and become stronger through use and exercise, the brain also develops and changes through use and mental exertion.

Imagine what would happen if a weight lifter worked out much harder and longer with his or her right arm and pretty much neglected the left arm. Over time, the well~exercised right arm would be considerably firmer, larger, and stronger than the less exercised left arm.

Once this muscular imbalance or asymmetry develops, to balance his or her physique, the weight lifter will have to workout much more with the left arm than the right arm or the lopsidedness will never even out. So, for every one repetition of exercise the right arm does, the left will have to do two, three or more repetitions to eventually catch up.

In the brain, exercise is essentially thinking, visualizing, or any number of mental activities that stimulate parts of the brain and gets them working. Some recent evidence suggests that certain thoughts are governed by very specific brain structures and these structures develop and strengthen through use.

If someone frequently thinks negative, anxiety provoking, depressing or other psychologically stressful thoughts, it is probable that the areas governing these mental actions will strengthen through use thus increasing the likelihood of these undesirable thoughts occurring with greater force and frequency. Alternatively, different regions of the brain mediate more positive and neutral patterns of thinking and these areas, too, can be strengthened through use.

If you think you've been exercising your negative "mental muscles" too much

• you can work to achieve greater mental balance by strengthening the positive mental regions,

just like you can strengthen a muscle through use and repetition.

• For every negative thought, picture or idea that you have, try to entertain several positive or neutral alternatives.

You want to catch yourself each time you make a negative statement or dwell on a pessimistic thought and immediately focus on several upbeat and cheerful perceptions.

Over time, this mental exercise will help to level the playing field and you'll enjoy the benefits of more balanced thinking.

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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