Two people can undergo the same painful experience in life, but one appears inspiring to others while the other appears to continue to suffer and be a victim. So what’s the difference? It’s not so much your past but how you see it. If you have been in an abusive relationship, do you see yourself as a survivor or a weak person for being in the relationship? Many have been in relationships and after the fact, they are told “what were you thinking?” That’s not helpful and it’s not helpful to keep telling yourself that, too. With any mistake you have made in the past, do you find yourself continually beating yourself up for it, blaming someone else or do you look back happy that you learned from your mistakes and things are so much better now? How you perceive your story determines the quality of your life. And, how you see it and think about it influences how your brain stores these memories.
The quality of our lives has less to do with the details and more to do with how we perceived those details. The meaning we assign it and the story we tell ourselves will determine how you live the rest of your life from this day forward. Our quality of life is not in the things we have or the house we live in. It’s in the story we tell ourselves. Are you a victim or victorious? Are you a slow runner or do you give yourself great credit for getting out on the road and trying?
But, if you tend to think of memories of your life and concentrate on the negative, don’t blame yourself. That will only make things worse. There is a reason for that. Scientists have found that the brain has evolved to have a negative bias. We more readily hold onto negative memories than positive ones.
“Our brain is Velcro™ for negative memories and Teflon™ for positive memories.
We are wired with a negative bias.
It’s part of the survival instinct so negative memories easily stick and positive memories slip away.”
- Dr. Rick Hanson – author, Buddha’s Brain
In Dr. Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain, he suggests pairing a positive experience with a negative one to heal old pain. The pairing of positive and negative material in awareness can gradually soothe and ultimately replace negative memories. And pairing positive thoughts to your usual negative thoughts will eventually replace them. When negative thoughts pop into your mind, immediately attach a positive thought to it. Scientific evidence shows that negative memory is especially vulnerable to being changed after it is recalled.
When looking at my own life, instead of inspiring, it could frankly be pathetic right now. If I concentrated on the negative – divorce and shattering my career – which I did for several years, I would still be in a miserable state continuing my own suffering. I have now reframed my story. I made mistakes, but I overcame them. I made the mistake of entering a second marriage that was controlling and abusive, but I was brave enough to leave it and my life is now better than I could have ever imagined it. When I get flashbacks of the horror, I attach a positive thought and remind myself of how brave I had to be in order to leave.
As I began typing this subject that I already planned to write, I came across a TEDx video from Jane Fonda. Maybe it was just what I needed from the Universe. See my previous post about messages from the Universe if you haven’t. She talks about the “Third Act” of life – around the 60s. Most of my readers are not there yet. We are in our second act, but everything she mentions can be applied no matter what age you are. She says that, ”Perhaps the central purpose of the third act is to go back and to try, if appropriate, to change our relationship to the past.”
Jane Fonda also refers to Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, who spent five years in a concentration camp. It is a wonderful book and a quick read. I’ve read it twice and now I think it’s time for a third. Mr. Frankl said he could tell who would be okay if they made it out alive and who would not by the way they perceived their life inside the concentration camp.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Begin paying mindful attention to your past when it appears. What story do you tell about your life? Is it inspiring and encouraging? Do you see yourself as an overcomer or as a victim? No matter what, it’s never too late to reframe your life into a more positive and healing story to share with others. The more you practice attaching positive thoughts to painful areas of your past or negative thoughts that arise, you will change the structure of your brain a little at a time and next thing you know have this great story of your life in front of you.Share on Facebook