Summary: “Focus on positive pleasurable events to counter worrisome thoughts.”
We all worry at times. Here’s an idea the experts (including Jeffrey Schwartz and Norman Doidge) suggest for serious worriers that may also help you deal with your serious worries, or even some of your garden-variety everyday worrisome thoughts.
When you find yourself worrying too much about something, refocus on a positive or pleasurable event for 15 to 30 minutes.
Here’s why and how it works. In general there are three phases to worrisome events and three brain areas that take the lead in handling the different phases:
- The mistake/something’s wrong feeling (orbital frontal cortex)
- The anxious/I need to do something feeling (cingulate gyrus)
- The shift gears/let it go and move on feeling (caudate nucleus)
Think of the three brain areas as your worry circuit. For various reasons, the third structure, the caudate nucleus, gets stuck at times…so you don’t move on and the worrisome thoughts escalate or persist.
Thinking of a positive or pleasurable event at that very moment (the moment you begin to feel stuck in a mental loop), in effect, shifts gears on your worry circuit manually. If you do this enough, two good things happen: the new circuit focused on positive thoughts strengthens and the old circuit atrophies or weakens. The technical term for this process is neuroplasticity (see also posting on Habits and Neuroplasticity). In plain English, the new circuit will eventually override the old circuit. You are, in effect, changing channels on your worrisome thoughts.
A very thorough and highly readable explanation of how this works is in chapter 6 of Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself. Check that out if you are tired of worrying too much and want to know more.
I know this sounds too simple to work, but this is not just an anecdotal opinion. Brain scans by Dr. Schwartz confirmed that it really works and works quite well. And learning to pivot your thoughts when you find yourself worrying excessively is a good way to joyfully participate in life.
Joyfully participate in life today…Chris