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04.19.2016

What Happens in Your Brain When You Say “Can’t”

Your brain is an amazing thing. It’s always working, and processing, and instructing. Even when you’re spending the day being lazy in front of the TV, even when you’re sleeping, and even when you aren’t thinking about much at all.

The brain is amazing, but it’s also somewhat outdated. Modern technology and lifestyles have evolved so fast that the brain hasn’t been able to keep up. And that means we’re left with a bunch of outdated survival mechanisms that used to help us, but now actually hurt us.

The “fight or flight” response is one such example. When we were defending ourselves from wild beasts, we needed to respond quickly to fear. But in today’s world, that response simply makes us anxious, stressed, and even sick.

Unfortunately, we can’t exchange our brain for one better suited for the 21st century, but we can understand what happens when these survival instincts kick in and there isn’t any actual surviving to do.

One important consequence to understand? What happens in our brains when we hear “no.”

The way our minds respond to negativity has a huge effect on our lives and how healthy and fulfilled we can be.

When you say “I can’t,” you set off a number of responses in your brain that reinforce the idea, and make you susceptible to even more negativity. Here’s why and how you can stop that negative feedback loop for good.

The Brain Loves Negativity

when you say can't

Back in the day, when humans confronted life-threatening danger every day, it was far more important for the brain to respond to negative stimuli than positive. If an animal charges toward you, you needed to fight or run, and you needed to make that decision in a split second. But if you received a gift or a hug, you didn’t need to react as quickly.

Our brains still work this way. The amygdala, which is the command center for our emotions and motivations, uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and when it does that, information gets stored in our long-term memory.

Conversely, a positive experience has to be held in our awareness for at least 12 seconds before it’s transferred to either short- or long-term memory. One scientist described the brain as Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. Most small, positive moments just slide off.

To make it worse, humans are natural worriers. That means not only do we react more to negative experiences and store them more readily, but we are actively looking for them all the time.

This makes it extremely easy for our minds to get into a negative feedback loop. You’re hyper aware of negativity, when it happens it impacts you more, and you remember it forever. When you say “I can’t,” you may think you’re only affecting that one thing, but really you’re feeding into a negativity cycle that becomes more and more difficult to escape.

The Problem with Positivity

when you say can't

When it comes to being positive, the cards are stacked against us. Not only are our brains more susceptible to negativity, but they have a harder time absorbing positivity.

Studies have found you need three positive instances for every one negative instance just to stay balanced. To actually improve upon business or personal relationships, you need five to one. An “instance” can include everything from words, to phrases, to body language. Even something as simple as a head shake or disappointed look can throw off your emotional balance.

Worse yet, the English language isn’t designed to be very positive. Sixty-two percent of the emotional words in English are negative as opposed to only 32 percent being positive. So, your chances of saying or doing something negative or experiencing something negative aren’t just increased by our brain’s natural tendencies, they’re almost double just because of our language.

Tough break!

But what this really means is we need to consciously work harder to get that essential positivity back into our lives. It’s going to take some effort to overcome those “can’ts,” but the benefits are absolutely worth it.

The Importance of Practicing Positivity

when you say can't

Negativity can hurt you in so many ways. It can deepen depression, causes stress and anxiety, disrupt your nervous system, lessen your immunity, and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.

But it should be no surprise that positivity can do just the opposite. Thinking positively can help lessen the effects of depression, reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, and stave off life-threatening conditions like heart disease.

You really can heal yourself and live longer, just by ridding your mind of “I can’ts” and including more “I cans!”

So, how you can rid your vocabulary of “can’t”?

Try these techniques:

Negativity and positivity are infectious. Choose to spread the happy virus, instead of a negative one, and be a positivity advocate for colleagues, friends, and family.

Practice mindfulness using meditation or yoga so you get comfortable listening to and responding to your own thoughts.

Get help from your support system. Turn positivity into a game where people have to sacrifice something for every negative instance and gain something for every positive instance. This will keep that 5:1 ratio at the forefront of your minds.

Exercise! Negativity comes from hormones in our brain like cortisol and adrenaline. Combat their gloomy effects by inducing happy hormones, like endorphins and dopamine, through exercise.

Rephrase “I can’t” into a more positive, active statement, such as “I choose not to,” “I will in the future,” or “I can if I get some help.”

Conclusion

It’s tough feeling like you can’t do something, but that feeling becomes maximized by your brain’s natural tendencies and negatively affects you and those around you way beyond that single instance.

When you realize that, it becomes incredibly important to change those “can’ts” into “cans.” And we know you CAN do it! Get some help from the support system at your local Cardio Barre and gain those positive benefits of exercise while you’re at it!