Stop Feeding Fear: A Guide To Living In The Moment And Ignoring Negative Mental Pictures

From Fear To Freedom: How Mindfulness Stops Negative Thoughts

“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.” — Dan Millman.

Imagine a day filled with positivity, where your mind isn’t subjected to negative imagery. Sounds impossible? It’s not. Many of us innocently fall into the trap of negative thinking, a habitual pattern we don’t even realize we’re stuck in. But there’s a powerful remedy we can use: the art of living in the moment. This tool can help us break free from fear and anxiety, leading us toward a state of empowerment. In this article, I’ll delve into the downside of negative visualization and explore how harnessing the power of the present moment can be the key to overcoming it. I’ll provide you with strategies to stop feeding your fears and provide practical exercises to cultivate a habit of mindfulness.

Negative mental pictures are a form of anxiety and negativity bias. The human brain is inherently wired with a biological negativity bias owing to thousands of years of evolution. Evolutionary biologists believe that when early humankind roamed the Savannah, our primitive brain constantly looked for threats of danger, such as wild animals, harsh conditions, and lack of food, water, and shelter. Nowadays, most people live in idyllic conditions with access to food, water, and shelter, yet our brain’s biology has remained unchanged.

Understanding the physiological effects of fear can be enlightening. Imagine turning on a light in a dark room, instantly dispersing shadows and bringing clarity. We gain control over our response when we grasp how fear impacts our body, such as by increasing heart rate and muscle tension. We realize that being stuck in this state, known as the Sympathetic branch of the nervous system, is like driving at 100 miles an hour down the highway without stopping. The car will eventually run out of fuel and wear out its mechanical system.

In other words, dwelling on negative scenarios prevents us from enjoying the present moment because we are not living but caught up in the negative mental imagery occupying our minds. However, it’s important to note that there is a significant difference between healthy planning for the future and negative visualization. The former involves preparing for potential challenges with evidence-based strategies, which can reduce anxiety. Conversely, the latter consists of contemplating the doom that might occur without supporting evidence. Understanding this distinction can help us make informed decisions about approaching the future, reducing unnecessary anxiety.

Is this something you can relate to? Acknowledge it silently as you read about ways to overcome getting stuck in your thoughts. This is where mindfulness has a powerful connection to living in the present moment. You’ve probably read numerous articles about the benefits of mindfulness in the news media. Both mindfulness and gratitude have become the New Age elixir, promising benefits. Indeed, these benefits include reduced stress, increased focus, and improved emotional regulation.

Living In The Now: Practical Mindfulness Exercises

“You may not be able to control the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” — Maya Angelou.

Focusing on the present moment helps us detach from the negative mental pictures in our minds. Psychologists believe that it decouples the mind from our inherent biological negativity bias. In essence, this means that we actively work to separate our thoughts from the natural tendency of our brains to focus on negative experiences or potential threats. So what are examples of living in the present moment, and how can they be applied to everyday situations?

Here are some examples of how this would appear in everyday life:

1. Waiting in Line
  • Practice mindful breathing.
  • Observe your surroundings without judgment.
  • Pay attention to your bodily sensations.
2. Work Stress
  • Focus on one task at a time.
  • Take regular, mindful breaks.
  • Be present and attentive in meetings.
3. Commuting
  • Listen to music or sounds with full attention.
  • Notice the physical sensations of traveling.
  • Be mindful of things you are grateful for.
4. Eating Meals
  • Eat slowly, savoring each bite.
  • Appreciating the effort behind the food.
  • Avoid distractions and focus on the meal.
5. Conversations
  • Actively listening and making eye contact.
  • Noticing reactions and thoughts non-judgmentally.
  • Being fully present and empathetic.

Challenge Fear, Embrace The Present: Strategies For A Positive Mindset

“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Consider the following strategies to help you stop feeding fearful mental images:

Challenging and reframing your thoughts is a powerful tool in your mental health resource. The first step is identifying negative thoughts by becoming aware of them and challenging their validity. You may choose practices like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to challenge the negative thoughts instead of accepting them as accurate. This process gives you a sense of control and agency over your mind. You’re not at the mercy of your negative thoughts but actively navigating to a calmer, more positive mental state.

1. Focus on your senses:

Engaging your senses in the present moment helps you become grounded and distracts you from ruminating on your thoughts. This involves tuning in to your breath and surroundings and using sight, sound, touch, and taste to engage with the present.

2. Practice gratitude:

This involves appreciating the positive aspects of your life, which helps you shift your focus from negativity to what is favorable. Because of our mind’s inherent negativity bias, we tend to look through the filter of negativity instead of recognizing the good things that are naturally occurring in the backdrop of our lives.

3. Embrace uncertainty:

Accepting uncertainty can be liberating and reduce anxiety about future possibilities. This involves recognizing that even though some things are out of our control, we can deal with whatever comes our way.

As highlighted in the opening paragraph, mindfulness, particularly mindfulness meditation, can be a powerful tool to help us anchor ourselves in the present moment. This practice can be incorporated into your daily routine, starting with five minutes and gradually increasing over time. There are numerous apps available on Android or iPhones, as well as resources on YouTube, that can guide you through mindfulness meditations. The key to success lies in consistency and the formation of mindfulness habits. Just as we maintain physical hygiene by showering and brushing our teeth daily, we should also cleanse our minds of negativity through mindfulness and meditation.

To incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine:

  1. Choose one habit or practice and stick with it until it becomes second nature. You can practice first thing in the morning, during the day, or before bed in the evening.
  2. Remember, it’s not about doing everything at once but making small, consistent changes.
  3. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you integrate these new habits into your life. Sometimes, you stumble or revert to old patterns, a natural part of forming new neural connections in the brain and nervous system.

Take a moment to reflect on your typical day. How often do you find yourself caught in negative thoughts? How might your day change if you applied these mindfulness techniques? To wrap up, to stop feeding fear in our minds, we should learn to live in the present moment, ignoring the negative mental pictures that constantly play out. The antidote to this is mindfulness, which allows us to become aware of our present-moment experience instead of getting lost in the artificial world of our negative thoughts. So, let’s embark on this mindfulness journey, embracing the present and freeing ourselves from negativity. Your mind will thank you!

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Tony Fahkry

Expert Life Coach

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