Practicing positive thinking

There are a few things going on right now drawing us into a negative headspace: pandemic, rough weather, national division. Did you know that you can train your brain to respond less negatively to these kinds of circumstances? The practices outlined in this episode bring us into the the powerful space of positive thinking–in spite of circumstances inviting negative thinking.

So catch a few deep breaths and get ready to get mentally positive:

Episode 2.5: Practicing positive thinking

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Episode Transcript

  1. This is the Bad-Ass Dad Pod.
    1. Where we quest to live our best lives relationally, physically and financially no matter what age we are.
    2. Welcome to the squad, fellow bad ass!
  2. Here’s what we have stacked against, right now, as of recording this episode.
    • It’s winter.
    • A cold front is sweeping the nation.
    • We’re still dealing with the pandemic.
    • We’re still dealing with societal and political strife.
      1. Which has strained relationships for a lot of us.
    • I could keep going, but you already know what I’m talking about…
    • The point is there’s a lot of things to feel negative about.
  3. But whining gets us no where, right?
    1. We probably tell our kids that all the time.
    2. Being positive and proactive is what gets results, right?
    3. So in this episode, we’re going to walk through some practices of cultivating positivity.
    4. Because if there was time for diving into a different headspace… it’s now.
  4. My name is Ryan Dunn
    1. I’m feeling good.
    2. I generally open each episode by listing a bunch of made-up self-aggrandizing titles.
      1. Things like:
      2. Dealer of Daddy Justice
      3. Seeker of the Questing Dunk
      4. Gnasher of Protein
      5. You get the idea… again.
      6. These kinds of self-affirmations, as ridiculous as they sound, are a form of practicing positive thinking.
        1. In so far as the practice of giving myself titles forces me to reflect on positive accomplishments.
        2. And there’s a sense of visualization there, too… because I am thinking about the things I wish to accomplish
        3. All this stuff are means for cultivating a positive mental mindest.
    3. So indulge me,
      1. For I am Ryan Dunn
      2. Fancy flyer
      3. Positivity Wonk
        1. Do people still use “wonk”
        2. It was a buzzword like 15 years ago
        3. Then there was uber-wonk
          1. Remember uber-wonk?
          2. That was for ultra-technical crowd
          3. If you could name all the novels in the Star Wars expanded universe, you could be an uber-wonk
          4. That’s the proper usage of the term… for the uninitiated.
          5. Your face is uber-wonk.
      4. ANYWAYS
      5. I’m a Level 6 Relationship Ranger
      6. A Level 7 Gym Warrior
      7. A level 3 debt mage
      8. And your lawful good podmaster.
  5. Alright… when we start talking empowering positive thinking and all that, we run the risk of sounding new age-y and turning off some people.
    1. So bear with me a moment and allow me to dive into what is happening in our brains when we do some of this new age-y sounding practice.
    2. At the risk of really pushing this… I’m going to start off by stating that we are spirits in the material world.
      1. I believe that not simply because Sting told me so.
      2. I believe that because I see the cognitive spark that each and every person carries within themselves.
      3. So there’s a spiritual aspect to ourselves… but we are tied to the material.
      4. So at our core, we are a series of chemical reactions.
      5. Even down to our feelings…
        1. When we get angry, it’s because a stimulus in our environment caused a chemical reaction in our brains that excited certain sets of nerves which encourage us towards certain sets of actions.
        2. The list of negative conditions I listed at the beginning of this episode–the pandemic, the wintry weather, the cabin fever–all those are stimuli which encourage certain chemical reactions.
      6. We can’t really control the stimuli, can we?
        1. There’s little we can do about being in a pandemic or winter.
        2. So merely avoiding negative stimuli is not a fully encompassing pathway towards positive thinking.
    3. Instead, what we can do is retrain our neural connections to respond differently when we’re in the midst of the negative stimuli.
      1. So to unpack that… 
      2. Let’s say we get a bunch of snow dumped on us, leaving us locked inside the house for a few days.
        1. A normal reaction might be to mope about the house grousing about how there’s nothing to do.
        2. But it’s possible to retrain our neural connections to avoid naturally falling into that reaction and instead move towards a reaction that embraces a sense of gratitude… in spite of the difficult stimuli.
        3. So instead we might react by embracing the snow fall as a chance to catch up on a bunch of reading… or learning a new game with our kids… or stopping down to do a puzzle… you get it.
  6. Sounds cool, right?
    1. But how do we get there? What are the practices that help our rewiring towards positivity?
    2. Ready to get new age-y?
      1. These practices might seem like they’re fluffy tricks for avoiding negativity.
      2. But I see them as legitimate practices that help to rewire our neural connections so we are more inclined to react to stimuli with positivity.
      3. They don’t work instantaneously; this is a retraining thing, mind you.
      4. But they open new neural pathways for positive influence.
    3. All that goes to say, you can’t expect this to go on like a light switch. It builds up over time… just like any kind of training regime.
  7. Alright, here we go. Let’s train for positivity.
    1.  Step one: fake it.
      1. That’s right. Fake it until you make it.
      2. This is actually an expression of physically embodying the response we hope to live into.
      3. Sounds weird, right?
      4. But here’s why it works:
        1. We are chemical beings whose brains react to stimuli, right?
        2. Our physical states can act as those stimuli.
      5. Like, when you have a real hard belly laugh, it reshapes your mood right?
        1. Like, you might be in the midst of a pressure packed day…
        2. And then you scroll past a video of a panda body-surfing down a snowhill and it insights a big ol’ guffaw
        3. And all of a sudden your mood is slightly lifted.
        4. You’ve been there.
        5. That physical laugh and the visual cue from the video released certain chemicals in the brain that made you feel differently.
      6. We can drive similar reactions, perhaps to a lesser degree… but still to a noticeable degree… simply by forcing ourselves to smile.
        1. Seriously, don’t turn me off…
        2. Smiling causes a chemical reaction in the brain that boosts mood lifting chemicals.
        3. In a similar way that lifting our chests causes us to feel more in control.
      7. So forcing on that smile when you’re greeting someone… or even when you’re inspecting the bags under your eyes in the mirror… has a mood lifting effect.
      8. Cool, huh?
      9. Now, this does not mean that you have to suppress all the negativity.
        1. You know that cliche of the person who stamps all their feelings down under a facade of passive happiness.
        2. The point here isn’t to suppress anything that might feel negative.
          1. The point is to react with a step towards positivity in the midst of chaotic stimuli.
          2. I hope that makes sense.
    2. Step two: Reframe unhelpful phrases and words.
      1. Here’s an example: In our current situations, many of us have probably uttered something to the effect of “I/we can’t do anything.”
      2. How does that statement feel different to you if we turn it into “I feel like we can’t go do anything”? 
      3. Here’s the difference I see there:
        1. The first statement represents a closed door. It’s an absolute. There is nothing to do.
        2. The second statement is an invitation. It carries a suggestion that circumstances are not immutable or unchangeable.
        3. It begs a response like, “you feel there’s nothing to do. How can you feel differently?”
      4. The word “feel” is probably a big key for this step.
        1. Again, think about the difference between the statement: “I don’t have time for that…” to “I feel like I don’t have time for that.”
        2. It moves from an absolute to a statement of observation about your internal feelings. 
        3. Which are important to note, and not suppress… but which also may be influenced.
      5. When we reframe unhelpful phrases, we open ourselves up to influencing the situation.
      6. I’m recognizing that this mind sound flimsy… using words to paint over negative situations…
        1. But remember, what we’re trying to accomplish is a kind of rewiring of some neural pathways
        2. So that they no longer default to dead-end assumptions and statements.
        3. And instead reflect a sense of hope and opportunity.
    3. And that rewiring towards positive association really gets turned up in Step three: which is to gamify what you want to do.
      1. I’ve done whole episodes on this, so I’m not going to super in-depth here. 
      2. But an overview of gamification looks like this:
        1. I assign a quick reward to certain tasks.
        2. On its simplest level, gamification is a bit like training a dog.
          1. Except you are now that dog… and the master.
          2. When you train a dog, you offer it a reward when it displays certain behaviors.
          3. This is actually a great example for neural rewiring.
          4. Because what we do in dog training is convince our dogs that an action like sitting on command has benefit of reward… in the form of a treat.
          5. Eventually, the dog’s brain shorts out the need for the treat.
          6. And sitting on command becomes a rewarding experience for the dog because she is now please by her own compliance and ability.
        3. In gamification, we simply offer ourselves reasonable treats for tasks we hope to complete.
          1. With the hope that we get to the state of our well-trained dogs.
          2. Where the completion of the task offers a sense of reward.
          3. You know, maybe the dog training isn’t such a good analogy.
          4. I feel like it falls short in several ways.
          5. But, in the end, I guess there’s some truth there.
          6. In gamification we really are trying to play upon the rewards centers of our animal brains in order to achieve outcomes and task completion.
      3. My most recent example comes out of my quest to dunk a basketball
        1. I still need to lighten the load I’m trying to elevate up to the rim… in other words, I could stand to lose a few pounds.
        2. I found that I do that best when I’m tracking my calories and macros.
        3. So I gamified the calorie tracking by awarding myself a point for each day that I tracked.
        4. When I got to 21 points, I got to buy a record.
        5. You can call that self-bribery. But it works for the positive.
        6. I got my record… but I’m still working on tracking calories for its own sake.
        7. ANYWAYS…
  8. Those are three steps for rewiring our brains towards positivity.
    1. They are not the only 3 things one can do.
    2. There are a lot… and we’re going to explore several more in our next episode… next week… which is on mindfulness
      1. I’m talking with an old friend of the show, Ryan Lockee
      2. And we’ll walk through some mindfulness techniques that help us move towards positivity by becoming more appreciative of the NOW.
  9. In the meantime, stay awesome, you bad ass.
    1. If you want some more resources on becoming a bad ass physically, financially and relationally, check out the web site,
    2. We also a cool community coalescing on Facebook. 
      1. Jump in there… it’s called the Bad-Ass Dad Squad
      2. When you search it, search bad dash ass dad squad
  10. Looking forward to sharing more next episode.
  11. OK bye!

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

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