“Change the channel,” my mom or her friend Louise would say whenever negativity clouded their conversations.
Like a “Thanks. I needed that” wop across the cheek, “change the channel” reminded them to stay positive. It helped them switch the television station in their heads from the blare of negative complaining and gossip to awareness of what was right in their worlds.
Neuroscientist Rick Hanson in his podcast, Hardwiring Happiness, reports that several studies suggest our brains may be hardwired to focus on problems instead of solutions.
We dwell on bad experiences long after they’ve passed, and worry about what might go wrong well before it happens.
Hanson’s studies show that positive thoughts or feelings quickly disappear from the mind’s radar unless we consciously hold them for at least fifteen seconds, the time needed to leave an imprint on our neurons.
By holding our positive thoughts and feelings in our mind’s eye for just a few seconds, we create positive memory traces in our brains.
Maybe Louise, Hanson, and my mom are onto something. By changing the channel in our minds and intentionally training our brains to hold onto positive words, thoughts, and feelings, we can alter our moods. Eventually, if we practice positive visioning over a period time, the direction of our lives moves toward lasting peace and happiness.
Eastern religious traditions call this practice centering ourselves through a mantra. We literally train our brains to quiet, connect with our hearts, and seek deeper inner compassion.
Phrases like, “I am love and loved; I am God’s Beloved; I am at peace,” keep the mind focused and positively affect the mind, body, and spirit connection.
St. Paul called it “Rejoicing in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4-9). Today we might call it contemplation, centering prayer, or mindfulness.
Regardless of what we name the practice, it points in the same direction the book of Proverbs instructs: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
I tried this change-the-channel practice. One of the daily inspirational emails I receive offered this affirmation, so I ran with it, and held it in my mind’s eye:
“I now affirm that life is good and unfolding in miraculous ways.”
Following Hanson’s instruction that the brain needs to retain the positive thought for at least fifteen seconds for it to take hold in our neurons, I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and savored the words.
My jaw untensed. My breathing slowed. Calm came over me. I felt connected with God and myself.
As I went about my day, I noticed my mind would ricochet back to its negative thought pattern. I had to train myself to become aware when the negative thoughts creeped back in, and then use the affirmation to re-center and ground myself in the “good medicine.”
Critics might say this practice is simply new age mumbo-jumbo. They can even claim we are not trusting God if we rely on our own will power.
I suppose if we take God out of the practice, it does become an ego-centered way of trying to feel good.
But, when grounded in a prayerful, grateful heart, and steeped in a deeper awareness of God’s love and acceptance, it actualizes 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Put simply—when negativity sets in, change the channel.
—brian j plachta