In the video game “Tetris,” players fit falling puzzle pieces together in order to create the most complete picture. As the game continues, the pieces fall faster. Creating order and cohesion out of chaos is necessary, as it is a common human desire.
I never liked “Tetris,” but I think it was because of that falling-faster business. My brain and personality are not particularly skilled at creating order, so the idea of things coming at me faster and faster was not appealing. Apparently, if you play it long enough, you begin to see “Tetris” shapes in other things. This is another common human phenomenon: The brain can be trained through repetition to see patterns.
The Everyday Matters workbook discusses how our brains easily get stuck in negative repetitious patterns of viewing the world. Have you ever tried to help somebody who is stuck in that pattern? For every suggestion you have, they have a reason why it won’t work for them; “Yeah, but…” I have been that person on plenty of occasions and can recall, with a twinge of remorse, my many excuses for being unable to better my circumstance. Everyday Matters encourages us to flip the switch and retrain our brains to look for positive patterns.
The workbook explains that, “When our brains scan for and focus on the positive, we benefit from three of the most important tools available to us.” These are:
- Happiness: The more you focus on the things that make you happy, the better you feel.
- Gratitude: The more opportunities for positivity we see, the more grateful we become.
- Optimism: The more the brain picks up on the positive, the more we expect it will continue.
Has your mental mindset turned negative? Is your MS throwing new and unpleasant symptoms at you faster and faster? The ever-changing nature of MS is one of the most challenging aspects of this disease. It can become a real struggle to maintain order and hold one’s life together amid the many falling pieces.
I just had a vision of myself as a tiny person standing at the bottom of a “Tetris” screen, trying to dodge the falling pieces. (It was really more of a “Space Invaders” scenario, which feels about right for my MS.) So, how do we flip that switch and start to see positive patterns?
The best way is to practice “Cultivating Happiness” and gratitude. Finding gratitude in each day provides practice for seeing positives. It really does get easier with time. Does this mean that bad things won’t happen or that you should ignore them? I cannot promise sunshine and rainbows, nor would I ask someone to dance while their house was on fire. But I do believe there can be small moments to be grateful for amid the storms.
Identifying things we are thankful for provides a greater awareness of what makes us happy and encourages us to infuse more of these things into our life. This worked for me. I discovered I was frequently grateful for a cup of tea or some pretty flowers. This elevated the importance of tea time and I found myself creating a ritual of mindfulness around tea. And after a tough day at the office, you can find me at a local botanical garden or walking the dog around the neighborhood, pausing to admire the various plants and flowers in the yards.
As these positive pieces build upon each other, we are nudged toward optimism. Just as I expect water to flow from the faucet when I turn it on, or the ice cream to be in the freezer (except when my son is home from college), I now expect good things in my day. Having been a self-proclaimed “realist with pessimistic tendencies,” I find it humorously difficult to use the word “optimism” to define this mindset. But there you have it — I think I may be optimistic! Even on bad days — when I wake up with a massive MS hug, have foot spasms and arm paresthesia by noon, and need to lie down in a darkened room to fend off an afternoon migraine — even on these days, I expect and see positive things in my life.
Replace negative thoughts
Are you aware of any areas in your life where you have a negative thought pattern or strong self-criticism? The strategy of Negative Thought Replacement, or replacing your negative thoughts with positive ones, may be useful. For instance, my self-critic likes to point out that I am disorganized. But, thanks to SMART goals, I have done some work on this. Instead of telling myself the same negative story, I can say, “I am taking steps to organize my workspace,” or “I have set up a good system for tracking my bills.”
The author says, “You may not quite believe yourself at first since you may be used to your negative thoughts driving everything. If your thoughts are reasonable and encouraging, continue saying them to yourself. Instead of predicting disaster, your newer, more positive thoughts will now pave the way for solutions you may have never considered before.”
The great thing about positive psychology is that the skills can be learned and adopted individually. Start with just one change and the next step will be easier.
There are some things that I cannot change. Despite my best efforts, I still have MS and sometimes it seriously sucks. But I can change how I see my world. Each day I can wake up and decide to be grateful. Each moment I can ask myself if I want to be happy. Sometimes we may choose to be sad, and that’s OK. Life has some truly heartbreaking moments. What’s important is that our default pattern, or “Tetris” tower, shifts toward a positive mindset. By practicing gratitude, happiness, and negative thought replacement, we can learn to expect and see good in each day.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.