Are you a cup-half-full or a cup-half-empty type of person? How you view the cup speaks to the power of our thoughts. To look at the cup as half-full is to believe in the power of a positive outcome. Some take this a step further and believe that positive thinking is more likely to result in a positive outcome. That idea may seem laughable or inspire skepticism, but often those who see the cup as half-full are happier.
Gratitude and positivity come from appreciating what we have in life, rather than what we don’t have. When we focus on what’s good and are grateful for what we have, we feel more positive emotions, build strong relationships, and we’re better equipped to deal with adversity. Honing a positive mindset helps us build resilience to life’s challenges.
There is evidence that being around others who have these positive attitudes makes it easier for us to feel more positive ourselves. Of course, the opposite is also true: being around people who are negative will make you feel more negative yourself.
But you already knew that.
The environment we find ourselves in is critical to mental health.
The Brain Versus The Mind
The symptoms of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression are caused by the mind’s response to triggers. For many patients, triggers aren’t obvious. A person who is stressed out and feeling bullied at work, but can’t quit because they need the money, can be triggered just by thinking about going back to work on Monday morning.
While the mind shapes your response to triggers, it’s the brain that interprets what your mind wants, leading to those unpleasant symptoms of the mental health issues mentioned above. You can see how the mind leads the brain. In this case, the mind leads the brain. What if the brain could lead the mind?
Opening Locked Doors
Imagine that the brain is a house, filled with many rooms. Each one has a locked door stopping you from going in. Now imagine it’s like a scary movie, where at the back of the house is a locked door that never gets opened. There is a bad smell coming from it which drifts down the corridor into other parts of the house. In the past you’ve tried to block this smell by rolling up towels and placing them at the base of the locked door. It seemed to help for a bit, but it isn’t working anymore.
This is what it is like in the brain of a person who has had some trauma in their life. The locked room is, well, locked, but the source of the bad smell continues to cause problems and temporary fixes haven’t worked.
In the treatment of mental health, we often incorporate elements of radical positivity. It’s a technique in which the goal is to identify something positive in every situation and then tell someone about it. We aim to build new thinking habits that lead to good mental health through the practice of radical positivity.
Imagine a Different World
While it’s easier to feel grateful for grand gestures, the real key is learning to appreciate the mundane. Imagine a day where you not only notice but bask in a sun that shines, in the warmth of a coffee cup in your hand on a cool day, and the friendly nudge from a joyful puppy. Noticing these snippets of joy can improve one’s overall well-being and train the brain to shift from negativity to happiness and optimism.
For people who can’t get there on their own, combining radical positivity with psychedelic therapy may provide the push they need to move past the mental block of not being able to visualize a different, more positive outcome.
And remember that house with the locked doors and the bad smell? What if, with the right combination of psychedelics and psychotherapy, you could not only find the right door but also open it? What if you could walk through that open door and find the room with the bad smell, remove the mouldy and rotting substance causing the smell, and open the windows to air the room out?
Psychedelics and therapy approaches, including radical positivity…working together to open doors, removing rotting material, letting sunshine in. That is my vision.
You can learn more about a new multimodal approach to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in my book The Promise of Psychedelics: Science Based Hope for Better Mental Health, publishing April 2022.