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Tools To Develop Your Mental Muscle And Defeat Your Inner Critic

Written by: Fanny Elizaga, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Don't let your inner critic hijack your brain and suck you into a vortex of negativity. Many of us suffer unnecessarily by ruminating or repeating negative thoughts. The habit originates in what neuroscientists call the Default Mode Network (DMN)**or what popular science writers call the imagination network.

Human brain using dumbbell exercising.

Why do we tend to repeat negative thoughts rather than positive ones? The brain is wired with a negativity bias. For survival, our ancestors had to be acutely aware of whatever might pose a threat to the environment.

That bias may have served us well when we were hunters 120,000 years ago. In modern times, however, it often causes unhealthy fixations. A cascade of stress hormones is released in the process. When stress appears chronically, it can take a devastating toll on our health.

The good news is that we can counteract this hardwired habit. We can prevent it from hijacking our thoughts. Mindfulness practice acts as an antidote; it develops the neural pathways that lead to resilience and emotional balance.

1. Build the Neuro-Muscles that Lead to Resilience.

In the same way, a bodybuilder gradually increases the load his muscles can take through repetitions, you can increase the load your brain can take through mindfulness exercises.

Savoring an experience with gratitude, for example, reinforces positive neural pathways. The more you repeat the exercise, the stronger your mental fitness will be. Science shows that the act of mindfully savoring a positive experience is a distinct predictor of positive emotions and psychological health.

When we incorporate our senses, enjoying the experience to the fullest, we add intensity to the experience. The more joy we feel while we celebrate a moment of gratitude, the more we reinforce the positive neural pathways.

Establish an intention to savor activities that you do every day. When you walk, eat, brush your teeth, or take a shower, bring your full attention to what you’re doing. Bring in all your visual, olfactory, auditory, and tactile senses, and deeply immerse yourself in each sensation.

2. Prevent Anxious Thoughts from Hijacking Your Brain

When you practice being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, you’ll learn to adopt an attitude of responsiveness instead of one of reactivity. When you recognize your inner critic taking control, you take action to tame it.

Anxious and negative thoughts are not necessarily harmful; they provide warning signals. Ideally, they invite you to check in with yourself. When you ignore them, however, they may take over.

Neuro-Tip: Activate Your Neuroplasticity Switch

  • The next time you have a negative thought, simply become aware of it. Listen to your body cues: notice any physical changes, like tension in your body or tightness in your chest. Is your breathing shallow, or is your heart racing? Reframe tension and anxiety as a warning signal.

  • Then flip the neuroplasticity switch:

  • Activate the Salient Network (SN) to immediately quiet down the Default Mode Network (DMN), where negative thoughts and anxiety develop.

  • When we engage in any mindful activity, we activate the Salient Network- the wisdom center of the brain where kindness, gratitude and positive emotions generate. When activated, it moderates and balances the activity between the DMN and Executive Network (EN)

Follow this recipe to activate the switch:

  • First, mindfully yawn 3 to 5 times, noticing the temperature of the air entering your throat and feeling your lungs and belly expanding with each yawn.

  • Then, engage in a Super-Slow-Motion-Stretch bringing your full attention to each piece of the movement, feeling each muscle elongate and noticing any other sensations in the body.

  • Next, shift to a Moment of Gratitude and Savor it with full intensity for 30 SECONDS

This practice helps you consciously build a habit of shifting out of your negativity bias into a mindfully aware and present state of mind.

When you up your mental fitness using brain-based strategies, a repatterning begins to take place in the brain. Soon, you form a habit of noticing negative thoughts before they take over. You’ll learn to shift almost automatically.

Read about the brain networks in my recent article “Brain Network Theory and the Art of Cultivating Emotional Resilience” Click this link.

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Fanny Elizaga, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Fanny Elizaga is an occupational therapist, certified Neuro-Coach, and trauma-informed mindfulness trainer. Over the years, she has embraced her passion for learning and applying holistic modalities for mind-body healing in her personal and professional life. Fanny is also a Reiki master practitioner and certified instructor in the art of Qi-Gong. Fanny inspires, empowers, and educates her clients by teaching brain-enhancing tools for self-improvement, expanding out of their comfort zone, and thriving. Fanny is also the founder and trainer of Neuro-Wellness Academy; she is genuinely passionate about creating content and courses based on practical brain science – for wellness, resilience, personal transformation.





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