Choosing What We Pay Attention to Affects Our Mental Health

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What we pay attention to matters.  It matters so much that helping people change their focus is an integral part of many approaches to mental health therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, positive psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, logotherapy, and many more. The idea is that we often can’t choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond to it. How we respond has a lot to do with what we pay attention to. 

In a recently published study, researchers revealed that people who tend to hold onto negative experiences are more likely to experience a reduced sense of wellbeing compared to those who notice negative events and situations but are able to quickly redirect their attention and change their thoughts about the experience1.

This is deceptively simple, of course, as the human brain is hardwired with a negativity bias that has us constantly on the lookout for problems so we are ready to do something about them2.  Simply being aware of what you’re thinking about is an important first step. Then, you can practice shifting your focus to a more positive (but still realistic) idea or solution to a problem. While it’s not an instant fix or cure-all, becoming aware of our thoughts and focus positions us to choose our attitude and actions rather than remaining victim to circumstance. 


  1. Puccetti, N.A., Schaefer, S.M., van Reekum, C.M., Ong, A.D., Almeida, D.M., Ryff, C.D., Davidson, R.J., & Heller, A.S. (2021, March). Linking amygdala persistence to real-world emotional experience and psychological well-being. Journal of Neuroscience. Retrieved from 
  2. Marano, H.E. (2016, June). Our brain’s negative bias. Psychology Today. Retrieved from 

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Your Thoughts

Today's Question: How does focusing on something positive affect your own mental health? We invite you to participate by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and knowledge on the HealthyPlace Facebook page.


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Self-Help Quote

“You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” 

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Thank you,

Community Partner Team - America's Mental Health Channel
"When you're at, you're never alone."

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, May 17). Choosing What We Pay Attention to Affects Our Mental Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: May 24, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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