Research has shown that to stay motivated, happy, and successful, you must train your brain to think positively. The term “train” used in this context may well bring to mind the image of an obese person, who in a bid to lose weight, has to condition himself into abandoning ingrained unhealthy eating habits. But one might wonder what unhealthy habit the brain is ingrained with? The answer is simple- negativity bias.
The negativity bias theory holds that negativity is a default state for the brain- courtesy of our survival-based evolution. That is the reason things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on our psychological state than positive things, even if they are of equal intensity. Thus, you may find yourself dwelling all day on the criticism given by your boss while you only feel good about a compliment of equal proportions for a few hours. You will find that a single negative thought resulting from an unwanted event in the morning can ruin the rest of your day and affect your productivity. Terrible, right? That is why you must train your brain for positive thinking. Here are five things, backed by research, that can help you do that.
The Magic of Exercise
In the course of your existence, no doubt, you will have heard of the numerous benefits of exercise. Weight control, energy boost, fitness, health improvements, and the list goes on. But something you probably have not heard is that exercise can do all that because it helps train your brain to think positively. This in turn leads to productivity and happiness.
A study carried out by researchers from the Department of Exercise, Nutrition, and Health Sciences of the University of Bristol found that employees who exercised before going to work, or during lunch breaks, experienced less stress, more productivity, and were certainly more ready to face whatever the day has in store for them. The study involved 201 volunteers who worked at three popular companies in Bristol. They were people who exercised almost regularly and mainly had desk-based jobs.
The participants of the study were handed questionnaires regarding their mood and were asked to fill them out on any two workdays of their choice: a set for a day they decided to exercise and another for a day they didn’t. The results of the research as published in a paper by Jo Coulson, Research Associate in the aforementioned department, showed that “72 percent reported time improvement in managing time demands, 79 percent in mental-interpersonal performance, and 148 percent in managing output demands”.
The findings from the focus group of the study showed that people who exercised during a workday were calmer, re-energized, and more able to solve problems.
To train your brain for positive thinking then, you should try exercising more regularly. Jogging or running a few miles, swimming for a few minutes, or some other form of exercise done daily will bring immense benefits to your brain and improve the quality of your life. In Jo Coulson’s words, “If people try to fit an active break into their workday, they might also experience the bonus of their whole day feeling much more productive” and, if we might add, happier.
The Healing Touch of Music
In the opening verse of his comedy, “Twelfth Night”, William Shakespeare said: “If music be the food of love, play on.” Although used in a lovelorn situation, those words go to show the powerful effect music has on humans. Listening to music has been linked to several health benefits such as increased neurogenesis in demented patients, stroke recovery, reduction of blood pressure and anxiety, sleep improvement, and etcetera.
Music can do so much because of its ability to reach out and touch our brains, so to speak. Music influences our thought processes, making it a very effective tool to train your brain with. A study carried out by Stefan Koelsch et al of the Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergan, showed that music has a direct effect on our thoughts and not just on our emotions.
The study involved 62 participants. They were presented, in six different trials, with 2 minutes excerpts of heroic or sad sounding music (matched in tempo, loudness, and orchestration). After each excerpt, they answered a questionnaire designed to ascertain the content of their thoughts. They were also allowed to pen down a brief description of their thoughts. What were the results? (source)
It was found that the thoughts evoked while the participants were listening to heroic music were more positive, exciting, motivating, and constructive than when they listened to sad music. On the other hand, sad music elicited thoughts of demotivation and feelings of solemn calmness in the participants.
This research shows that not only can you use music to train your brain for positive thinking, but also that the kind of music we listen to determines if we’ll become more positive or if we’ll just regress further into the quagmire of negative thoughts and its disastrous aftermath.
Classical music, meditative music, and sounds with the ancient Solfeggio Frequencies (especially the 417Hz Solfeggio Frequency) have been noted to be especially effective in drawing out positive thoughts. You can try listening to some of those before a workday or in the background while you go about your business. There is no limit to what you can achieve just by listening to that good old sound that makes your brain light up in a positive way!
Set Yourself Up For Success
What makes you tick? What motivates you into sliding right into your everyday routine feeling like you have a dose of adrenaline coursing through your veins? “Money” seems to be the ready answer for most. In fact, when psychologist Teresa Amabile and her partner, Steven Kramer, interviewed several managers about what motivates their employees, 9 out of 10 believed it was money, and so they just keep harping on bonuses and raises. Surprisingly though, several studies have shown this to be false.
In their research paper tagged “The Power of Small Wins,” Psychologists Teresa and Steven proposed that one of the most motivating factors for individuals is “making progress” regardless of how small it is. The research comprised of twenty-six project teams who were given simple projects that requires creativity, such as managing product lines of cleaning tools and inventing kitchen gadgets. There was a daily survey to inquire about the emotions and moods, motivation level, and perception of the work environment for that day as well as what work they did and the events that stood out in their minds.
Comparing the best and worst days (based on their overall mood, specific emotions, and motivation levels) of the participants, the Psychologists found that “the most common event triggering a ‘best day’ was any progress in the work by the individual or the team”. In contrast, “the most common event triggering a ‘worst day’ was a setback.
The beauty of this discovery is that it opens up ways for you to train your brain for positive thinking. How so? All you need to do is allow your brain to think you’re making progress. Here are a few tips to help you do this:
- Set clear and attainable goals.
- Break large tasks into smaller ones.
- Do something you enjoy.
- Take some time to reminisce what you have accomplished and pat yourself on the back now and then.
When you follow these simple guidelines, you’re setting yourself up for success and training your brain to breed positive thoughts at every turn.
A Grateful Soul, A Perpetual Feast For Your Brain
How would you define gratitude? If you say it is a feeling of appreciation, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, in a broader sense, it is the appreciation of that which is valuable to you and represents a general state of thankfulness. This seemingly insignificant concept has been found to both foster positive thoughts and hence contributes to a person’s overall wellbeing.
To ascertain the relationship between gratitude and wellbeing, Dickerhoof R.M. conducted an experiment in which students could participate in one of two exercises. One of the exercises would supposedly boost happiness while the other consisted of “cognitive exercises”. Both groups were told that the exercises they were partaking in has the likelihood of increasing their overall sense of wellbeing. This was done to equalize the expectations of the participants. The first category required the participants to write letters of gratitude while the other was required to write about events of the previous week.
The result was that participants in the “gratitude” group demonstrated increases in wellbeing compared to those in the “past-events” category. Leveraging on this expected outcome, you can train your brain to be positive too.
Ask yourself, what are you grateful for? Is it something as lofty as having more than enough to eat or something as basic as just being alive? Get a gratitude journal and at the beginning or end of every day, write several things you are grateful for no matter how small, and then thank someone for something. In no time, you will begin to see more of the positive things around you than the negative. You will, in essence, be training your brain to overcome its negative bias. And what’s more, you will be better for it too!
Positive Self-Affirmation- The Way to Go
I can do this. I can be that. I am strong. I am powerful. The foregoing are all examples of positive self-affirmation statements. Positive self-affirmation is a process that involves a conscious choice to think certain thoughts that will create positive results in the long run. It’s like jolting your brain out of its norm and setting it on a path of your choosing. How is this possible?
Scientists believe that neurochemicals increase in our brains when we have a thought. These create patterns between cells that are connected by synapses. When a particular thought is replicated, it is communicated quicker and more automatically, thus affecting our outlook of life. Imagine the effect a positive thought repeated many times could have on the brain!
The effect self-affirmations have on the brain and a person’s wellbeing has been confirmed by several studies. One such study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience captured the effect of self-affirmations on a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. At the end of the research involving 67 participants, the results showed that there was significant activity in several parts of the brain, more prominently the prefrontal cortex ( a part of the brain linked to different executive functions), of participants who provided positive self-affirmation. In contrast, the brains of those who did not provide positive self-affirmation did not show as much activity. Those in the former category were also less sedentary afterward than those in the latter.
Train your brain to be positive by using positive self-affirmations more. Say good things about yourself. Tell yourself you are worth it. If a situation is negative, try using “but” to change it into something positive. For instance, “I may be broke now but I’m working hard and I’m sure I’ll be just fine.” Master this wonderful act, and watch your brain win against the negativity bias.
Granted, our brain is naturally trapped in a web of negativity, through no fault of our own. But it doesn’t have to stay trapped as these studies have shown. The escape key is simple: exercise more, listen to good music, pat yourself in the back for small wins, be grateful and show it too, and finally, say good things about yourself repeatedly and mean them. The numerous benefits associated with positive thoughts such as more productivity, happiness, and good health are within reach. You just have to reach out and grab them.