The neuroscience of positivity


Combat negativity and create an optimistic outlook for life

Our brain consists of an “emotional” brain and a “thinking” brain.

Emotional BrainThe emotional brain

Otherwise known as the reptilian brain or limbic system was the first part of our brain to evolve – approximately 500 million years ago. It is our survival system – its job is to continually monitor the environment and assess whether any change to the status quo is a potential threat. In our cave-dwelling days, for example, the appearance of a wild animal would be immediately processed as a threat, and would invoke our freeze, flight, fight response.


Thinking BrainThe thinking brain

Much later in our evolutionary history our thinking brain evolved – approximately 2 million years ago. The thinking brain is much slower to process information, so we still rely on our emotional brain to keep us safe. Now that we have moved out of caves, threats don’t come in the form of dangerous beasts; these days you might get a call from your boss, “please come and see me in my office after lunch” – most of us would think “Oh dear, what have I done wrong?” This is our emotional brain assessing the situation as a potential threat, and preparing us for action.

Because our emotional brain is five times stronger than our logical brain, we will continue to ruminate about the situation, and over-rule any logical interpretation of why our boss wants to see us. Our brain is essentially a survival machine, continually scanning for threats and keeping us on high alert. Unfortunately the result is many of us go round experiencing background anxiety as we are continually looking for things that could go wrong.

Train your brain to seek positivity

So how can we combat this? There is one simple exercise called “Three Good Things”: My phone alarm goes off at 7.15pm every evening and this is my cue to remember three good things that happened during the day. This habit trains the brain to scan for good news, rather than threats. If my family are around, we take turns at the dinner table to recite three good things. At work, we start every team meeting asking each person for one piece of good news. Creating this cycle of positivity really does shift the mood, and gets the meeting off to a great start.

Interestingly, the reason employees often complain about feeling criticised at work is because their manager will unconsciously be scanning for threats in terms of the work of his or her staff. A manager’s ‘survival’ depends on picking up any perceived shortcomings, not on praising good work. So my phone alarm comes in handy here as well – at 12pm everyday it tells me to ‘compliment someone’. Again, this creates a new habit, making not only the other person happy, but also creating positivity in me.

Positive Thinking

Create more positivity in your life!

Remember, the emotional brain is five times stronger than the logical brain – so good intentions are not enough – make sure you set a couple of daily reminders on your phone!

Take action now!

Visit our Website to find out how to tap into the power of your mind.

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    • Thank you, Paul – it’s easier to do than you think.
      The first item on our team meeting agenda is “one piece of good business news from each person”.
      It may seem a small thing, but it really does focus the “mindset” of the meeting from problem to solution, and generally creates an upbeat mood – Just do it!

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