The science of optimism and how it affects your resilience

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Resilience: bouncing back from life’s adversities

Some people seem to deal with whatever is thrown at them. Deadlines, back-to-back meetings, long hours, presentations, staff issues, even family demands. They take it all in their stride.

Traditional thinking has lead us to believe that these lucky people are born with the ability to deal with stress – while the rest of us struggle to cope with life’s constant demands. For some, stress is just too overwhelming.

However, neuroscience findings show us that learning to handle stress and develop an optimistic outlook is within everyone’s grasp because we all have the power to literally re-wire our brain!

The science of optimism and how it affects you!

Just as the brain enables us to learn a musical instrument or a new sport, it can also become hardwired to respond automatically to negative stimuli. One example is stress! This ‘automatic’ thought process prevents us from actively seeking other solutions to dealing with life’s problems.

Left to its own devices, our brain will focus on the negative. This is our evolutionary survival mechanism so that we are continually alert to potential danger. The brain’s threat detection centre is the amygdaya. Unfortunately the result is that many of us carry a level of background anxiety and are permanently looking for things that could threaten our survival.

The destructive power of pessimism…

The results of stress and a pessimistic outlook on the human body are well documented. Impaired immunity, increased risk of major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer; stress literally kills brain cells. These physical effects are in addition to the impact stress has on our working and personal relationships and quality of life.

So how can we combat this?

One effective solution, offered by Shawn Achor, is “Three Good Things”: My phone alarm goes off at 7:15pm every evening and this is my cue to remember 3 good things that happened during the day. This habit trains my brain to scan for good news, rather than threats. If my family are present, we take turns at the dinner table to recite three good things. In a similar vein, 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.

The reason employees often complain about feeling criticised is because, in order to “survive”, their manager is unconsciously scanning for threats in terms of deficiencies and depends on picking up any perceived shortcomings, rather than praising good work. 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.

Being positive will strengthen your resilience to setbacks and enable you to achieve where others struggle. With the right coaching, it is entirely possible to switch your mindset – even if you’re currently buried deep-within negativity.

Click here for information out our training solutions or get in touch directly to find out how TWI can help.

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