Be Present! Rewiring your brain for positive change

We grew up thinking that to be successful, we need to work hard. And when we are successful, we can buy our dream home, our dream car, travel around the world and then we will be happy. In the realm of positive psychology, our brains work the opposite way. The success formula that we know is broken. Recent discoveries say,

“Success is fueled by happiness, not the other way around.”

I recently did a talk on positivity in one of the prestigious universities in Manila. I shared my learnings from a book I recently read entitled, “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.

Shawn Achor spent over a decade researching and lecturing at Harvard University. In his book “The Happiness Advantage”, probably one of the most extensive research conducted on happiness, he teaches us how to rewire our brains to live a happier life. He cited case studies gathered from the executives of Fortune 500 companies in 42 countries and created the “Seven Principles of Success and Happiness”. These principles revealed that happy people have a psychological advantage over the people who are unhappy.

Achor said,

“Our brain at positive is 31 % more productive than if it is negative, neutral or stressed. Salespeople are 37% better at sales. Doctors are 19 % faster and accurate in their patient diagnosis. Our brains at positive, help us get better, secure jobs. We produce superior productivity. It makes us are more resilient, and we have less burnout.”

                                                                                      – (Lyubomirsky,2005).

We think better when we are positive. We become more creative, motivated, engaged, energetic, compassionate and productive at work. This discovery is supported by rigorous research on neuroscience and psychology.

When we are happy, dopamine ( the ‘pleasure chemical’ of the brain) floods in your system. It turns on all the learning systems in our brain, allowing us to adapt to the world in a different way.

It’s all in the mind

A study was conducted on Happiness in the 80’s. It was applied to two populations namely:

1. HIV positive patients and
2. Lottery winners

Four years later they tested them again. They found that the HIV-positive group has higher levels of happiness than the lottery winners.

They came to a conclusion that the mind determines our experience of life. Yes, there are circumstances and conditions that are important but our experience of life is determined by the mind. These are supported by hundreds of true stories of people who transcended from difficult circumstances (ex. in prison camps). We have the ability to change our experience of the world.

Our brain molds to the things that we focus on and think about, and the experiences that we give ourselves.  They say,

“Neurons that fire together wire together.” 

Our wild thoughts are the firing neurons.  The more negative thoughts we focus on, the more we wire our brain to negativity which brings forth fear (worry, anxiety, depression). And process goes vice versa.

The mind filters what we want to experience. There are two ways of understanding these: One, is a matter of perception. What we think of as reality is our interpretation of it.  Our mind is like a filter. It filters out what we don’t want to experience and presents what we want to experience.

Second, is a matter of function. We learn through meditation. We have a choice where to direct our attention. We can either think positive thoughts or spiral into the negativity of the mind. A good analogy is, our mind is like a flashlight. You can flick its beam in any direction. This has enormous consequences because where we focus our attention determines our experience.

Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish Philosopher and writer said,

“Tell me to what you pay attention to and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Most people do not use this tool to its full potential. The quality of our life is not determined by what we do but by how we use the mind to properly respond to situations.

Harnessing the power of positivity

According to Achor, training our brain for positive thinking even for just two minutes a day for 21 days can produce outstanding results.

We can rewire our brain by doing activities that ripple positivity:

1. 3 Gratitudes ( Emmons and McCullogh, 2003)
2. Random Acts of Kindness (Lyubomirsky, 2005)

3. Exercise (Babyak et al, 2000)
4. Meditation (Dweck, 2007)
5. Journaling( Stacher anad Pennebaker, 2006)

By doing any of these activities, even for just two minutes, can reverse the formula for happiness and success. So snap off from all your worries and be present. Pause, take a deep breath, and be happy.

When was the last time you have done any act of kindness?  How did you feel?  I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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