The science of positivity
"Think positively!" "Look on the bright side!" "Cheer up, it could be worse!" ... Sound familiar? More than ever before our social media feeds are full of quotes about the power of positive thinking. We are encouraged to keep gratitude diaries and see life in a glass half full kind of way. Not only are we told "we are what we eat" but now "we are what we do" and "what we think" as well. But what is the evidence behind this positive thinking movement? Is it actually worth persevering with for the many of us who find it a struggle? Well yes is the short answer.
How we think, affects how our bodies react.
Research clearly tells us now that our minds and our bodies are intricately entangled. Each affects the other. Read the rest of this paragraph and then close your eyes and picture the scene as clearly as you can. Imagine there is a basket full of lemons in front of you and next to it a chopping board and a knife. As you look at the basket, you pick up the juiciest looking lemon there and you lift it up and smell it’s wonderful refreshing, zingy scent. You place it on the chopping board and cut it into four pieces and notice the bright yellow flesh and the juice oozing out. Imagine placing each piece of lemon in your mouth now, one after another, sucking out all of that sour juice so that your whole mouth is filled with the taste of lemon. And now, notice just how much you are salivating in reality! All from an imagined lemon.
Our imagination affects how our brains are wired.
A study carried out by Pascual-Leone in 2008 studied the brains of people asked to practice a sequence of piano notes every day for five days, compared with those asked to simply imagine playing. The resulting brain scan evidence showed that the area of the brain corresponding to our finger muscles grew by 30 to 40 times in both groups. The scans could not be told apart.
So research suggests that while consciously we can tell the difference between imagination and reality, our subconscious minds cannot. They react to us imagining things as if we were actually doing it and over time and with repetition, lasting change can be made. But there’s more!
How we use our bodies affects how we feel.
In 2010, Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy published results from a fascinating study. She invited a group of people to simply stand in a ‘power pose’ for two minutes, standing up straight, shoulders back, eyes up. Saliva tests before and after the two minute period showed a 25% reduction in cortisol, the chemical produced in our brains when we are stressed and anxious, and a 20% increase in testosterone, produced in both sexes when we feel confident. They also reported feeling more confident just from standing like Wonder Woman or Superman for two minutes. Another group were asked to stand in a weak pose (head down, shoulders hunched, slouched). Saliva tests this time showed a 15% increase in cortisol and a 10% decrease in testosterone and they reported feeling more anxious and negative, just from the way they were asked to stand.
So where does this get us in terms of thinking positively?
Well it shows us that it matters and it works. We can play the game and our brains will respond accordingly. If we spend our time focusing on problems and worries, our brains will produce chemicals associated with anxiety and negativity, increasing neural connections in the areas responsible for keeping us feeling like that. If we focus on what’s good in our lives, whether big or small, if we work on finding solutions instead of problems, our brains respond in kind and magnify our positivity, our mood and our chances of success.
What can I do?
You know those gratitude diaries we keep reading about? They work! One of the ways of starting is by taking a few minutes, either before going to sleep or in the morning, thinking about what has been good over the last 24 hours, whether that be small observations of life around us and taking time to enjoy those moments, achievements that have been made or even big wow events. Aim for at least three a day and the harder they are to find, the more important it is to find them. Writing them down in a dedicated diary really helps to focus the mind and builds a wonderful journal of positive success over time, helping to rewire our brains to become even more positive, happy and confident.
If you have a lurking superhero inside you, why not try the power pose for a couple of minutes every day? Repetition is the key to success!
How can solution focused hypnotherapy help?
This combined approach builds upon the latest research from neuroscience about how our minds create unwanted negative symptoms, feelings and behaviours. It supports clients to achieve a solution focused, positive mind set and then embeds this through hypnotherapy. We can see now that dwelling negatively on problems and worries sets us into a negative spiral, emotionally and neurologically. Solution focused hypnotherapy starts from today and works forward. The past has gone and what’s done is done. So why not paint that picture of how you DO want things to be and find those small positive steps forward that will set you on the path to achieving just that.