Success in life depends on the state of our brain, and the state of our brain depends on our state of mind. The negative mental states that stress generates literally shrink the higher order brain function that is needed to succeed.
The good news is that by actualizing qualities that promote a positive mindset, we create the neurological conditions that not only repair but also expand higher brain networks, enabling an individual to flourish in all our endeavors.
This has huge implications for business. Results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people (APA 2005) have found that every key business outcome improves when people are emotionally positive.
- People are 31% more productive, three times more creative, and a positive mindset increases sales by 37% (Lyubomirsky, 2005).
- We are ten times more engaged with work (Achor, 2012), and prosocial in ways that achieve superior customer service (George, 1991), and facilitate teamwork that is highly collaborative. (Barsade, 2002).
- In addition, a positive mindset fosters supportive relationships, which in turn predicts a longer and healthier life (Danner,2001), and lowers health care costs for companies (APA,2002).
The brain scans on the right show the difference in brain function when we’re positive and well-adjusted compared to when we’re stressed and depressed. Multiply the difference by 1000 and you have the loss in brain power in a company doing nothing to alleviate stress.
Genetics and past traumas conspire to wire the brain for stress, but we can rewire these faulty circuits. The rewiring process is called neuroplasticity, which refers to the way a change of mind that changes our experience changes our brain. A positive mindset not only repairs the brain, it also stimulates the growth of new neurons to form new connections that expand brainpower.
A company culture that facilitates a positive mindset gains an advantage over a company where stress and anxiety prevail. It’s called the neuro-competitive advantage, which is a company where neuroplasticity is at work, elevating the brain function to generate the fluid and creative intelligence that innovates and achieves goals, along with the emotional and social intelligence that instills more joy in our work, more peace in our lives, and greater harmony in our relationships.
Rewiring the brain to positive is simpler than you might imagine, and the brain rewires quickly, within 4 to 6 weeks. Simple approaches that add little to your to-do list prove to work best. The process of change centers on actualizing a to-be list of such qualities as gratitude, calm, inspiration, respect, and optimism.
The tools and exercises in my new book, The End of Stress, offer a step by step approach to building and sustaining the mindset that generates the brainpower to flourish. Below are five simple steps to help get you started.
Gratitude is core to a positive attitude. So, once a week think of three things for which you are grateful, and enter it into a notebook.
In addition, start each day mindfully. Take five minutes of quiet time to feel grateful for another day of life to pursue your dreams and equally for another day to be with the people you love. Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achievements. Imagine relating to the day’s ups and down with a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative attitude.
Studies show that people who consciously frame their day experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, are more likely to feel connected with others and be more supportive, and they are also more likely to sleep better that night.
Calm and Clear
Stress erodes the dynamic state of peace and clarity that is key to intelligent action.
Becoming more aware of our own anxiety, depression, and pessimism enables us to bust the stress-provoking thoughts that drive these negative mental states. There is a tool called the Clear Button that collapses negative thinking, preventing it from escalating into a stress reaction.
Here’s how: When your thinking becomes stressful or negative, imagine a button at the center of your palm. Press the button and keep pressing it as you count to three, thinking of each number as a color.
- Breathe in, count 1, and on the exhale think red
- Breathe in, count 2, and on the exhale think blue.
- Breathe in, count 3, and on the exhale think green.
- On the next breath, let your mind go completely blank for 10 seconds.
- Next, refocus on the problem at hand, committing yourself to being calm, creative, and optimistic.
If the problem you face feels out of your control, recite the Serenity Prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the one from the other. Then make a list of whatever you still control, not the least of which is your attitude.
Stress locks the brain into a pattern of repeating the same unproductive effort, blocking a more inspired approach. Igniting the brain’s creative circuits involves taking a 20 minute break from work to allow your brain to generate a creative insight and to replenish ions that fuel fast brain waves. Get into the habit of taking breaks during the day, keeping your mind open to receive a creative insight from your brain.
The success of our relationships is determined by three attitudes. The first is an attitude of unconditional positive regard, which is the respect we show for the intrinsic worth of every human being, whether realized or not. Research shows that the more our worth is respected, the more it takes hold to actualize our potential for success. The second attitude is empathy, which is the willingness to step into another person’s shoes so completely that we lose the desire to judge them. This promotes the self-understanding in both the giver and the receiver, which correlates with self-esteem. The third attitude is congruity, meaning there is a match between what we are experiencing on the inside and how we are relating on the outside. Congruence is what makes a relationship honest and trustworthy. These three attitudes foster the level of attuned communication that sustain interpersonal resonance.
Helen Keller said “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” The research I’ve cited makes it abundantly clear that a shift in mindset from stressed to positive generates the brain power that predicts achievement. Your success empowers a second shift, which is the shift from the thought – I can’t do this – to the feeling I can do anything.