Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Change your mind


The day didn’t start out well. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I was groggy and a little dim witted. It seemed as though customers were vying in a contest for the most ridiculous requests. One by one, they topped each other.

First there was the lady who came in by herself with orders for her whole office, of which there were 5 Jennifers. [It made writing names on the cup interesting]. Each was minutely detailed. Oh, and she didn’t have a cart or anyone to help her carry.

There was the man who truly couldn’t comprehend the fact that we don’t have an oven to heat his scone in, that I seriously began to wonder if it was I, who was being unreasonable.

Having to explain the new policy to disappointed and a few disgruntled customers throughout the entire morning did little to add to the overall positive morale. 

I’ve always thought that the power of positive thinking was wishful thinking at best, and crap at worst. I thought that if a situation is bad, there is nothing wrong with saying so. It’s the only way I knew of to trouble-shoot.

As it turns out, my opinion of positive thinking was steeped in biology. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the problems. Looking for the bright spot in the middle of negativity is counter-intuitive. It’s not natural.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that positive thinking actually strengthens the brain, as exercise stretches and strengthens my other muscles. It’s a way to build brain muscle! As with any exercise, you have to train it. By practicing gratitude, the brain produces neurotransmitters that brighten the mind.

So what are some ways we can flex the mind? By practicing gratitude. Next time you are In the middle of a problem, stop. [don’t worry, you have time], and be grateful for the things that ARE going right. Be thankful that it’s not 100 times worse.  By changing our focus to positive things, we can change our outlook drastically.

Neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, says “Research suggests that when people practice gratitude, they experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, and that’s probably correlated with more of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.”

He cites an interesting study to support his findings.  
“When college students deeply in love are shown a picture of their sweetheart, their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center of the brain. As the mind changes—that rush of love, that deep feeling of happiness and reward—correlates with activation of a particular part of the brain. When they stop looking at that picture of their sweetheart, the reward center goes back to sleep.”

It works the other way as well. By fretting and worrying, our brain produces unhealthy levels of the hormone cortisol, which only makes a stressful situation worse.

Need some ideas of things to focus on in the middle of trying situations?
• Make a gratitude list
• Think of ways you can help someone out
• Sing Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now, by Starship

You’re bound to be in a better mood in no time.

c. 2012

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