June 13, 2016

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Negative Thinking Hinders Reason

February 24, 2016

It's easy to dismiss the power of positive thinking as something that motivational speakers have simply conjured up in an effort to bolster attendance at their seminars.  But, believe it or not, there is SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH which actually backs up the fact that both positive and negative thinking have very real chemical effects on the brain, either enabling or limiting, our ability to make rational decisions and think clearly under pressure and immediate stress.

 

According to research done in 2010 by Mark Ellenbogen at Concordia University of Montreal, "Attentional shifting may represent a means of regulating the stress response."  In other words, when you feel stress, negative thoughts naturally follow about the situation because your brain is only able to focus on the stressor, and getting you away from it.  It is for our survival that our brains are vigilant in seeking out negative information (threats) in order to protect us from it.  So, if you've ever felt like you can't "think" or "process" what's happening during a negative encounter or dangerous situation, you're right.  Because of our natural survival instinct, we lose the ability to think about anything else, or even process what's happening in real time.

 

This makes sense.  When we are threatened, whether percieved or actual, the survival instinct kicks in, and our brain is naturally hardwired to bypass reason entirely and release chemicals that increase heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline, and highten our senses, all in an effort to prepare us for fight or flight.  While this may have served us well in the fields and forests, this response does little to help us in the jungles of the workplaces, the boardrooms, or the living rooms in which we often experience stress today.

 

During an uncomfortable encounter with a co-worker, a meeting with a supervisor, or an argument with a family member, neither "fight" nor "flight" is an option.  What is called for in these situations is reason and the ability to listen, think and communicate.  Unfortunately, our natural chemical reaction bypasses reason altoghther because if we "thought" about avoiding the car coming around the curve unexpectedly, the child reaching for the hot stove, or the falling object above us, we would NOT react in time.  This instinct keeps us alive.

 

There is research, however, which demonstrates that even though these reactions still take place on the biochemical and physical level (and we need them to), our brains can be trained to be LESS reactive and MORE reasonable, even when the fight or flight response is activated.  Our brains are highly elastic, and the more frequently neural pathways are used, the stronger they become.  The converse is also true.  To put it simply, if your brain has been so trained by the constant use of the positive thinking neural pathways, those pathways will be much stronger than the pathways that elicit a negative emotional response to a stressful situation.

 

There's no doubt that the nervous, anxious, or even angry feelings we will naturally experience during difficult situations will never entirely go away, and some element of the fight or flight reaction will always remain during a stressful situation, but

 

having a brain that is trained toward the positive (and has a difficult time thinking negatively) is much better equipped to maintain a rational frame of mind even when under pressure.

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