Elaine Fox, author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook
, has done extensive research on how attitude is formed and shapes our lives. In her book she discusses how the combination of genetics and environment play a role in how we view the world.
During her research, Elaine Fox flashed images of both positive and negative pictures very quickly. The images were designed to be seen only by one’s unconscious mind. In general, the mind of a pessimist will be drawn to the negative images while the more positive person will gravitate toward the more cheerful pictures. These tendencies stem from actual brain activity and everyone has both a “sunny” and a “rainy” part of their brain. It would be unrealistic, and actually unsafe, if we always viewed the world in a positive light. We need to be able to find balance between the different parts of our brain. The way we use these opposite parts of our cognition defines our personality in many ways.
What is most promising about Fox’s research is her conclusion that the human brain can be trained to think more positively. This is certainly something I have witnessed as a therapist over the years. With the use cognitive behavioral therapy I have seen many clients who have spent the majority of their life as a pessimist and then adopt new ways of thinking that alter their entire perspective. The science tells us that the way we interpret our world, and how we chose to think about things, ultimately becomes a habit. Therefore if a person is prone to viewing their circumstances in a negative light, they actually have the ability to learn to shift their outlook to become more positive. Fox believes that, “our brains are more flexible than we ever dared imagine.”
Research doesn’t always give us good news but this information is certainly hopeful. We have long known that having a positive attitude is good for our health, gives us a better chance of success in many areas and improves our interpersonal relationships. With the exception of the presence of a profound mental illness such as Major Depression, the idea that someone is simply hardwired to be a downer needs to be reconsidered. Knowing there is an ability to change and to in fact teach yourself to be an optimist should help inspire you and give you hope that the world can be a brighter place if you choose to see it that way.
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