Science and Thinking Positively | Next Up Coaches | Toronto

Some of our favourite principles to teach at NextUp are gratitude, appreciation and changing our inner critic into our inner coach. Essentially, the goal for all of these lessons is to develop a positive mindset. Why are these our favourite? Because thinking positively can actually rewire your brain! We all know that having positive thoughts makes us feel happier and more alive. But did you know that having positive thoughts also makes us more productive, energized and intelligent? I promise, it’s true! 

Before I knew anything about life coaching I thought (like you might) that the term “think positive!” was a cliché term that was a kind of a catch-all comment that didn’t have much meaning or specificity. I couldn’t relate because it felt so… general? But friends, there is science to this and we truly CAN rewire our brains to be more positive, and reap the many benefits of doing so! 

So a long time ago, there were people called hunters and gatherers. They encountered many environmental threats while trying to meet their basic needs (shelter, finding food and water, warmth, etc.). Their brains automatically scanned their environment for potential threats (scary animals, lack of materials to build shelter from a horrible storm, etc.). Though what I’m referring to was thousands of years ago, we know from evolutionary psychology that the human brain HASN’T CHANGED MUCH! What I mean is that we still scan our environments looking for threats (she’s prettier than me, the teacher isn’t calling on me much, grades required for university are so competitive, etc.). We are automatically attuned to seek out what could harm us or our success in life. 

When I used to audition for everything, all the time, I remember how upset I was when I didn’t get the job. I was like, devastated, felt like a failure, talked about it obsessively, and started hating the whole process. My emotions about it were about a 45 out of 10. Then, a couple of years later, things around and I started booking back to back, without even having to audition some of the time! I felt really happy. My emotional reaction was like a 8 or 9 out of ten. Do you hear what I’m saying? When bad things happen we feel them so so so much, because we’ve been trained to. Then good things happen and we’re like “okay cool awesome. Next? Because I know a bad thing will happen so I gotta be ready…”. Do you ever want to leave a restaurant review when the meal was awesome and you had great service? Probably not because you’re relaxed and happy. But when something goes wrong at a restaurant you’re already on Yelp before you get in the car.

Our intentions are good. We are trying to protect ourselves from potential threats to our psyche, health and future. However, when we focus on the negatives (80% of our thoughts a day are negative!) or on what isn’t working, we not only miss out on so much of life but truly do a disservice to ourselves and our potential for success.

Here’s the science: We have a thing called a prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain where all brain functions meet and then get dispersed to other parts of the brain or the body. When positive information is sent into that prefrontal cortex, brain functions like creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, focus and faster processing vastly improve. Essentially, when our thoughts are happy, there is brain growth in the prefrontal cortex through the reinforcement and generation of new synapses (how information is passed between cells).

When we are in an anxious or stressed out state, our brain actually draws resources away from the prefrontal cortex, making the brain unable to perform at a high or even normal level. It is difficult to take in new material or think creatively when this occurs. “The prefrontal cortex decides the amount of attention to pay to something based on its importance and how you feel about it. The more you focus on negativity, the more synapses and neurons you brain will create – supporting your negative thought process.” (Whitaker, Dr. Lou). Since we all know the brain and the body work together, thinking more positive thoughts (therefore building a healthy prefrontal cortex by reinforcing synapses) tends to lead to improved physical health as well! Want to get better at sports, dance, or gymnastics? Think positive. 

The good news is that we HAVE the capacity to rewire our brain! Thinking positive thoughts can strengthen our prefrontal cortex and therefore positively impact our ability to regulate our emotions, improve our higher order thinking skills and stay focused, just to name a few of its benefits. 

NextUp has so many incredible tools to help the next generation develop a positive mindset. Now that you know the science behind it, how could you not want to try? It just takes practice! And it truly makes life more fun! 

Work with us to learn the numero uno big deal game changer when it comes to developing a positive mindset. In the mean time, download this worksheet for some ideas on how to get started on rewiring your brain for a healthy mindset! 

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