Day: May 16, 2012

Wielding Optimism

Optimism can shape our reality. Our ability to look at a situation and discern whether the outcome will be good or bad is skewed by experience. If we experience a negative outcome and approach every situation that follows with skepticism, our beliefs of a negative outcome become re-affirmed. It is then easy to start to look for that negative in everything. The reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Training the brain to be positive is like training the muscular system. Recent research on neuroplasticity shows that as you develop new habits, you can rewire the brain. So, what does this mental workout entail?

Find your personal strength- Recent research has shown having an “Oprah moment” of psychological growth in response to a traumatic event in your life is possible if coupled with specific action. In other words, the belief “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” can only be accurate if a personal betterment of self is associated with it. According to, “Post-Traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Side,” by The New York Times, recent studies done on trauma survivors show positive change in relation to renewed appreciation, better relationships, and more spiritual satisfaction.

Meditation – This concept has been brought up in past blogs, but transitioning from internal dialog to awareness can bring deeper clarification of our perceived reality. Learning to be present and experience with our senses while observing our reaction to it is crucial to breaking the cycle.

Controlling memory – You can cultivate positive energy by changing the stories you tell about the events in your life. This goes back to being the observer and noticing how you process your experiences.

BREATHE – Controlling your breath will reduce anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. A lot of our physical habits/ reactions can negatively impact our mental state and visa versa.

Control the external environment – It seems like common sense, but find the things you enjoy participating in and make it more of a routine. Research suggests people are attuned to context when they are experiencing positive emotions. When you spend more time allowing yourself to see the good that surrounds you in even the smallest of details, you can train your brain to recognize the positive, or evoke positive emotions in response.

Visualization/ modifying the senses – Using a visual to imagine every time you notice your thoughts going in a negative direction can divert your thought pattern. Try envisioning a stop sign, which can give even more motivation to control that negative thought path, or visualizing something funny (i.e. a purple elephant in a tutu). This is like self-induced semantic priming, where you are evoking a reaction to a situation when it occurs later in your life.

You can also get a theme song. I’ll never forget one summer I took an accelerated summer course in organic chemistry that was so grueling. And, I remember one kid would sing to himself, “You’re the Best,” by Joe Esposito as his theme song. Let your song be a reminder you can choose to redefine what is possible.

Write a gratitude journal – Reflecting on all you have to be grateful for leaves you with true appreciation. This as a regular practice should keep everyone thankful & optimistic. More importantly, it keeps you realistic. Life is hard and every human being has a collective of both positive and negative experiences that help shape your personality. Recent research suggests an optimal ratio of positive to negative being 3 to 1. This to me seems an arbitrary demonstration of our need to have balance in every aspect.

Psychologist Martin Seligman proposes in his book, “Flourish,” a new well-being theory. He believes there are four pillars of well-being, including: positive emotion induced by happiness, satisfaction, and engagement; meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. We can all flourish by reminding ourselves to view optimism as training our brains.

If you have questions about this posting, or would like ideas on beginning a new workout regime, please feel free to contact Personal Fitness Trainer Amber Walz.