The Relationship Between Neuroplasticity and Positive Thinking
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new connections throughout one’s lifetime. This process can be affected by our experiences, activities, behaviors, and even our thoughts.
How do your thoughts affect your brain?
In order to adapt to an ever changing environment, the human brain has evolved to constantly reorganize its synaptic connections in accordance with new incoming information. Some of this information may come from the outside as in the case when we learn that a stove is hot to the touch, while other bits of information come from within. Anticipating a negative event, for instance, has been shown to alter your brain’s function to resemble how your brain might look if the negative event were actually taking place. While anticipating something positive, such as eating your favorite food, can prompt the brain’s circuits to fire as if you actually are eating your favorite food, which even causes you to salivate at the mere thought of it.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that your brain constantly thinks negative thoughts about the future and has a negative bias. The bias and discernment developed in the primal era because it made man more cautious and safer (e.g., not step out onto an open field without looking around first).
Now that we live in a much safer society than our ancestors did, the brain’s negative bias interferes with our happiness. Positive thoughts are just one method of reducing that deficit of positivity in your brain.
How your brain changes can be attributed, in large part, to what kind of thoughts you entertain. So when practicing positivity every day – not only will it make life more enjoyable for yourself now; imagine how great those results could become five years down the line!
What is Positive Thinking?
Positive thoughts are focused on positive outcomes and require realistic beliefs about the future or past events. Positive thinking is not ignoring problems but looking for solutions to turn things around for the better.
Here are some positive thinking methods:
- “I’m going to make friends who share my interests at this new school I’m attending” instead of the negative “I probably won’t make any friends because I’m awkward.”
- “I will not let this setback hold me back from pursuing my goals for this semester, and I will do better next time” instead of saying, “I’ll never get this!”
Thinking positively is a choice that you can make each day that has lasting, positive results on your life. If you find that these positive thinking techniques are not working very well for you, even after repeatedly practicing them, that is okay.
Negative thinking patterns can be insidious and take a lot of work to change. You do not have to suffer from these thoughts if you work hard enough to overcome them.
Benefits of Positive Thinking
According to research, optimism can improve a range of outcomes, from your sense of satisfaction with life, to your likelihood of making better decisions.
Yet, some people are naturally more optimistic than others.
Past research shows that people who maintain an optimistic attitude live longer and lead healthier lives than those who do not. The study suggested that being positive-minded can increase the likelihood of seeing your 85th birthday. This is because optimistic attitudes can lead to better decisions, which leads to better overall health.
Some studies have shown that positive thinking can reduce the risk or severity of illness and boost your immune system. These studies link psychological stress to immune changes brought by stress, where there is existing vulnerability, such as HIV infection.
Furthermore, positive thinking has been shown to magnify the effects of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in our brains, which is especially helpful in reducing depression.
One of the most important benefits of practicing positive thinking is that, when you consciously practice it, it actually becomes a habit over time and eventually can even become your new natural reaction to negative or difficult situations.
Furthermore, an article on The American Addiction Center highlights how positive thinking may be helpful for people who are suffering from addiction because the chemicals associated with positive thoughts can, over time, replace the chemicals that produce cravings for drugs, alcohol or other substances. One great way to practice this is to summon positive thoughts about the future, or seeing yourself healthy and fulfilled whenever you notice a craving emerge.
How to Train Your Brain To Think More Positively
Just like developing any new skill or habit, learning how to think and react positively takes practice, but it’s well worth the energy that you expend.
Try these simple steps each day to begin cultivating positive thoughts:
- Affirm positive statements to yourself out loud or in your head
- Keep your goals within reach but slightly out of reach, so they keep growing. If the desired result is too close for comfort, then there will be less motivation.
- Write down three thoughts that you want to be more aware of throughout the day
- Don’t go it alone. Having a buddy or even a community of people, like the one re-origin provides, can help you stay on track and overcome your brain’s old negativity bias.
The Effect of Positive Thinking on Neuroplasticity (and vice versa)
People react differently to events and environments based on their unique experiences, but there is no doubt that neuroplasticity plays a huge role in our ability to adapt.
Neuroplasticity, then, builds on top of the benefits that positive thinking provides by allowing you to create new neural pathways in your brain.
Positive thinking leads to healthier behaviors and more interactions with other people, leading to increased neuroplasticity that counteracts the brain’s natural negativity bias. For example, athletes and other performers can build the necessary skill set to adapt to their environment and perform optimally under pressure.
By cultivating a long-term habit of thinking positively, you will become less prone to negative emotions and more likely to integrate positive thoughts into your daily routine and attract success.
Frequently asked questions about positive thinking.
How does the brain respond to positive thoughts?
The brain can be retrained into responding positively to positive thoughts. When the brain is expecting negative stimuli, it will always find them. On the other hand, when you give your brain positive thoughts to work with, it tends to shut down the negative triggers.
Why is positive thinking important?
Your thoughts can be one of your greatest tools for coping with stress and creating wellness in your life. The way you think impacts your emotional state, which then impacts the chemicals in your brain. These changes lead to more pleasant feelings and even better physical health.
How do I rewire my brain to think positively?
Practice! Every time you think positively, you reinforce new neural pathways in your brain that eventually become automatic processes.
What happens to the brain when you think positively?
When you think positively, your brain begins to recognize the benefits of thinking in this way (feeling less stressed and more engaged with your surroundings) and actively searches for things to reinforce that pattern.
The benefits of positive thinking are vast and there is still so much in the field of positive psychology to learn and explore. Positive thinking is a choice that you make every day, but the benefits are undeniable over time. The best part about positive thinking? There are no negative side effects.