Re-wiring your brain to positive

Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change – it’s the realisation that we can – Shawn Achor [1]

Up until the latter half of the twentieth century, accepted wisdom in psychological circles was that our brains’ wiring is pretty much fixed. It was believed that once we hit our twenties, our neural pathways would be entrenched and we’d be stuck in rigid patterns of thinking, confined in terms of our abilities. Since then, however, cutting edge research in neuroscience [2] has turned these ideas on their head. Neuroplasticity describes how our brains are shaped by our circumstances, actions and experiences. We all have vast potential for intellectual and personal growth, well into old age. And better still, the power to create these change resides within ourselves.

Our brains receive far more pieces of information every second than we could possibly attend to – we CHOOSE what we notice  – whether we realise that’s what we’re doing or not.

Evolutionary psychology has highlighted our brains’ negativity bias [3] which predetermines us to scan the environment for, pay more attention to and assign more ‘weight’ to negative stimuli. Once upon a time, this was crucial for our survival  – but it’s not quite so helpful nowadays when we’re striving to achieve our potential. Thanks to neuroplasticity, however, we can ‘re-wire’ our brains to notice more of the positives.

Positive psychology practitioners have developed a variety of simple activities which have exactly this effect. Probably the most famous is the ‘3 Good Things’ exercise, which involves writing down 3 positive experiences or occurrences from the previous 24 hours, together with an explanation for the cause of each of these, every day, for at least a week. Research [4] has shown that people who continue this practice beyond the initial week report lasting increases in happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms.

Another technique is to use mindfulness meditations to bring our attention to the present moment and so notice and focus on more of the ‘good’ around us [5]. The more we practice each activity, the more we develop neural pathways which scan our environment for the positives. By appreciating what we find, we experience more growth-promoting positive emotions, leading us in an upward spiral toward flourishing.

It’s all about what we choose to focus on……….

[1] Achor, S (2010). The Happiness Advantage – The seven principles that fuel success and performance at work. Random House Inc. New York.
[2] Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain that changes itself. New York. Penguin.
[3] Pratto, Felicia; Oliver, John P. (1991). “Automatic vigilance: The attention-grabbing power of negative social information”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61(3): 380–391.
[4] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421
[5] Williams, M. & Peneman, D. (2011).Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Piatkus. Great Britain.


‘We are The Positive Psychology People’

Nikki Ayles



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