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How Your Mind Sculpts Your Brain

Did you know that every time you intentionally shine the spotlight on the positive, valuable, and worthwhile you change your brain for the better? It’s true! Have you ever heard the phrase, “neurons that fire together, wire together?” Well, that is exactly what happens in your brain to strengthen the relationships between what happens in your life and the way you feel about it —  for the good or the bad.

Take a situation — any situation — and think about its positive aspects; for example, your last team meeting in which everyone was totally engaged because they all felt their voices were being heard. Those positive feelings of collaboration will stimulate the neural networks in the reward centers of your brain to “fire and wire” together, which in turn helps you learn from and repeat that particular positive experience. Then, the next time you are in a similar meeting, the reward circuitry in your brain will fire and wire in a similar pattern, strengthening those positive feelings. Those stronger positive feelings in the moment will help to increase your and the team’s engagement level and enthusiasm for working together.

Of course, the same process is involved when you dwell on negative experiences. When something we perceive as bad happens, neurons located in the “avoid harm” centers of the brain fire and wire together. This is how we remember the telltale signs of problems and signals of danger.

What these findings in neuroscience mean on a practical level, and in terms of leading positive, is that you can intentionally strengthen your capacity for asset-based thinking (ABT). Over time, your ability to shift out of deficit-based thinking will become easier and faster. Once you calculate that a seemingly negative situation is not life threatening—really, it is simply a temporary setback—you can train yourself to shift at-will into ABT mode. This process of using your thoughts to sculpt your brain is called self-directed neuroplasticity.

Turn Obstacles Into Opportunities.

On your next commute home from work, try this exercise to strengthen your ABT mindset.

  1. Reflect back on the events of your day.

  2. Recall three disappointing or frustrating situations.

  3. For each one, ask yourself:

    • How did that situation serve me?

    • What did I learn?

    • What did I say and do to handle the problem?

Remember, it’s not what happens that counts, it’s how you use it to your advantage–now and in the future–that matters most.

Dr. Kathy Cramer was recently interviewed by Rodger Dean Duncan about her work and the upcoming book Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do. The interview has been published by Forbes and you can read it online.  Great Leaders See, Say, and Do                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo by:  JessicaGale

Dr. Kathy Cramer

Kathryn D. Cramer, PH.D.
Founder and Managing Partner, The Cramer Institute