Positivity and its live-changing effects on your brain
I have always thought that positivity was good for the brain. However, I was still taken aback when I read a recent article on the CNN website, titled Negative thinking linked to dementia in later life. This didn’t just confirm for me what I knew, but reinforced it all the more.
The article explores a new study which found that repetitive negative thinking in later life was not only linked to cognitive decline, but connected to the presence of greater deposits of two harmful proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Isn’t that incredible? We are often swift to separate body from mind, which is always a mistake.
It got me thinking again about retirement, and the potential health hazards that lie in not living a life of purpose in your later years. Because without purpose, how can we be positive? And without positivity, as proven by this research, how can we have healthy brains, and enjoy longevity?
The article asks us if we are pessimists by nature, a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person? Are you? I have always been inclined to see my glass as half full, but understand that attitude doesn’t come naturally to everyone and it’s definitely something I have deliberately cultivated in later life.
Negativity can make you ill
So what’s the science behind it? “We propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia,” said Dr. Natalie Marchant, a psychologist and senior research fellow in the department of mental health at University College London, in the article.
“Negative thinking behaviours such as rumination about the past and worry about the future were measured in over 350 people over the age of 55 over a two-year period. About a third of the participants also underwent a PET (positron emission tomography) brain scan to measure deposits of tau and beta amyloid, two proteins which cause Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia”.
The scans revealed that people who were inclined to be negative in their thinking had more build-up of these proteins, and in turn worse memory and greater cognitive decline over a four-year period, compared to people who were more optimistic.
The study also tested for levels of anxiety and depression. And sure enough, they found greater cognitive decline had taken place in the brains of depressed and anxious people. But deposits of the proteins did not increase in the already depressed and anxious people, leading researchers to suspect repeated negative thinking may be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Positivity is the key
So what’s the solution? It’s easy to just say, ‘be more positive’ but is it that easy? Probably not, but in later life, it’s essentially a ‘no-brainer’ as not only does it protect from dementia, it’s been proven that the more positive the person, the greater the protection from heart attacks, stroke and lung problems.
It goes even further than that: research has found a direct link between optimism and other ‘healthy attributes’, like eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and having a stronger immune system.
Thankfully, research has also shown that, a bit like training your body for a sporting event, you can train your brain to think more optimistically. How? Meditation certainly makes a difference, and in the article I discover that one of the most effective ways to increase optimism, according to a meta-analysis of existing studies, is called the Best Possible Self method, where you imagine or journal about yourself in a future in which you have achieved all your life goals and all of your problems have been resolved.
This is something I teach my clients. Your mental programs are wired to past memories: when you hear people say ‘the good old days’, what they are in fact saying is that their present circumstances are unappealing. But, as the research proves, your thoughts have an immediate effect on your body, and that negative thinking will impact on your health, physical and emotional.
You can ‘rewire’ by creating a desirable future memory and visualising it with all your senses. For example, you might want to imagine your dream of travelling the world is fulfilled in later life, and you can do so without any financial constraints. Go into a quiet room and visualise this in your mind. Engage all your senses; note the colours, touch, taste, what you hear, and how you feel. I guarantee you will feel more positive!
Another effective technique to overcome negativity is to practice gratitude. If you are in a grateful state of mind, you are open to new possibilities. Try reflecting on what you are grateful for now, then write down what you would like to be grateful for. Write in the present tense, use emotionally charged words and be richly descriptive. For example, “I am so happy and grateful now that I am pursuing my dream of being a blogger and writer in my retirement years”.
By being grateful for something you have not as yet received, your subconscious mind is led to believe that your desired outcome has already occurred, and will find a way to accomplish it for you. So gratitude doesn’t just make you feel more positive in the now – it can help you achieve your desires. A powerful tool indeed.
I hope you found this as interesting as I did. Remember, to avoid the health hazards of retirement, we must recreate and redefine a new life for ourselves, a life of positivity – a life of passion, purpose and potential.
George Jerjian’s new flagship online course – “Dare to discover your purpose” is available now.
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