Monday, August 12, 2013

Retraining the Brain

I freely admit I don’t have a lot of time for pessimists. I like ideas. Solutions. Ambition. Problems, to me, exist only because they haven’t been solved. The difficulty with pessimists is they tend to focus on the problem. They then look for problems with the solution.

A lot of us just accept that it’s a personality issue. A state of mind that can’t be changed. But science is now proving that that’s a load of bollocks. The human brain is a remarkable thing and is capable of changing the way it works – if we want it to.

The BBC took a look at the science behind personalities in a recent documentary. Presenter Michael Mosley, a sufferer of chronic insomnia for two decades, had his brain tested at Essex University by Professor Elaine Fox. Professor Fox found that he had more activity in the parts of his brain associated with negativity and suggested he undertake two forms of mental training daily.

For seven weeks he undertook basic meditation for 20 minutes a day, focusing on his breathing. Secondly, he stared at a computer screen filled with blank or angry faces and one smiley face. Identifying and clicking on the smiley face triggered a new set of faces. And so on. When he returned after seven weeks, Mosley felt his mood had lifted. He was sleeping better and felt happier. His brain scan backed it up. His brain activity was more equalised.

As a radical optimist, I’m not at all surprised by these findings. But then I’m not the one in need of any convincing. What this science does do is send a message to those who are struggling with negativity, and who have accepted it as their bit in life, that there is a way out. Like most things in life, it’s just a question of believing in yourself. If you’re unsure of your state of mind, Professor Fox even has a simple test for you. It only works if you’re honest, obviously. Check it out.

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