How Positive Thinking Impacts Our Performance
Research has shown that we are around 31% more productive when we are positive than when we are stressed. 70% of our thoughts are negative and many of us still suffering with anxiety and burnout as a result of the pandemic, so how can we use positivity in the workplace, especially at a time like this, to improve our performance, engagement and motivation?
Business neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw explains: “We know that positive thoughts can induce self-healing, reduce depression, fear, pain and enhance the immune system and can affect our mood, productivity and motivation, whereas negative thoughts can have the opposite effect. We also know that long term stress is bad for us. The release of cortisol to raise our glucose level and adrenalin that causes our blood vessels to constrict helps us in a fight or flight situation but becomes toxic if turned on in the long term. What’s interesting therefore, is that it may have taken a pandemic for us to truly realise how important our worker’s happiness is and how greatly it impacts their brains and performance.”
What happens when we feel positive?
Positive thoughts stimulate the dopamine reward system in the brain, which improves our mood and motivation. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is released when we feel upbeat, and it regulates our sleep, appetite and emotions. So when we feel good, we sleep well, eat properly, emotionally cope far better and have greater levels of concentration and motivation.
Neuropeptides, which are tiny molecules of parts of proteins, switch on emotion and emotion switches on neuropeptides like endorphins which are a natural painkiller. Oxytocin another neuropeptide lowers blood pressure, stress and inflammation and vasopressin and nitric oxide increase circulation, which supports a healthy heart. Neuropeptides are also involved in hormone regulation, assist with storing memories and support the immune system which means that they reach further than the brain and into the body.
“Psychology studies have also shown that by actively being more positive and helping others we actually lengthen our lives and feel a lot better in the process. When we focus outside ourselves our problems are often put into perspective and we can feel less overwhelmed and keep our focus wide. When we seek to be of service to others or are working as part of a team, we feel less isolated and more valued and validated.”
Living in the moment
When we suffer from Rear View Mirror Syndrome which is where at a subconscious level we constantly relive and recreate our past, we often suffer from anxiety, low confidence and a lack of spontaneity and don’t challenge ourselves. Dr Shaw says: “If we live life with pleasure and in the moment and enjoy our work, not only does this positively impact our mental and physical health, but we are also the most effective and efficient we can be.”
Our self-fulfilling prophecy is where our belief or expectation of an event is powerful enough to influence whether it happens or not through our subsequent actions. There are both positive and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. “If your goal is to pass a chartered exam or deliver a project and you are determined to achieve this through hard work and perseverance, you will be motivated to almost ensure that it happens.”
Visualising your future
With more of us following the footsteps of what top athletes have done for decades, in the utilisation of visualisation to improve their performance in sport, Dr Shaw believes this is a useful technique in the workplace. “Taking a few moments to visualise a better future or a successful presentation can be an empowering tool which can help the mind focus and body relax.”
Making sleep a top priority, fully winding down after a day at work and taking your holidays can have a very powerful effect on the brain. Overworking makes our neurons more excitable and alert which leads to trouble sleeping, mood swings, and poor memory, focus and confusion. More serious mental health problems can also occur like depression and anxiety. Looking after ourselves sharpens our mind, makes us feel happier, boosts creativity and productivity, and keeps us agile and focused.
Social support is the greatest indicator of happiness during periods of high stress
Having the support of your manger and colleagues can be the difference between coping or not during periods of high stress. We are pack animals and need to feel part of a team which is another reason why equality and inclusion are so important and impactful on our happiness and productivity.”