Did you know that your mood and attitude influence your thinking? Researchers have shown that positive emotions actually fuel creativity and enhance your reasoning skills, creating more successful results. This is because a positive mood changes the way your brain processes information. If you’re under stress, feel beaten down, or are in a sad mood, your brain hunkers down. You become more detached and cautious because your brain focuses on what’s wrong and how to eliminate it. On the other hand, when you are in a relaxed, cheerful mood, your brain opens up. More neurons fire and your brain is likely to enter into a creative, exploratory state. You begin to seek out new experiences in your environment. You feel expansive, generous, tolerant and productive.
Want proof? Barbara Fredrickson, a professor at the University of North Carolina, has done experiments that demonstrate the intellectual and creative payoff of positive emotions. For example, suppose you are given a candle, a box of tacks and a book of matches and are then asked to attach the candle to the wall in such a way that wax does not drip on the floor. Now, before you begin, the experimenter gives you a small bag of candy, or lets you read cartoons, or has you read a series of positive words with expression. Each of these actions will create a good feeling. It turns out that when this positive emotion is engaged, you are more likely to be successful in completing the task.
Here’s another example. You are asked to respond as quickly as possible whether or not a word belongs to the category “vehicle.” You hear “car” and without hesitation, you respond “true.” Same for “airplane.” But what about “elevator.” Vehicle or not? Well, an elevator does move people and things from one place to another, but people are often slow to recognize it as vehicular. But, if the experimenter were to induce a positive emotion first, you would respond faster.
So, here are some suggestions for putting those “optimistic smarts” to good use.
- Match your mood to your task. If you are feeling sad or somber, don’t try to accomplish something that requires creativity. You will be more successful and feel more in sync with tasks that are detail oriented or more routine.
- Practice visualization. Remember a time in your life when you were happy or content. Now close your eyes and bring the image to all of your senses. Breathe deeply as you recall where you were, what you saw, heard, felt, etc.
- Shift the emotional climate. Select lights or music that will shift your mood into the positive zone. Look at a beautiful photo or painting. Say positive words aloud. Shout “yes” as you throw your hands in the air!
Don’t allow a downward spiral to ruin your “smarts.” When you need to pull on extra brain power, creativity, or productivity, be sure to take the time to put yourself on an upward spiral. The end result will be worth it.