Miércoles 27 de Agosto de 2008, Ip nº 244

A positive attitude changes our brains for the better
Por Christine Spooner

"I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can."

Anyone who has read Watty Piper's classic The Little Engine that Could, or had it read to them as a child, will remember those words and the book's heartwarming values of optimism and encouragement.

It turns out that our ability — and our children's ability — to make it up life's mountains can be directly influenced for the better through our attitude and the words we choose to use with ourselves and others.

Recent research in neuro-plasticity — the scientific word for the brain's ability to reorganize itself in response to experience — suggests that there's more to Piper's message than just feel-good wishful thinking.

Even later in life, new neurons continue to be created in the brain.

As described in Sharon Begley's book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves (Ballantine, $14.95), it is "not just that the brain changes its structure throughout life, but that we can become active, conscious participants in that process."

Brain mapping shows that the areas for emotional and executive functions are interconnected physiologically. (Executive function governs our ability to start, stop, plan and execute actions.)

Because of that, thinking positively helps to create new connections between neurons in the brain that support motivation and effort — now and in the future. As a basic concept in neuroplasticity states: "Cells that fire together wire together."

Parents can take advantage of that connection by encouraging children to try new things and reminding them of their abilities and past successes. This helps them forge a literal link between optimism and initiative.

When a child struggles or fails, it is more effective to encourage than berate.

If your child gets frustrated while trying to accomplish a task, suggest that she get up and walk around for a bit or otherwise take a break. This unhooks the mental connection to the difficulty.

Help her remember other times she has done a similar activity and succeeded. Talk about what specific actions worked then. Ask whether she thinks applying the same actions will work this time.

While discussing the problem and working through the steps, ask your child whether she thinks she can accomplish the task.

When she says, "I think I can," together you will have reinforced the neuro-synapses that lead to new learning and repeated success.

  21/08/2008. Democrat and Chronicle.