One of my favorite TED Talks is also one of the most viewed. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor had me laughing out loud. He explores how we master our mindset and the effects of daily habit!
According to Achor, positive brains test higher in almost every measurable area. Among other things, it’s 3 times more creative, 31% more productive, up to 10 times more engaged. Sounds good, right? His research also identifies five common elements in creating lasting positive change. Interestingly, the first two explicitly involve writing, so I did some research.
Is there a way to use writing to change the lens by which we view the world?
“It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.” Shawn Anchor
It’s commonly believed the world we live in or our circumstances are predictive of how happy we are or can be. The reality is our happiness comes from how our brain processes and views the world. If we can change the lens, we not only change our happiness but the way we view it.
Our mindset is an established set of attitudes created in our brain. Mastering our mindset — changing the lens —requires us to retrain our brain to see the good already there. It is not a matter of working harder to find happiness, just smarter.
Here is where the writing makes the difference. Research from Princeton and UCLA found a difference between students who take notes on paper and those who use laptops. The ones who write learn and retain more than those who use laptops. They’ve found four main reasons for how writing creates a change in our brain.
- Handwriting engages different parts of your brain. It creates a neural activity to help your brain believe what you write.
- Physically recording your thoughts allows you to more fully process your feelings.
- Writing gives you an edge in understanding and remembering concepts.
- Taking notes by hand slows us down and allows our brain to create more long-term memory cues and improve recall.
Not only does research show writing to be therapeutic, but it also helps with mindfulness. Writing actually increases activity in the brain’s motor cortex creating an effect similar to meditation. It stimulates and engages your brain in a more effective way causing it to slow down and focus. The question is what do we focus on to bring about this lasting positive change?
The Process of Putting Pen to Paper
You know how this works. Take a pen and put it to paper. Write down what you feel grateful for, what were your wins, what went well today?
Shawn Anchor suggests starting with three gratitudes each day. They need to be more than “I’m thankful for my kids,” or “I’m grateful the sun came up.” Add a WHY to your gratitude and it will tell your brain a story. Instead try: “I’m thankful for my daughter because I felt loved and needed when she gave me a hug after her hard day at school” or “I’m grateful the sun came up this morning because it helped me wake up and start my day refreshed.”
I took my journal and wrote my three gratitudes starting in the front, then I flipped the journal and wrote three things I could celebrate as a win starting in the back. Eventually, my list of gratitudes and wins will meet in the middle and I will have a journal full of positive events and memories to relive in my brain.
Another fascinating thing about our brain is it can’t tell the difference between an actual event or a memory —they both produce the same positive vibes and chemical release in our body. This is where writing becomes essential. When we write down our gratitudes, wins, and positive thoughts it allows our brain to replay the good — finding a positive focus to redirect our mindset.
Where your focus goes, your energy flows.”—Janeen Alley
Creating a Daily Habit
Creating a habit helps our brain retain a pattern. Experts say it takes 21 days to establish a pattern, but the longer and more consistently you work to keep this habit the better your brain will be at scanning the world for the positive.
I’m always more successful when I involve my family in creating new habits. You can turn it into a game and find a time to ask your family each day what they are grateful for. It could be at mealtime, in the car on the way to school or practice, maybe even as part of the bedtime routine. Remember a positive brain is more creative, more productive, and more engaged – isn’t that exactly what we want for our family’s brains?
To help you create your new habit I’ve designed a journal specifically geared toward mastering a positive mindset. There are two options available. One is a physical journal available on Amazon, the other is a printable copy you can purchase to download.
Each is packed with simple yet effective tools to help nurture and create positive change in your life. Complete with a place to record gratitudes, daily wins, and a unique writing prompt to encourage positive thoughts. The monthly page provides space to set goals with a plan and to record your progress. Start working toward a happier and healthier way of thinking.
What daily habit has helped you to master your mindset?
Additional Daily Habits to consider:
- Techniques for Developing a Positive Mindset
- Practical Ways to Create a Successful New Habit
- How to Reinforce Your Gratitude Habit with a Journal
- How Do You Respond to Your Circumstances?