Gratitude journalling sounds like the kind of crock that bare-foot people are into, right?
Bloody tree huggers.
That’s what I thought anyway, but all these successful people were on about it, so I decided to research it. Today’s post is the science behind why it works, in case you’re an analytical/skeptical type like me.
See my previous (Is Gratitude Just for Annoying People?) about how gratitude journalling is like cross-fit for your mind.
There’s an exciting new field of science called neuroplasticity.
It’s probably the coolest thing since sliced bread,
which I personally don’t think was ever cool. But I have coeliac disease, so I’m biased.
It turns out that our brain adapts its structure in accordance with our habitual behaviours and thoughts. Studies have shown that when you use a particular part of your brain or body repeatedly, the part of the brain involved with that movement/activity/thought spreads out and covers more neural real estate in the brain.
So when a violinist practices every day, the area of his brain that controls the motor function of his left hand will become more complex, and it even expands to take over more neural real estate in the motor cortex. The neural pathways that govern those functions will also be strengthened with repeated use, making the brain more adept at quickly recognising and carrying out the task. The more he practices, the more dextrous his left hand becomes, and the more the brain reinforces the neural pathways of the motor neurons which govern the left hand’s movement.
I’m summarising from the studies I’ve read on it – hopefully haven’t f’d it up. Doctor friends, have I f’d it up?
Hopefully you’re with me so far. It seems I may need to strengthen the explanatory part of my brain – or perhaps it’s struggling because I ate rice bubbles for the first time in a year.
Negative and positive thinking involves neurons in different areas of the brain, so it goes to follow that if you frequently think negatively, as I used to, your brain literally strengthens the area of your brain that is involved in negative thinking.
Luckily, the same goes if you can somehow force your mind to think more positively, it will strengthen the area of your brain associated with positive thinking. Win!
But ‘positive thinking’ is much easier said than done.
And so damn annoying when someone tells you to “look on the bright side”.
Our minds are unruly, they love to complain about things and focus on the negative, they’re wired for it.
This is where gratitude journalling comes in. It’s like cross fit for the mind. See yesterdays post for more of an explanation.
Just like exercise forms new muscles, training your mind to think more positively forms and strengthens new neural pathways which allow the positive parts of your brain to fire more rapidly, so you literally rewire your brain to be happier!