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Published March 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

A natural cure for negativity after lifetime of training

I’m a pragmatist, so research to me is useless unless I’ve lived it. So, last month I decided to train my brain to be more positive by applying a study conducted by psychologist Shawn Achor, who spent more than a decade researching at Harvard University.

By: Chris Linnares, INFORUM

I’m a pragmatist, so research to me is useless unless I’ve lived it. So, last month I decided to train my brain to be more positive by applying a study conducted by psychologist Shawn Achor, who spent more than a decade researching at Harvard University.

His research in the field of positive psychology has shown that when we are positive, our brains become more creative, motivated and productive. Achor encourages us to pick one of the researched habits he shares in his book, “Happiness Advantage,” and try it out for 21 days in a row to create a more positive brain; for example, each day writing down three things we are grateful for and one positive experience we had.

The first week, I was totally inspired to accomplish the challenge. I truly started feeling great, until the moment life (or my husband’s socks!) got in the way, and I realized that it wasn’t so easy to keep my brain in a positive state all the time – especially if you have a Catholic brain like I do.

I grew up in a Catholic family and went to Catholic school for 16 years. I’m very grateful for it and, in my experience, I’m also aware that one of the effects of my personal upbringing is a brain trained to focus on my negative behavior – what I shouldn’t do and all that I did wrong. I still remember what I’d think and feel while standing in line for confession – a weekly practice every Friday at my school.

When I was 9 years old, I proudly told Sister Maria that I didn’t need to confess because that week I hadn’t committed any sins. I remember her looking at me with her kind eyes and saying: “Christiane, we all have sins. So, you need to look harder, honey. I am sure you will find something!”

She was right; from that time onward I would keep looking until I could find a deep, dark secret to confess to the priest such as “I am a terrible sinner because I didn’t want to share my Snickers bar with my friend Claudia.”

My dear grandmother, a devout Catholic, helped me improve even more on my brain’s ability to focus on and confess my negative behavior. Every Sunday, my entire extended Latin family used to eat lunch at her house.

One week, somebody snuck a piece of cake before the meal, and grandmother wanted to discover who was to blame. Nobody wanted to say a word until she got our attention with her most famous quote: “I am not going to force anybody to confess. The only thing I am going to do is to pray. And when I pray … (she always paused at this moment) … God listens!”

Oh boy, we were terrified of her instant access to the direct line G-O-D-9-1-1. I immediately surrendered and confessed my horrible crime of stealing dessert before eating lunch.

I am not going to deny that my grandmother inadvertently encouraged the subtle progression of my CGS – Catholic Guilt Syndrome. So, if you stomp on my feet, don’t be surprised if I turn out to be the one apologizing to you and asking for forgiveness.

Yet, my grandmother’s influence in my life goes far beyond teaching me guilt. She is a kind and loving 85-year-old woman who, last year, found out she has incurable lung cancer. I went to Brazil to spend Christmas with her and was amazed by the power and grace with which she approaches this difficult situation.

I asked her how she maintained her positivity during such challenging times. “It’s really hard for me to be positive by myself,” she said, “but the One that is with me gives me all the peace I need because I trust His plans – even when I don’t understand.”

So now, I want to make a confession. My grandmother has never read a book on positive psychology, but she personally demonstrates one of the best ways to train my brain to be more positive and, ironically, to also naturally cure my CGS: Faith.

Faith can instantly bring our brain to a more positive state, even when our circumstances are negative.

Faith can bring us from feeling pitiful to feeling powerful.

Faith can turn our worst mess into our greatest miracle.

Faith can help us walk on water, in those moments when we feel as if we are drowning.

Faith, when it speaks, causes science to become silent.

Chris Linnares is an international author, Brazilian psychotherapist and creator of Diva Dance. She is the founder of Naturally Diva and Diva Connection Foundation for women’s health and empowerment. Contact her at chris@naturallydiva.com.

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