By David Costa
Positive thinking is not just for optimists anymore. Research is now beginning to show that positive thinking increases brain performance. In their book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, Dr. Paul Hammerness, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, and co-author Margaret Moore, an executive wellness coach, claim that positive thinking improves the brain’s function and focus. On the other hand, negative thinking sabotages our brains’ problem solving abilities and makes ignoring distractions difficult.
Barbara L. Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, has published several manuscripts revealing the benefits of positive thinking. In What Good Are Positive Emotions? (1998), Fredrickson introduced the broaden-and-build theory. This theory outlines how positive emotions not only broaden people’s attention and thinking, but also enables them to draw on higher-level connections and gain a larger range of ideas.
Fredrickson conducted an experiment to test the impact positive emotions had on the brain. Fredrickson divided up her test subjects and showed them different films and images. Some images produced thoughts of joy, while others produced thoughts of fear and anger. Participants were then asked to imagine themselves in a situation and write down what they would do. Those who saw negative images had the fewest number of responses and ideas. Participants who saw positive images had a significantly higher number of thoughts and actions.
Could positive thinking help researchers be safer? Fredrickson’s studies suggest that researchers who saw the “glass as half full” would be equipped with clearer attention and thinking, possibly proactively avoiding mishaps or at the very least better able to deal with accidents when they happen.
Take incident reporting for example. Although incident reporting helps organizations drive proper training, getting researchers to report incidents can sometimes be a challenge. Researchers fear mishaps will make them look incompetent or that they will get in trouble for mistakes. Ian Sample, science editor of The Guardian, recently wrote, “a culture of blame makes people hide their mistakes and crucial lessons go unlearned.” If one were to flip the script and develop a “Safety Saves” system where one could report how injuries or accidents were prevented by proper procedures or protective equipment, could there be a spike in safety compliance?
Recently the National Academy of Sciences declared September to be National Biosafety Stewardship Month, encouraging organizations to focus on biosafety practices. I attended a conference where institutions gathered together and discussed their issues around safety and compliance. Everyone shared their issues and commiserated, but no one shared ideas or positive things they’ve accomplished.
What would happen if we turned our focus from being what we’re doing wrong to what we’re doing right? Would celebrating our safety practice victories rather than bemoaning our pitfalls and challenges, help develop a stronger safety culture? Could seeing the glass as “half full” actually keep researchers safer?
Just think…if we were all willing to adopt a more positive attitude, what’s the best that could happen?
Tue, Nov 18, 2014 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM EST
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