One of the companies I worked for brought in external consultants to assist us in shaping a new strategy to grow the business. One of the exercises we undertook was to get an understanding of what drives us to work harder, to be more productive. Do we work harder for a bigger salary, to buy a home, to take care of our family? These were the typical responses that came out. What these consultants failed to recognise is that the number one work motivator was emotion, not financial incentive: it’s the feeling of making progress every day toward a meaningful goal. We want autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives. We want to keep improving the way we do things. We want purpose – the feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world.

So what happens when life continually throws curve balls at you? How about the amount of attention we give to worrying or rehashing past life events? Is it possible that we start adopting a worried or depressed lens as a habit and view all areas of life through this lens? Notice that many negative thoughts mostly flow from two directions. The first is dwelling on the past – maybe you ruminate over mistakes, problems, guilt and anything in your life that did not go the way you believe it should have gone. The second is worrying about the future – fear of what may or may not happen.

Emotional disconnection

Many people are disconnected from their emotions – especially strong core emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and joy. This may be the result of negative childhood experiences that taught you to try to shut off your feelings. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness or connection, we are unable to manage our stress, fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

Negative thinking can take the form of imagining or expecting that bad things will happen or that nothing good will ever happen for you. You might fret about your health deteriorating, your relationship going downhill, your car breaking down or your career being ruined – even though nothing has actually happened yet.

Fortunately, we aren’t doomed by our natural disposition towards negativity. What’s amazing is that we have the ability to break out of that negative feedback loop and we can actually rewire our brains to think positively. Understanding how the brain can refashion its own connections is the key to unlocking the durable power of positive thinking.

The Tetris effect

Anyone who’s ever played the classic, old-school game of Tetris will know this. Whether on a clunky computer or Gameboy or the latest mobile device we all know the game’s surreal ability to spill into real life. After you shut off the game, you still see those Tetris blocks falling in your mind’s eye. The bottom line is that whenever we do specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of our brain power over time. And that’s pretty amazing, as this will be the basis for a huge opportunity to change our behaviour for the better. At the core, the Tetris effect is about building a habit that becomes more automatic and therefore longer lasting.

It’s quite simple: We can harness the brain’s plasticity by training our brain to make positive patterns more automatic. When we practice looking for and being more aware of positive aspects of life, we fight off the brain’s natural tendency to scan for and spot the negatives. So how can we put this into practice?

Identify your automatic negative thoughts

In order to shift away from the negative thinking that is holding you back from having a positive outlook, you’ll need to become more aware of your ‘automatic negative thoughts’. When you recognise them, you’re in a position to challenge them and give them their marching orders to move right out of your head. Once you identify the negative thought, knowing what type of negative thought it is can help you further battle this kind of thinking and counteract this thought with positive thoughts in the opposite direction.

Scan for the 3 daily positives

At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. Celebrating small wins also has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you record your good things daily, the better you will get and feel.

Appreciate as much as you can

This is one of those very simple things you can do to bring more positivity in to your life. I have also found appreciation to be a great way to turn an angry, sad and frustrated mood around to a more positive one. Write down three things you are most grateful for over the next seven days and watch how your positive attitude increases.

Set small, achievable goals

If you’ve got a bunch of huge goals, it’s easy to feel a bit down about life – your dreams might seem a very long way off, and you may not always have the motivation to work towards them. And on the flip side, if you never set yourself any goals to work towards, life can seem a bit empty. It might feel like you never really achieve anything.

By setting yourself small, achievable goals, you’ll start to see real progress in your life. You can look back over the past few weeks and see what you’ve accomplished – and you can look forward to what’s coming up in the next month or two.

Maurice Kerrigan Africa offers a two-day course on Personal Mastery & Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that will give you the emotional intelligence training you need to optimise your performance and leadership skills by managing your own and others’ emotions.

You might be interested in attending their upcoming 2-day course from 20 – 21 November 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s training schedule or to make a booking.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email

Author's Bio: 

Cheryl Marais is an independent marketing and communications consultant. She an MBA degree completed in 2004, a Certificate of Proficiency in Short Term Insurance (distinction) and have completed Principles of Marketing and Business Communication through the Institute of Marketing Management. She has also completed two short courses - Effective Speaking and Presentation Skills and Advanced Personal Mastery and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) through Maurice Kerrigan Africa.