Why Positive Encouragement Works Better Than Criticism, According to Science

smileI’ve written about positivity before, in terms of cultivating a positive outlook for yourself. What I want to write about today is cultivating positivity in your workplace, particularly if you’re a leader. By focusing on positive interactions with your employees and encouraging an upbeat emotional state as often as possible, you’ll be more likely to have a happy, productive and efficient team.

How positivity affects our brains

To start with, let’s look at how positive and negative emotions work in our brains, and what we can learn from that.

Positive emotions generally work in an opposite way to negative emotions. So, while emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration and decrease our cognitive abilities, positive emotions can do the opposite. When we’re feeling upbeat and happy, we’re more likely to have an inclusive focus than a self-centered outlook, and to perform better on cognitively demanding tasks.

That is why exercising often makes us happier, especially if we choose to go for a demanding work-out.

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8 Surprising Ways Music Affects and Benefits our Brains

I’m a big fan of music, and use it a lot when working, but I had no idea about how it really affects our brains and bodies. Since music is such a big part of our lives, I thought it would be interesting and useful to have a look at some of the ways we react to it without even realizing.

“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Of course, music affects many different areas of the brain, as you can see in the image below, so we’re only scratching the surface with this post, but let’s jump in.

brain-and-music

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How to Never Forget the Name of Someone You Know: The Science of Memory

memoryHow would you like to be able to recall the name of a client or associate you just met?

How would you like to go to the bank and not fumble for your account number every stinking time?

Everyday scenarios like these are classic examples of our need for memorization. The function of memory has so many more applications, too—public speaking, schoolwork, studying, research, the list goes on and on. Memorizing is a key function in so many areas. Imagine if we could be better at it.

Would you believe that memorization is not an innate ability but rather a learned skill? Approaching the topic from this paradigm changes everything.

You can learn how to memorize.

You can become a memory expert by application and sheer force.

You have the power to memorize anything and everything.

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Why We’re More Creative When We’re Tired and 9 Other Surprising Facts About How Our Brains Work

One of the things that surprises me time and time again is how we think our brains work and how they actually do.

On many occasions I find myself convinced that there is a certain way to do things, only to find out that actually that’s the complete wrong way to think about it. For example, I always found it fairly understandable that we can multitask. Well, according to the latest research studies, it’s literally impossible for our brains to handle 2 tasks at the same time.

Recently I came across more of these fascinating experiments and ideas that helped a ton to adjust my workflow towards how our brains actually work (instead of what I thought!).

So here are 10 of the most surprising things our brain does and what we can learn from it:

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The Power of Meditation and How It Affects Our Brains

meditationEver since my dad tried to convince me to meditate when I was about 12, I’ve been fairly skeptical of this practice. It always seemed to be so vague and hard to understand that I just decided it wasn’t for me.

More recently, I’ve actually found how simple (not easy, but simple) meditation can be and what huge benefit it can have for my day to day happiness. As an adult, I first started my meditation practice with just two minute per day. Two minutes! I got that idea from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog, where he points out how starting with a tiny habit is the first step to consistently achieving it. So even thought two minutes won’t make much difference, that’s where I started.

Whether you’re as skeptical as I used to be, or you’re well ahead of me with a meditation habit of several hours, I think it’s always interesting to find out how new habits affect our brains. I had a look into meditation to see what’s going on inside our brains when we do this, and what I found is pretty interesting.

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8 Things You Don’t Know Are Affecting Our Choices Every Day: The Science of Decision Making

Making decisions is something we do every day, so I wanted to find out more about how this process works and what affects the choices we make. It turns out, there are some really interesting ways our decisions are affected that I never would have guessed. Luckily, we can take action to improve most of these.

What happens in your brain when you make decisions

Obviously lots of things take place inside your brain as you make a decision. What I found really interesting were the various things that affect our brain’s decision-making process without us ever realizing.

Why we accept the default choice

Dan Ariely’s excellent TED talk explains this concept really well with the example of organ donor options on driver’s license forms:

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 9.21.37 AM

The overwhelming majority of drivers in the UK and European countries didn’t not check the box on their driver’s license application form.

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How Naps Affect Your Brain and Why You Should Have One Every Day

napI’m a big fan of afternoon naps. In fact, I was super excited when joining Buffer to hear about how the team is pro-napping. It’s not everyday you come across a company that’s open to letting employees take a snooze whenever they want one.

Naps aren’t for everyone, though. I’ve heard lots of people say naps don’t make them feel better, so I wanted to explore how naps affect your brain and whether they really are good for you or not.

How sleep affects us

Better sleeping is known to provide lots of health benefits. These can include better heart function, hormonal maintenance and cell repair as well as boosting memory and improving cognitive function. Basically, sleeping gives your body a chance to deal with everything that happened during the day, repair itself and reset for tomorrow.

Sleep deprivation, therefore, actually harms us in several ways. One of the most obvious harms is that we have trouble focusing when we’re sleep deprived. Leo wrote about this on the Buffer blog before:

someone who is severely sleep deprived is in fact as attentive and awake as you are, with one big difference. Here is what a recent study found:

Whether we are sleep deprived or not, we lose focus at times. And that is precisely where the sleep deprived person lands in a trap. Once we start to lose focus and have received the right amount of sleep, our brain can compensate for that and increase attention. If we are sleep deprived, our brain can’t refocus

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The Power of Shutting Down Your Senses: How to Boost Your Creativity and Have a Clear Mind

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 8.37.21 AMI used to think sensory deprivation was just a crazy torture method that no one in their right mind would opt-in for, until I stumbled upon some information recently about sensory deprivation floatation tanks.

These are water tanks big enough for one person, often set up at spas, where you can pay to float in salty water for hours, receiving almost no sensory information at all.

Sure, it seems crazy, but there are actually some alluring benefits, particularly when it’s done for short periods:

Short-term sessions of sensory deprivation are described as relaxing and conducive to meditation; however, extended or forced sensory deprivation can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, and depression.

And as much as I’m really excited to try one of these tanks myself now, I’ve also found some interesting ways to use the same principles in an average day.

So what is sensory deprivation

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