by, Jennifer Wasmer, Head of International Communications, Xerox Corporation

In response to an upbeat comment I recently made, a Xerox colleague told me I must be wearing rose-colored glasses. “As usual,” I replied.

Based on a couple of articles on the Harvard Business Review web site, it appears that my positive attitude does more than put a smile on my face and that of others. It also helps me to focus.

As any 21st century knowledge worker knows, our busy and beautiful brains are often distracted by a constant flood of email, meetings, posts and Tweets – not to mention picking up the kids, the laundry, the food from the grocery store and all the other daily activities we have to accomplish to keep our lives cooking along. We’re multitasking our multitasking. But, we can train our brains to stop the madness. And it turns out that a positive attitude helps.

Shawn Actor’s article about “Positive Intelligence” on the HBR site provides practical guidance for cultivating a positive attitude. He cites a project in which tax managers did one of the following five things every day:

  • Jot down three things they were grateful for
  • Write a positive message to someone in their social support network
  • Meditate at their desk for two minutes
  • Exercise for 10 minutes
  • Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours

 After three weeks of this daily exercise, the tax managers were, in a word, happier.

Based on findings shared in a related HBR article, called “Train Your Brain to Focus,” the tax managers were also likely to focus more effectively.

The reason is the amygdala – our emotional processing plant. This little almond-shaped structure at the back of your brain is the place where emotions are “understood.”

Negative emotions are read as threats and can trigger our “flight or fight” response. When – in the extreme – our brain is sending signals to run like mad or punch someone in the nose, it can be pretty tough to stay focused on the memo you’re trying to write for your boss.

Positive thoughts and emotions do the opposite. In fact, they may even improve the activities known as the brain’s “executive functions.” These include our mental capacities for complex behavior – like planning, decision making and strategic thinking.

Both of these HBR articles are worth a read, but “Train Your Brain” also has a number of tips for reigning in your frenzied mind. To help cultivate positive emotions among your team, why not start a meeting by having everyone do a light-hearted check-in, or with some light humor? The injection of positive emotions may help get all the amygdalae in the room operating in an optimal mode for focusing on the problems at hand.

NOTE: Thanks to Arlene Coleman  who posted the “Positive Intelligence” article on Xerox’s Yammer site last week. The diagram was adapted from this Website, which is attributed to Dr. C. George Boeree.