Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cultivating Practical Optimism: A Key to Getting the Best from Your Brain

Neuroscientists recently discovered that optimism is associated with brain pathways connecting the left prefrontal region to the amygdala. Further research has demonstrated that optimism, traditionally considered to be an unchangeable trait, is a way of thinking that can be learned and enhanced.

 People with a positive viewpoint have less stress, better creative problem-solving skills, and better health outcomes than less optimistic people. In addition, optimistic learners are more likely to persist in the sometimes-hard work of learning, motivated by the belief that they can accomplish their learning goals.

Many teachers realize that as students become more optimistic, they are motivated to progress through learning difficulties and to attain higher levels of achievement. More optimistic students also have greater resistance to depression and the negative effects of stress. Over the years, we have taught many educators a toolbox of implementation strategies to increase practical optimism and other keys to learning in the classroom.

We use the term practical optimism to describe an attitude about life that relies on taking realistic, positive action to increase the likelihood of successful results. Emphasizing positive emotions helps students become more resilient and more likely to persevere with learning tasks. Their persistence is fueled by the belief that they will triumph over difficulty, learn from their mistakes, overcome plateaus in their performance, and progress. The mantra "I think I can! I think I can!" from an all-time favorite story, The Little Engine That Could, illustrates practical optimistic thinking.

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