Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vacation for Success

Today's New York Times science section has an article reporting that the brain, when stressed, gets into a vicious circle that leads to repetitive behavior. That in turn leads to ... yes, you guessed it, more stress!

The study was performed on rats, which--as anyone who has ever worked in a corporate setting can tell you--have brains that are almost identical to those of humans. As the researchers discovered, stressed rats lose their ability to be creative and thoughtful in their actions, and instead begin repeating the same useless behavior over and over and over again. Sound familiar?

The good news is that the brain is highly suggestible and can turn on a dime. Once the rats were put on a "vacation in a supportive setting free of bullies and Tasers, the formerly stressed rats looked just like the controls, able to innovate, discriminate..."

If you stop and think about it, this is really, really good news. We all know that stress takes a toll on the body and the mind, and has been said to contribute to just about every known disease, from the flu to cancer. Yet if this study is correct--and my money says it is--what it's really saying is that we can change our lives and our health right away. Not only that, but we can put ourselves on track to be the kind of creative, flexible thinkers that are well placed for taking advantage of new opportunities in life. In other words, if you want to really succeed, relax.

Here are a few related discoveries that shed even more light on the potential to unleash success through relaxation and enjoyment of life:

A study at Yale University found that regular meditation didn't just reduce stress. It actually reshaped the brain in such a way that it was less likely to experience it in the future, by physically building up gray matter.

Our response to fear or stress could very well be strongly influenced by what we say to ourselves, according to new research on the regions of the brain that control the mind's "cross talk" and its connection with the emotional centers of the brain.

A study published in the Journal of Advancement in Medicine showed that feelings of compassion increased the body's production of disease fighting antibodies, while feelings of anger suppressed the production of those same antibodies.

What this all points to is the immense power that we all have within ourselves to change our lives on just about every level. Whatever you may think about the new age concepts around creating your own reality, there is no question that we create our responses to our own reality. And that, it seems, is what makes all the difference.

***Update: my friend Jake McGowan of Rolling Orange sent this site his company created: Stress: Portrait of a Killer, which covers research by Stanford's Robert Sapolsky. Very interesting stuff.

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