Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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changing your brain

Changing your brain can help you live longer

Can you control your thoughts and live longer? Yes.

Many people use affirmations for personal development and to help them meet goals. Did you know that you can train your brain to help you live a longer, happier life?

How we allow our brain to process information and experiences, both positive and negative, can impact how we handle stress. Positive thinkers, even during times of significant stress and crisis, tend to experience fewer long-term negative consequences of difficult situations. They have less adrenaline (that turns into cortisol). They are able to think and act quickly and clearly. They are more resilient. They bounce back better than negative thinkers.

Whether it’s a one-off stress like having to give a presentation or an ongoing stressful issue, you can create the right mindset to support your best success. Being able to stay positive is a skill that comes more naturally to some, but it is a skill that can be learned and developed.

Knowing how to think through a situation in a positive way helps you deal better with current stressors, and over time, prevent anxiety.

1. Know Your Negative Enemy

Identifying negative thoughts is the first step in changing how we think about a situation.

Take a moment to think of all the beliefs that come up when you think about your stressful event. Do you worry about not knowing what to say at a party, how to discuss a health challenge with your doctor, or freezing while you try to give a presentation?

Write down every negative thought that pops into your head on the left side of a piece of paper. For every negative and “what if?” thought, write down where you want your brain to take you instead.

Not knowing what to say at a party can be turned into, “I’ll have a few conversation starters on a notecard and I’ll review them before the event.”

Make the conscious decision to have a plan to implement so that initial worry is no longer an option.

2. Keep Your Thoughts Realistic

Brains are powerful and magical. Keep your thoughts realistic and viable so you don’t get discouraged.

It is like the thousands of diet commercials we have all seen.

“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”

It is unrealistic and unattainable, so people get discouraged and quit.

This is your brain, so don’t give it the option to get discouraged and quit.

Be aware of what you can do in your circumstances and with your available resources right now, knowing that both situations and resources are subject to change.

If you get too ambitious (we like really ambitious goals and we think you should go for them!, but…), goals can make you feel more anxious than before. And if you have a misstep or you fail, then you’ll feel even worse than before.

Maybe you get anxious about public speaking, whether it’s giving a presentation or having a job interview. Focusing on what you can control, such as your breathing, your preparation, and your research will remind you to be confident – you have done everything possible to be prepared.

If you worry about getting stage fright or going blank, prepare every aspect of your speech or presentation. Remind yourself that you know how to do this, and that you know your subject.

3. Practice Positive Affirmations

I know – this sounds like a woohoo self-help seminar. It is not. It takes practice to stay positive, especially during difficult times.

Reminding yourself that you have the skills and abilities needed to respond the right way:

“I am great at the work I do.”

“I am well-trained and have the necessary knowledge to do this job well.”

“I can handle any crisis in this job.”

Reminding yourself that you have already been through tough situations can develop confidence to tackle future challenges:

“This is a tough one, but last year the tornado came through and took out our building. That was worse.”

And reminding ourselves that we don’t have to do everything alone:

“I have great friends I can call if I need to figure out a tough issue.”

“My supervisor supports me and provides great guidance.”

“My executive coach has helped people through situations like this before – I can call her.”

Staying positive and being grateful strengthens our brains and helps develop stronger immune systems and therefore live longer.

If you want to start a daily gratitude practice, my 1-page 5-Minute Gratitude Plan might help. It is free here. 


  1. Cathy Hall

    One of my faves from SNL years ago – “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog gone it people like me.” ― Stuart Smalley 🙂

    • Mary Kelly

      Love that. Thank you, Cathy!

  2. Chevy

    I love this!

    Negativity spreads like germs. Without being a Pollyanna, I believe anyone (with enough effort) can “see the sunny side” (albeit small, sometimes), with some positive effort. In my years as a commander (16) and conductor (now over 50!), I’ve had to face and deal with the bad news promptly, and, to the best of my ability, with integrity, humility, courage, and the best sense of fairness I could muster, promote the GOOD NEWS . Negative is a part of “Positive,” in my book! In music it’s called “dissonance!” Years in the music business taught me that while there were TRUE “wrong notes,” at times, the overall positive context of RIGHT NOTES made the former pretty much forgotten. Sometimes, it’s showmanship. How you carry yourself when you make a mistake. My notion: Smile, shrug your shoulders, and soldier on!

    Thanks, as always, for YOUR leadership, Mary!

    • Mary Kelly

      Beautifully explained, Chevy. Thank you so much!


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