negative thinkingI’m a big fan of Upworthy, a website for viral content that promotes stories with a progressive bent on political and social issues. Well, last week Upworthy posted a startling article about how negative thoughts towards aging could be bad for our brains. According to the piece, a study from the Yale School of Public Health found that a sour view towards growing old is a strong indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. More precisely:

“People who held more negative beliefs about aging showed a higher loss of volume in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s important for memory formation.”

Furthermore, such people were “more likely to contain buildup of protein plaques and tangles common with Alzheimer’s.”

Fascinating stuff. Our thoughts, feelings and attitudes strongly affect our health! Okay, sure…this is hardly late-breaking news. From personal experience, we’ve all seen how, when we’re feeling down and low, we seem to get sick more often. Our negative emotions appear to depress our immune system, leaving us wide open for head colds, bugs and viruses. Nothing revolutionary here.

But negativity-towards-aging damaging our brains? – that’s a new one for me, with some significant ramifications. Our fear and negativity about getting old could be making us sicker – and conversely, by taking control of our minds, we could potentially boost our brain power and improve our overall health as we enter our golden years.

positive brainThe article goes on to state that beating [such negative] stereotypes has to start early. Kids, for example, absorb the large part of their values and prejudices by the time they’re 10 years old. The authors conclude:

“So if what you want are kids who grow up to be open-minded, accepting of people’s differences, and, of course, poised for a lifetime of sharp thinking and good memories, then ditch your bad biases and light their way to positive thinking.”

I think this is great advice, not only for parents but for team leaders as well. If a leader allows negativity to run wild in her team, she’s simply asking for trouble. As the Upworthy article puts it, negative thinking invites “brain gunk and shrinkage”. And this isn’t just metaphorical –it’s physiological. Rampant negative attitudes can make your team sick in the head!

And I thought second-hand smoke was dangerous. What about second-hand negativity! Imagine a world where someone expressing negativity in a pub is asked by the bartender to take their attitude outside where it won’t harm the other patron’s brains. It could happen!

As a team leader at work, you owe it to your team to nip negativity in the bud before it nips everyone in the brain stems. If your teammates are feeling like victims, challenge them to step up, boost their energy and adopt a fighting attitude! If they’re overly angry, blaming and combative, invite them to develop empathy by putting themselves in other people’s shoes. If they’re shooting low and settling for mediocrity, encourage them to set the bar higher, because they have greatness within them.

Positivity, it seems, is health giving. It’s a wellness practice. It’ll make your people smarter and your team will live longer longer.