Author who studies millionaires: Here’s why most successful people are upbeat and positive

Human brains are hardwired for negativity, reports psychologist Rick Hanson, senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

There's a good evolutionary reason for our Negativity Bias: Negativity keeps the brain alert for dangers in our environment. A hundred thousand years ago, this was critical to survival. Being focused on threats and dangers kept our internal radar systems in search mode for lions, tigers and bears.

However, we live in a very different world today. External environmental threats in the form of lions, tigers and bears are, for the most part, nonexistent. Unfortunately, the evolution of our brains has not keep pace with the safety upgrades our civilized society affords us. As a result, our brains have held onto this vestigial trait.

That's a problem, because negativity is a nearly insurmountable barrier to success.

It is virtually impossible to become successful, as an entrepreneur, if you maintain a negative mindset. In fact, positivity is so important to success it is one of the common "rich habits" of self-made millionaires. I spent five years studying the good and bad habits of 177 self-made millionaires and wrote four books, sharing that research. I found that 79 percent of rich people, before they became rich, believed they would make it, compared to only 18 percent for the poor. Over half, or 54 percent, of the rich credited optimism as critical to their success in life, and nearly three-quarters, or 71 percent, forged the habit of finding things to be grateful for in life.

Third-party studies have also found that positivity is helpful, even perhaps critical. In 1998 and 2000, the landmark Broad & Build Studies by B.L. Frederickson found that positivity increases focus, cognitive ability and risk tolerance. All of those traits were shared by the self-made millionaires in my study.

Why negativity kills success

  1. Negativity suppresses your prefrontal cortex, which is critical for creativity, decision-making and seeing solutions rather than just problems.
  2. Negativity creates chronic stress, which causes inflammation throughout the body and can lead to disease. When you are battling health problems, it's hard to focus on anything, let alone the pursuit of success.
  3. Negativity can make you a toxic person. Many other success-minded people, who tend to embrace positivity, will see your pessimism as a problem and will avoid doing business with you or even associating with you. They will also warn their friends and peers to avoid you.

Positivity is possible

The good news is that it is 100 percent possible to reprogram your mind to eliminate negativity. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Avoid reading too much negative news. Journalists and publishers have hundreds of years of real world experience supporting the fact that sensational or dramatic headlines sell papers. Consequently, much of the media is focused on stories that are negatively biased so they can get more readers and, thus, more advertising revenue.
  • Focus on upbeat news. This will dampen negativity and strengthen positivity inside your amygdala, the limbic part of the brain which oversees many emotions.
  • Listen to upbeat music. Music soothes the savage beast, reduces stress and calms the mind. It also boosts the release of dopamine, one of the happiness neurotransmitters our brains love.
  • Read inspirational books. These have a similar effect.
  • Associate with upbeat people. This is easier said then done, especially if close family members and friends are pessimists. But just adding one upbeat friend can mitigate the effects your negative family and friends have on you.
  • Meditate. I'm not good at this. It doesn't work for me. However, the science is clear: Meditation reduces stress and calms the mind.
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise boosts dopamine and certain hormones such as Brain Derived Neurotrophic and Endorphins, or BDNF, which increases the myelin sheath around your neurons, improving brain cell health and brain performance. Endorphins are triggered during extended aerobic activity, usually meaning one hour or more.
  • Express gratitude every day. Start looking at the things you have and ignore what you lack. Just as envy is the gateway to negativity, gratitude is the gateway to positivity.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life."

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A version of this article originally appeared on Rich Habits.