Or do you always see the down-side? And can you do anything about it if you do?
Michael Mosley is presenting a BBC2 Horizon programme this week, 10 July at 21.00: “the Truth about Personality”
He was suffering from insomnia, and worrying all the time so he decided he would investigate the latest ideas on personality and see whether or not he could become more optimistic.
A psychologist and neuroscientist at Oxford University, Professor Elaine Fox, believes that our basic drives are reflected in our patterns of brain activity which determine how we see the world.
She tested Mosley’s brain activity levels and found that he had more activity on the right side of the frontal cortex than the left, which has been found in other studies to be associated with higher levels of pessimism, neuroticism, and anxiety. She then got him to take a test to show whether he had an unconscious bias towards happy or angry faces by responding to flashing dots behind the faces. The results confirmed his bias towards pessimism.
The question was could he do anything about it? Twin studies show that there is a degree of heritability in personality of up to 50%. The rest is down to random factors or the environment including whether or not the genes are switched on in response to life events and the environment (what is called epigenetics). Serious life events can not only trigger depression and anxiety but can alter genes to make people more vulnerable later in life.
He did two things: first he practised mindfulness every day for 20 minutes; secondly he used Cognitive Bias Modification using a computer programme which presented 15 blank or angry faces with 1 happy face. He had to practise finding the happy face to train his body to look for positive images.
Previous research in America involving over 1,000 people showed that optimistic people lived on average 7.5 years longer than pessimists.
Mental attitude was more important than any other factor according to the researchers at Yale. So this is clearly something we should take seriously.
And that’s not bad for someone who has business and law degrees but is a self-taught psychologist.
She is described as an extreme leadership guru who uses neuroshaping or “playing chemist with your own brain” to help people become more charismatic and persuasive.
Like other top end coaches she offers shadowing and video analysis and concedes that the charisma label is just a hook she uses to attract clients.
Starting off by offering free charisma courses to students at MIT she soon developed programmes for Harvard, Yale and the UN. She says she still does pro bono work for charities and refuses to work with politicians.
She is adamant that charisma is not just a genetic gift bestowed on people like Bill Clinton but is mostly learnt. Cabane also says that there are different kinds of charisma e.g. a warm likeable charisma (think Tony Blair at his peak and Bill Clinton) or a colder uncompromising style such as personified by Steve Jobs.
Mmm .. I’ve used a model borrowed from actors which suggests that charisma is a combination of warmth and status. Think of Gordon Brown as high status but hardly warm and cuddly. And that model ties in with US research on charismatic Fire Chiefs who score high on the Big 5 factor of Agreeableness.
Despite the reference to “neuroshaping” (which hints at he current interest in neuroscience) it seems much of what she teaches clients is about assertiveness and the use of NVC (she mentions the MIT research I’ve posted about previously). She also uses visualisation and anchoring techniques used by sports psychologists and NLP practitioners.
Here are the 5 steps outlined in the Times article
Stand like a big gorilla and take up as much space as possible. This is a technique well known to actors and is an example of demonstrating high status
Don’t wave your head about or nod as it indicates low status and confidence. Especially important for women who tend to move their heads to the side when theys peak. This is more a courtship/flirting signal
Make good eye contact but with warmth. Again a sign of confidence.
Lean back rather than froward when closing a deal as this suggests high confidence. In the past people were trained to lean forward and invade personal space to intimidate people.
Be aware of how you are feeling. Be in the moment. Mindfulness is very popular now and anything like it will help you relax and concentrate.
Good emotional intelligence and empathy will also be invaluable.