The “Broaden & Build” Brain

Exit StrategyWe are pretty good at fixing some things that don’t work.

In fact, most of us spend lots of time trying to figure a way out what doesn’t work.

We are not nearly so good at paying closer attention to what works well and building upon it.

While we can certainly learn from our mistakes, we learn much more from what makes us achieve and be successful.

Too much time has been spent rationalizing the good that comes from suffering as a necessity for growth, rather than discovering and sustaining the strengths of the person that more likely insure success.

Very, very early we have taught children what is wrong with them that must be corrected rather than how these small children’s emerging strengths can be nurtured into genius. Child Strengths

We have medicated children and teenagers with Ritalin and bi-polar treatments that have addicted them to medications as surely as illegal street drugs.

We grow genius by recognizing and growing what is good, not from correcting what is wrong before we can get started with what is good.

A child prodigy emerges from a child’s strengths, recognized and nurtured.

The NeuroPositive Method ™ builds upon the innate capacity of the individual to create and sustain an UpSpiral™ that sustains future growth.

The NeuroPositive Method ™ works on the basis of the reality of an unfolding and potentially always evolving brain and mind.  Neuroplasticity is never still, neither when we are awake nor when we sleep.

Brain DevelopedEvery thought we think and every feeling we feel is adding to these developing neuropathways.  We are beginning to be aware that we can be much more mindful of our thoughts and feelings.

This increasing mindfulness can recapture our sense of mastery and quiet, an easy inner power that is the opposite of being a victim of one’s issues or problems.

The first step is creating awareness and understanding of how to sustain this positive growth that creates this UpSpiral,™ what Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has discovered and named the “Broaden and Build Theory. “

Focus on the negative and your brain will grow the negative. Focus Good

Focus on what is good, and the psychic energy of your brain is utilized most effectively.

The brain is designed to grow best in a positive way.

© Dr. William K. Larkin


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Kathleen Burkhalter

    Every thought I have impacts my brain. That is a powerful statement! It makes me realize how much of my well being is really up to me. While I am a positive person and work on staying above 95 in the UpSpiral, I have to contend with the cancer word and be particularly vigilant about what I focus on and what I think about in a negative world. Most days, I stay in the present moment, know that I am doing both Western and alternative treatment, and stay focused on plans in the future. I avoid negative and toxic people and keep my eyes on the prize. I focus on my strengths and build on those. My main strength is creativity and I am now aware of how different I feel when I immerse myself in a creative endeavor. I can feel the “click” and the “flow” and I can feel the shift up in well being. Strengths are to be used and they are easy and wonderful to engage with.

  • kkhm

    It is so freeing to let go of the belief that we have to suffer to grow. I spent most of my life trying to “fix” all the things I was doing wrong – or that were wrong with me. I made it my second job to learn from all the hardships, all the pain, all the suffering. There’s nothing wrong with making the best of the tough times, but it had become my belief at a very young age that suffering to learn life’s lessons was the way life worked, and therefore I brought much more of it into my life than was necessary.

    A while back I declared to the Universe that I was done learning and growing from the challenges in my life and that I was ready to learn with ease in fun and enjoyable ways. Sure enough, the Universe brought more of that to me. I learned about kindness from having more kind people in my life. I learned about getting to know new people from opportunities to engage that emerged naturally and without effort. I got better at writing by having more time to journal my personal thoughts. I learned about starting a business by having great mentors as clients whom I serve in my part-time executive assistant business. These are just a few examples, but everywhere I turn there are happy, positive experiences in my life that broaden and build my skills, resources, and character naturally and with ease. (And by ease I don’t mean with no effort … I just mean without stress, negative emotions, or DownSpiral states.)

    With this course, I’m becoming more aware of letting go of the need to “fix myself.” While I have come to understand that I have naturally used many of my strengths throughout my life, I didn’t have much awareness of them. I approached life with much of my energy focused on the fixing. This is exhausting and not very fun! I’m very excited about approaching life and myself now with a focus on strengths. Quite frankly, I don’t want to think about “what’s wrong with me” at all anymore! However, it’s quite a new way of thinking and acting for me, and I’m not yet strongly skilled at it. But I’m using my strengths couple of Perspective Wisdom and Connection which for me is great inner wisdom/inner voice … My inner voice tells me to be gentle with myself, to have confidence that my strengths are there and that it’s okay to grow them slowly at first, in a way that feels good, with no pressure or force or frustration. No more berating myself for not being good enough or doing better. Instead, I make sure to applaud myself for my progress! (See that … I’ve used my strengths to help me use my strengths ).

    Lastly, this is providing me a new approach to some of my parenting. If I gained nothing more from this class than to parent more successfully, then it would be more than worth it. But that’s just one of the many benefits. I am quickly broadening and building in every area of my life!! And (as someone with strengths of connector, relator, includer, futuristic, and gratitude) I’m so happy and grateful to know that the effects of the positive changes and growth in me has a reach far beyond just my life and extends not only to others in the present but also to generations to come!

    • Dr. Donald B Johnson

      Karissa, The need for suffering and some kind of personal redemption is so engrained in our culture. It’s the kind of believing that requires the contrast of suffering as a prelude to the capacity to feel good. You have been a great example, as you progress through our training, of the move away from this belief system and into the freely chosen decision to feel good, on call, whenever you choose. You have begun a life-long practice of the “reversal” of emotional cause & effect. The rewards are great, as you deepen your knowledge & practice of our work!

  • MissTowner

    I love knowing that we can expand upon our strengths. According to the Zeno factor, what we focus on increases, we can grow our strengths and gifts by focusing on them. Whenever we focus on a negative trait or quality, we get more of that. It can become overwhelming quite quickly, but if we take that focus to the opposite of what we are looking at and let that expand, we are feeding the right neuropathway and growing it so that we have a broadening and building of strengths vs doing that to our weaknesses.

  • alberts3

    A scene came into my mind when I read the part of the blog about seeing and correcting what’s wrong with a child, rather than nurturing what is right. I was picturing a young garden of seedlings, mixed with a few weeds. So much time was spent looking for, and pulling out each weed as it
    sprouted, that the gardener forgot to fertilize and nurture the young and flowering plants.

    We see that all the time within school settings and families. The Gallup poll found that 77% of parents thought it was more beneficial for the child to raise one low grade than expand on the other four good grades. If the research is correct, that we can only improve our weakness
    by three to seven percent, then we’re really just “spittin’ in the wind.”

    We’ve been talking about increasing individual awareness when helping people to turn their negative thoughts into more positive ones. Wouldn’t it be much more efficient to work from a collective experience? What if we were to educate administrators, teachers, psychologists, and any other folks who work with children about the strengths research? The effect on curriculum and
    testing would be monumental. It would inspire a definite change in the mindset of all those who have been working, with very little success, to support struggling students. The research is clear and hasn’t been rebutted by recent brain studies, or other research like that of Fredrickson.

    The way I look at it, the strengths concepts are very clear, they contain no political baggage, and are supported by a great deal of current research. Even the publishers and test-makers wouldn’t be out because they’d be able to sell their new curriculums and strength-based testing to schools. It
    sounds like a win-win to me, and to my unworldly view of how things should be. Now, where do we start…

    • Dr. Donald B Johnson

      Judy, You’re on to something big here. Be sure and see our post on Facebook about the Yale Emotion Revolution project for high schoolers. Imagine how the entire school culture could be impacted by actually asking students about their emotional experience as a means of creating greater focus on their positive emotions.

      • alberts3

        With a combination of strategies like those in the Yale Emotion Revolution, along with strengths training, so many problems would be eliminated. Learning, creativity, and problem solving would all increase and bullying and other behavior issues would decrease. What a world that would be!

  • kathy poehnert

    I have been working with clients and leaders for many years with regard to this idea, and prior to that , working with parents to increase their positive parenting skills…… but I am learning new “languaging” around it which is helpful! I often ask a group “if your child came home with 4 A’s and a D on their report card, which would you focus on?” In the 15 years I have been asking that question, only one person has ever said the A’s! The immediate response is to focus on the one D “because that is obviously where help is needed.” When I explain that by focusing on strengths, and deconstructing how they achieved the A’s, (which obviously tells you they have what it takes to be successful), you can help them figure out how to use those strengths to remedy the challenge they are facing in the “D” class.

    The understanding I can now add, based on what I am learning in this class, is that, by doing this, you are helping the brain to “lean” more towards the positive, which will eventually create those neuro pathways which will allow us to more easily and quickly default to the positive.

  • A Pyatt

    Just this past week I asked my son’s teacher to try to focus and motivate based on what he is good at. It fell on deaf ears. Which is how it is right now. For her. No judgment there, that is just her way. I moved on, because well I have energy for other things but not focusing on what is not working. I have a future to build with this wonderful child. Instead of telling him to be good at school, I now tell him ‘you are going to have a great day’. I stopped telling him to ‘be good’, because well he IS good. I start positive. I had previously been testing this out on clients and co-workers, but have recently been really focusing my efforts towards my son. I want to build what I know is already there within him, because I would have wanted the same as a child. Layer by layer I am trying to add more positive to that good, that is so prevalent in him. We have always told him to find friends that make him feel good, because that is how your friends should make you feel, and it’s a life lesson that I have spent so much of my later adult life practicing. So far so good, he has two little boys in the neighborhood that are not very nice to him, but who always want to play with him, and he has pretty much said, ‘no, no thank you’. Keeping close, the people that make me feel good, has been an easy feat for me, as those are the relationships I spend my time building, and want to keep building. Spending time with these people helps me in other areas, it keep me on my toes, but in an easy flow: always thinking and relating new subjects/knowledge to share, keeping up with their lives, and just learning/achieving. Living. I think the living is the most important part, you have to keep at the living to grow more living.

    • Dr. Donald B Johnson

      Andrea, we know from the research that the greatest & most significant outcomes emerge from what we call “initial conditions.” This is so evident in the messages you are giving your son, establishing your focus and his on what is good and true about him, on what works, essentially on his strengths. Just watch him soar!

      • A Pyatt

        He came home with more A’s this week than we’ve seen in months! It’s been a great week!

  • Beverly Harvey

    Regarding: “We are not nearly so good at paying closer attention to what works well and building upon it.” This has been true for me for years. In the past I may have received
    ten compliments on my excellent work, however if and when I received one even slightly negative comment, I would obsess over it for days. It just kept running through mind like an endless loop. Dr. Larkin, in his lecture, called it OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). While I never thought of myself as having OCD, after hearing his explanation, I realized that this is what I was doing when I was berating myself for the one negative comment and ignoring the ten positive comments. Becoming aware of this and focusing on the positive comments has helped me broaden my positivity and build my self-confidence and resiliency.
    Today, I’m more likely to delve into the negative comment to get at the root of the issue so that I can correct the perceived issue or explain my strategy.

    Regarding: “This increasing mindfulness can recapture our sense of mastery and quiet, an easy inner power that is the opposite of being a victim of one’s issues or problems.” When pulsing “peace,” I’ve noticed recently that within seconds my body relaxes. The tension goes out of my muscles and a smile comes over my face. It’s such a sweet feeling. I’ve also noticed that issues that used to cause me to become irritated and unglued, don’t anymore. I can actually chuckle about them as I remember the way I used to react – I should probably say, the way I used to overreact. Now, I refer to my issues as challenges and calmly
    think about how I can solve the problem.

    • Shelly

      I’m with you Beverly… that one comment can throw our emotional brain off the UpSpiral… yes. I’m finding that meditating on all the good comments and the being aware of the negative and choosing not to focus on it helps me. Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Mary Garvey Horst

    I have just returned from a trip to Louisiana where I spent time with my daughter, her husband, and my three grandsons. She teaches in a Special Education classroom at a private school with a focus on integrating all students as integral contributors to their school community She has shared with me about the teacher training workshops that address the needs of the whole child using resources that I had previously recommended to her about the emerging changes in neuroscience. Additionally, I had the experience of visiting the school and observing her interacting with the students attending to their strengths and unique character virtues. What I have learned through ANI, she models on a daily basis with her own sons and students.

    For me, it makes such a difference to be able to discuss with my daughter what works in fostering success and a sense of competency in children (and adults). It is very rewarding to be on the page with regard to neuropositivity and laying this foundation for my grandchildren.

    • Shelly

      I find that communicating about strengths deepens those neuropathways that remind us who we are and who we want to be. Great story, Mary!

  • Shelly

    Without a doubt, knowing my strengths has enabled me to broaden and build more quickly and more deeply. Understanding that my #1 strength is strategic has caused me to look at problems in a whole new light. Having the awareness that I often tackle problems with strategy has given me new confidence and energy.

  • Beth Montgomery

    Since learning my top strengths I am enjoying using them as a lens for how I can approach my life. Using these strengths and knowing that I have limitless potential and no boundaries are pretty darn exciting. I find that I am far more open to dreaming about what is possible. One of the things I find most fascinating is how understanding my strengths is allowing me to beat down my ego. I once read a book called “Taming your gremlin” by Rick Carson and this book described our ego as gremlins, big slobbering ugly gremlins that hover over our shoulder. I find myself using my strengths to almost ridicule my drooling gremlin on my shoulder and I can feel the beast retreat in defeat. When I blend my strength I feel even more is possible and I feel a sense of joy and creativity of what I can do, have and be. Building and broadening for sure.

  • Jo-Anne

    Several years ago, as part of a reflective activity, I was asked to create a “vision board”. I think this is a fairly common exercise, but it was new to me. We were to cut out pictures, or use photos we had, of places, people, things etc that inspired us. All were to be glued onto a piece of cardboard. I found it a fun exercise, and inspiring both to create, and to look at afterwards. What I realize now, in my work with ANI, is that what we were really doing was a “Broaden and Build” exercise. All the collected pictures put together brought forward many positive emotions, and while at the time I didn’t know about the Emotional Gym, it’s essentially what we were doing in some way. Positive emotion, feeling the positive emotions and making them last with a visual. At the time I wasn’t very happy where I was working, so I found this to be a wonderful respite, and the positivity that flowed from it was very encouraging. It helped to to “see”, through this stark contrast of negativity at work, and the potential for positivity in my life. It was a pivotal point on this path of self discovery, through various other seminars, reading and eventually to ANI. As Learner is one of my top strengths, I can now understand this journey better, connect the dots, and revel in it’s many wonderful discoveries and surprises along the way! Focus on the Good! Pretty simple, really. it will expand:)

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