Rewire Your Brain For Optimism: MS and Positive Thinking

Patient Expert

No matter what your challenges may be, the ability to be resilient carries you forward in life.   The power of positive thinking - a phrase made popular by the Norman Vincent Peale publication of the same name in 1996 - is a philosophy which focuses on positive growth and the achievement of one's highest potential.   The scientific study of positive psychology has blossomed since the 1985 publication of the groundbreaking work of Michael F Scheier and Charles S. Carver in the seminal study, "Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies" in Health Psychology.

The National MS Society has teamed up with Sanofi-Genzyme (developers of Teriflunomide and Alemtuzumab) to present Everyday Matters (, a program which aims to engage and inspire the MS community.   Five individuals living with MS will be chosen to work with the Everyday Matters team to map out strategies for achieving a desired goal or addressing a specific challenge in their everyday life through positive psychology.   The lucky five will work with Shawn Achor, renowned psychology expert and former Harvard University lecturer, Kristen Adams, a mom and Emmy"award winning producer living with MS, and Michelle Clos, a life coach certified by the International Coach Federation who is also living with MS.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Kristen Adams earlier this week about the program, about positive thinking and about living with MS.   As a professional producer, Kristen's expertise is in video and telling stories.   She will be conducting the initial interviews of the five participants living with MS to introduce them to the MS community online.   She will keep in touch with them over the course of the program and visit them near the end to document how each has achieved a desired goal or worked through a particular challenge.

After attending a weekend workshop with Shawn, Kristen, and Michelle in Denver from July 13-15, 2012, the five participants will receive six months of personal coaching from Michelle. The participants will also be keeping a video diary throughout the program to share their experience.   In November, the entire group will be brought together again.

How do you become one of the lucky FIVE?

Beginning now through June 13, 2012, interested individuals can visit to submit their stories for consideration by the Everyday Matters team, or vote on the challenge, topic or goal that is most important to them.

Participants are asked to share a particular "everyday" challenge they would like to overcome or a goal they want to achieve.   Stories can be shared through video or text and photos. All story submissions will be eligible for consideration for a personal coaching opportunity with the Everyday Matters team.

Kristen shares that the most important part of the project is for people in the MS community to VOTE on the topics.   What issues are most important to you?   What challenges would you like to see tackled through the program?   The five participants will be chosen, in part, by how their own challenge or goal represent the interests of the MS community.

So do not hesitate: visit, vote on topics, and submit your own story before June 13, 2012.

Kristen was very excited as she described how many of the ideas Shawn teaches are reminiscent of homespun wisdom - "If you don't like your situation, change your attitude."   You have the power to shape your circumstances.   "My circumstances necessarily aren't changing but my attitude about my circumstances can," says Kristen.   "I have the power to change my attitude about my situation."   Changing your outlook can help you feel differently about unchanging circumstances.   This is an excellent source of empowerment.

What is the "Tetris Effect"?

Although Kristen admits to not playing Tetris as a youngster, she shared one of Shawn's analogies with me.   I really liked it so I'm sharing it with you.

The game Tetris teaches you to scan for patterns.   The better you get at seeing the patterns, the better you get at playing the game.   Kristen shares that it has been discovered that "people who played a lot of Tetris, even when they walked away from the game, would start to see those patterns in life all around them.   So [Shawn] says, you can teach your brain how to scan for the positive in life."

Here's a really simple exercise to try.   At the same time each day, think about three positive things that happened that day.   Kristen does this with her sons at the dinner table.   This "trains your brain to scan your environment for positive things," Kristen says.   This is one way to rewire your brain for optimism.

One more time: If you are interested in participating in the Everyday Matters program, sponsored by Genzyme and the National MS Society, go to to learn more.   Hurry, the deadline is next Wednesday, June 13, 2012.