“Never pull away suddenly from a negative thought or experience. Stay with it until you are indifferent to it or until it turns beautiful. Look at it, love it, then let it go.” ~ Thaddeus Golas, Author
Have you noticed that you intensely remember a bad experience from years ago, but the pleasure you experienced last week is easily forgotten? This isn’t just a matter of long-term or short-term memory. Instead of taking in the good, our brains are hardwired to remember painful or bad experiences, as a way of protecting us from possible harm in the future. If we get anywhere close to repeating something disturbing, our brain sends us down the rabbit hole of negativity, to keep us safe.
The brain learns from our experiences and how we process or “file” them. Think about how you’ve been “filing” every experience in your life. If you’re like most people, you tend to see the bad in them, so your brain files them into one of your over-stuffed negative files, like your “Resentment File”, “Grudge File”, or “Self-Doubt File”. Some examples:
- A confrontation with your spouse made you feel bad, so anytime disagreements arise, you get angry and defensive, because you don’t want to feel powerless again.
- A snake scared you, so every time you see a snake your skin crawls.
- Your neighbor, Stephanie, hurt your feelings, so every time her name is mentioned your brain retrieves resentful feelings.
Was there any good in these experiences? Probably. However, you didn’t see it or you resisted taking in the good. In all of these cases, your brain only retained a snapshot of negativity and erased the rest of the whole picture, which included a lot of good that could have brought you happiness.
Whereas, if you change the way you process your experiences and lean toward mindfully savoring the moment and taking in the good, you’re telling your brain to file them in your “Happiness File”, or “Gratitude File”, or “Love File”. Instead of automatically dumping each experience in one of your negative files, you’re teaching your brain to see, enjoy, and use the good.
“Everything that is created begins in the mind.” ~ Ruth Fishel, Author
An effective way to rewire your brain is to use the H.E.A.L practice coined by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. In his book, “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence,” he explains a process for deliberately and mindfully taking in the good. Here’s how this acronym works:
Have a positive experience in real time or as a recent memory, like when Stephanie took care of your dog while you were away on vacation. Feel the good emotions that go with it – pleasure, contentment, joy, etc.
Enrich it. Stay 15 to 20 seconds with your positive thought with a broad, open body, mind and spirit. Enhance and expand that good feeling by experiencing what it feels like in your body. Do you feel light? Warm? Safe? Loved? What other pleasant sensation do you notice about the experience?
Link positive and negative material. Briefly recall a negative experience that you want to rewire, like when Stephanie hurt your feelings. Bring forward the positive, enhanced, absorbed memory, while keeping the challenging moment in the back of your mind. Let the two mingle together, until the positive takes on more importance and then anchor this new resourceful state. The next time you talk with Stephanie, you’ll feel a profound shift within yourself, because you’ve made this transitional link.
As you practice savoring the moment and taking in the good every day, you can turn your experiences, into lasting inner strengths, such as resilience, balance, and self-compassion. Remember that practice involves using your new skill repeatedly. If you’d like guidance and accountability on your journey toward a more positive outlook, please contact me for an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). I’d love to meet you!