I’m listening to this really great audiobook right now: Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, by psychologist Rick Hansen.
In the book, Hansen explains how we can re-sculpt our brains by changing our thoughts and what we focus on. He says that our brains are like Velcro for the bad, and Teflon for the good, meaning that we’re essentially programmed to notice the bad stuff over the good in life (fantastic…). But he doesn’t leave us hanging; Hansen kindly gives us practices which help us reshape our neural pathways.
Neurons that fire together, wire together
This is a motto from the land of neuroscience. Essentially it means that what we think about actually changes the neural structure of our brains.
What!? Now hold the phone for just one second. This is truly amazing if you really stop and think about it: we can actually change our brains by consciously directing our thoughts. That’s astonishing!
But why would we want to change our brains?
Well, as humans we have this lovely thing called a “negativity bias”. This means that (evolutionarily speaking) we’re wired to pick up on and notice the negative stuff (i.e., harmful, scary, bad, threatening, etc) in our lives much more than the positive.
And why is this? Because way back when, in the days when we were wandering around hunting and gathering, we needed to pay attention to the bears more than the berries, or else we might not be around to enjoy the berries later on. So our brains evolved in such a way as to be hyper aware of the bears (the harmful stuff) rather than the berries (the pleasurable stuff). As an aside, this also explains why we tend to linger on fears and worries much longer than we do on our good experiences.
As Hansen says,
“Mother nature is tilted toward survival and passing on gene copies, but in effect, in significant ways, she’s titled against quality of life, long-term health, and longevity.
These tendencies…. are present in our brains today and they [our caveman/cavewoman brains] are still influencing us, and if we don’t take charge of them, they will continue to take charge of us.”
So what can we do so that our cave-person brains aren’t running our modern-day shows?
Taking in the Good (H.E.A.L.)
Given that our cave-brains naturally veer toward the negative in life, Hansen’s developed an easy, 4-step practice called “Taking in the Good” to counter-act this. And he’s even come up with the handy-dandy acronym “H.E.A.L. ” to help us remember it!
H.E.A.L. stands for: 1) Have a positive experience; 2) Enrich it; 3) Absorb it; 4) Link it. This super simple practice (which only takes about 10-15 seconds), rewards us in greater calm, peace and inner satisfaction overall.
Here’s how to H.E.A.L.:
1. Have a positive experience
The first step is to actually look for good facts and let them become good experiences. For instance, some good facts might be:
The fact that the coffee tastes good today.
Recognizing a task you’ve successfully completed.
Feeling the warm sunshine on your face.
Knowing that you’re in good health and feeling grateful.
When we see good facts or experiences, we anchor them in by feeling them and letting them fill our bodies and minds.
2. Enrich it
Next, we simply hang out with the good fact or experience for 5-10 seconds (or more). Staying with a feeling for even 5 seconds can feel like a long time if you’re not used to pausing to take in a good moment; for me, just knowing that it’s doing good things for my brain and my outlook helps me have patience. The main point in this step is to consciously feel the good feeling and enjoy it.
3. Absorb it
(Hansen says that these 3 steps actually blend together when we’re actively practicing Taking In The Good, but for teaching purposes, it helps to separate them out).
Just 10 seconds to happier
Now, knowing that we can start to experience more inner peace, calm, clarity and contentment by practicing just 10 seconds at a time, why wouldn’t we? I don’t think we can say that we don’t have time to do it, nor can we say that it’s too difficult. In fact, this is one of the easiest, most portable and elegant practices I know of!
So – let’s start our brain exercises together! Ready?
Call to mind something or someone that makes you feel really good… a scene in nature / your garden / your dog / your beloved / your morning coffee…
Ok… set your timer for 10 seconds… and just feel that good feeling…