The point of embracing positive experiences during your day is to strengthen those neural pathways and to overcome the brain’s evolutionary negativity bias.
You are literally “installing” positive experiences into your brain and “turning good mental states into good neural traits” (Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson, PhD).
This week we learned about the HEAL process to hardwire your brain for positive experiences.
The first step is to notice when you are having a positive experience.
The second step is enriching that experience. According to Rick Hanson, there are five factors to enhance this process—duration, intensity, multimodality, novelty, and personal relevance.
Enriching the Positive
“Each of these is a way to increase neural firing so you get more wiring during an episode of taking in the good. Repeated episodes of taking in the good will further strengthen these neural traces.” ~ Hardwiring Happiness. Rick Hanson, PhD
For more tips in taking in the good, watch this youtube by Rick Hanson, PhD
- Duration: the longer the better. Try to stay in the experience for 5–10 seconds or longer. You can take a deep breath to relax or say to yourself, “Stay with this.” You can also name the experience such as “Filled with gratitude” or “Calm and peaceful” or Wonder and awe.”
- Intensity: the levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine will increase with the intensity of your experience. This neurotransmitter promotes new brain synapses. The greater the synapses, the more this pathway gets wired into your brain. To intensify your experience, really sink into it and ENRICH it. Experience the pleasure of the experience. The more pleasure you experience, the greater the conversion into a lasting neural structure.
- Multimodality: using more than one of your senses to take in the good. Use all of your senses to experience the good to heighten the experience and create stronger neural pathways. For example, you can use physical postures like smiling, or sitting up straight. You can use your breath. The more actively you engage your body, the more impact you will experience.
- Novelty: Your brain is a lover of new things. It stores them rapidly in memory. You get the added benefit of increased levels of dopamine when you experience something as “new.” Amazingingly, you can make experiences you have had before “new.” You can hug your partner and say to yourself, “This is the best hug yet. It feels loving.” Right now, I am experiencing the most amazing time on my deck writing this email to you. I am feeling the slight breeze on my skin, the clouds floating across the sky as “fresh and alive.” If you think about it, we can experience every moment as “new or fresh” because we are always growing in awareness.
- Personal relevance: We naturally scan our environment to detect things that are relevant to us. Apply this natural tendency to “taking in the good” by saying, “This positive experience matters to me because _________.” Just the other day I experienced the feeling of being safe and content. This experience matters to me because it creates a sense of peace and calmness. It reduces my stress and anxiety level.
Here is a beautiful quote for you:
Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment. Fully, alive. Fully aware.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Here is to you living the best version of yourself!