By Rachel Long
Your current state of mind is a result of your accumulated lived experiences.
Life experiences shape your brain, which then molds your mind. Mostly this is an unconscious process known as implicit memory. Implicit memories form the roots of our perception, our expectations, our emotional world, and influence how we are in relationship with others.
The thing to be aware of, is that the brain has a default setting known as the ‘negativity bias’. It’s an evolutionary design feature that’s allowed our species to survive for so long. The brain is constantly scanning for threat and danger to either our physical body or our sense of self, and stores unpleasant experiences in memory very quickly. The brain is literally wired for negativity.
For instance, have you noticed how when receiving feedback, your mind tends to hold onto the one criticism and the positive feedback seems to fall away? This is the negativity bias in action.
The good news is that with mindful effort you can override the negativity bias of the brain. I’m not talking about activating a mental state such as “think positive”. Avoiding or suppressing negative experiences is not the answer either. Instead, we need to encode and install positive experience into the brain’s memory system over and over again. Neuropsychologist and meditation teacher Dr Rick Hanson teaches a very specific way to do this, a technique he calls “taking in the good”.
1. Look for good facts. Pay attention and notice what’s good and what’s working well. This is the mindfulness part; to be aware and notice. Good things are happening all the time, however it’s all too easy to not even notice them, let alone feel them. Look for the moments of good, beauty and joy; such as a blooming flower, the satisfaction of completing a small task, the spontaneous joy of a child, the morning sunlight, the smell of coffee, a cool breeze on a warm day.
2. Enrich the experience. Rather than allowing a good moment to be fleeting, stay with it for in between 5 – 30 seconds. The longer an experience is held in awareness and the more emotionally engaged you are with the experience, will result in more neurons firing together and wiring together, and therefore the stronger the memory will be. The secret sauce here is the mindfulness of focusing on the experience being had in your body and through your senses.
3. Absorb the good experience. Take the time to feel the experience in your body, emotions and mind. Let it all seep in, mindfully, with awareness.
If you can repeatedly do this in small moments every single day, over time you will change the structure of your brain to override the brain’s negativity bias so that you’re hardwired for more joy, calm, peace, and happiness.
If you want to learn more about increasing peace and calm, check out the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. The next course starts on Tuesday 19th February and you can save 10% when you book by January 29th.