Did you smile aready today?
Why we should pay special attention to beautiful moments – or what positive neuroplasticity is all about.
But that was a nice trip – everyone in the family agrees. When you arrive home, the two siblings start to argue loudly about a toy, as they have often done in recent weeks. You try to ignore it at first, only to intervene eventually and to put an end to the argument. When the two are in bed, you sit exhausted on the couch, brooding, and finally go to sleep disgruntled …. And the nice trip?
Not even a memory anymore! Psychologists call this “negativity bias.” The phenomenon that we can have a good day with many beautiful moments and then a mishap happens and that virtually overwrites the positive from before. When we look back on the day, the focus is then on the negative experience.
Why is that?
We owe it to our brain – more precisely, to the part of the brain that is responsible for caution and safety. In terms of evolutionary history, our human brain is still strongly influenced by thousands of years of escaping dangers like the sabre-toothed tigers. That means we are very well-wired to recognize threats – and in the meantime often overshoot the target. This leads to the fact that we tend to pay more attention to what we find annoying, irritating or threatening – and therefore “negative”.
The good news is that we can counteract this negativity bias – “positive neuroplasticity”.
Neuroscientific findings of recent years confirm this:
What we experience, think and feel affects the structure of our brain.
We can use our minds to change our brains and strengthen our psyches. Positive Neuroplasticity, according to renowned American psychologist Rick Hanson, focuses on cultivating positive states of mind and learning how to transform everyday experiences into inner strengths. These strengths include resilience, sense of self-worth, compassion, happiness, and feeling loved. Mindfully internalizing such psychological resources can help us deal with anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, disappointment, loss, loneliness, and shame – and it supports well-being, effectiveness, fulfilling relationships, emotional healing, and spiritual practice.
How does this work in practice?
There are many ways to cultivate positive experiences. Here are two practical exercises that Rick Hanson recommends to all of us.
Pausing and taking 5 breaths during heart experiences
In moments when our heart is touched, or we are in tune with matters of the heart, PAUSE for 5 calm, deep breaths. Keeping the good and important very present and taking it in with the breath. This can be a beautiful flower, a smile on the face of our child or another person, the sun on our face, a child’s laughter, joy and connection with our children …
This informal practice can be done very well also together with children: Then we call it “Filling us up with 5 breaths of Happiness” A spring walk, the sun shining through the first unfolding bright green leaves, birds chirping – “Oh, how beautiful it is”, comes easily to our lips towards our child. Now we can do the following mini exercise: “Hey, let’s take five calm, deep breaths and enjoy the beauty completely. We can take in the happiness fully with each breath. We are completely in this moment and absorb the happiness fully.”
Taking in the Good
A three-step exercise you can do anytime you have a few minutes of rest:
As a first step, remember a good experience, a nice moment. Feel free to take an example in dealing with the children in which you felt good or were satisfied with yourself….
Recall this event vividly.
In the second step, enrich this experience. Remember it with all your senses, surrender once again to the pleasantness and well-being of the experience, bathe and soak in it … wallow …
As a third step, now absorb everything, take this experience permanently into yourself.
You can inhale it deeply, into all the cells of the body …
You can bathe in the experience and absorb it through the skin …
You can “stand in a golden shower” … maybe you want to give it internally into a memory space, network it in your brain.
The experience will forever be a part of you from now on, you will always carry it within you from now on.
Cultivating positive experiences can also be used quite specifically when you find yourself easily and often worried or anxious. The “trick” then is to choose experiences where you were not anxious or worried. Where you succeeded in something you set out to do.
Then you can choose exactly such a moment for the exercise “Taking in the good” to anchor it stronger in your brain – because the next “negative” experiences are already waiting around the corner!
Author: Peter Hofmann