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Our experience of the world is dependent on one thing: our brain.
We’ve all read articles about the power of conditioning. Our brain is a sponge that starts absorbing information from the moment we are born (and even in the womb!).
Everything that is true for us is because of the way the brain learns to interpret outside information and form our version of “reality.”
The brain is an ever-evolving organ. It was built to learn and grow through experiences. This means we can change the physical structures in our brains. We can create new neural pathways and de-stimulate those that do not serve us.
This time of year is ripe with articles about New Year’s resolutions. But most of us know that these do not work or stick with us much past January. This is because of the pressure we place on our egos to experience a paradigm shift without doing the basic work of changing our moment-to-moment habits.
New Year’s resolutions are unsustainable because we make them too big.
We overwhelm ourselves and place too much pressure to experience change rapidly rather than in small bites.
Little actions pave the way for big changes, one step at a time.
Dr. Rick Hanson is a brain expert and the author of many informative books on how we can reform this amazing organ and live a more fulfilling, authentic, and contented life.
In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, Hanson shares his technique of what he calls “taking in the good” when we experience something joyful, pleasant, or in alignment.
This technique can be used for anything from getting into the college of your dreams to enjoying a cup of mint tea.
There are thousands of moments we dismiss because they don’t seem “big” or “important” enough to acknowledge. This technique gives us permission to find goodness everywhere.
Because of our built-in negativity bias, we tend to gloss over positive moments. The brain is always looking out for our survival, and because the brain learns more from pain versus pleasure to keep us alive, we fall back on our negativity bias a lot, ignoring pleasure and good-feeling moments.
This is not our fault—it is a function of our evolution.
As Hanson explains, “By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure. Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.”
Right now as you read this, you can start this practice of “taking in the good.”
Scan your current environment, wherever you are. Choose something that feels good—this can be anything from being cozy in your warm bed to the latte you may be enjoying right now. Maybe your kid is contently playing or your dog is snuggled up with you. These are all things we can use to highlight and hardwire the experience into our brain—literally changing the neurons that are firing and wiring together.
Here’s how it works.
Take a pause and place your hand on your heart. Take a deep breath. Savor and deepen whatever the experience is. You can even say to yourself, “I take in the good of this moment and remember how it feels in my body.”
As you do this, your brain is learning to focus on those things that put it in the responsive setting—or the equivalent of “rest and digest” in the nervous system.
Do this throughout the day whenever a good-feeling moment happens. And remember: it can be anything from savoring a sweet text from a friend or enjoying watching the sunset. Don’t disregard anything, no matter how “small” it may seem.
As you continue this practice in the hours, days, and weeks ahead, you will start to notice something—how your focus starts to shift to more good-feeling experiences. The reason is, you’ve taken the pressure off yourself for a good-feeling moment to be something “big” or “obvious.” You’re allowing yourself the pleasure of the simple things: a deep breath, a warm cup of coffee, or a good neck stretch.
Make your New Year’s resolution “taking in the good” and begin to experience all the wonderful, pleasant, and enjoyable moments that we tend to ignore, dismiss, or toss aside.
As you take small steps to change your thinking, the “big” changes will start to present themselves and be reflected back to you. Your version of reality will start to be remolded and reshaped, allowing you more contentment, peace, and wonder throughout your day.
Wishing all my readers a beautiful 2022!