Let me tell you two things about myself today that you may not know. First, is that I love to learn new things and second is that I’m a bit geeky – especially when it comes to the biological sciences. You need to be warned about these items to enjoy this month’s Life Adventure Notes, and I promise to not go toooo science-geek on you.
Love of learning is one of my top Signature Strengths. (I periodically write about following your strengths so if you have not checked yours out, you can do so here where you just scroll down and take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.) I love learning so much I would have been a perpetual student except that I did not want someone else telling me what I had to learn about. Now I am fortunate enough to be able to go to trainings all over the place learning exciting new information of my choice… and call it work!
Last week I spent three days at the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington, D.C. And the sessions were so outstanding that I bought recordings of some that I didn’t even attend. You can be sure I’ll be sharing with you many of the highlights of what I learned over the next months.
I find the brain absolutely fascinating. I remember decades ago in college I learned about how brain cells communicate with each other. It was cutting edge information back then and I was just thrilled about knowing it. In the sessions I went to last week, I learned that now we know which brain cells talk to which other ones, when, why, how and what to do about it if you want things to go differently. Wow. The human brain is really the final frontier of biological mystery and science is slowly unveiling the facts of it.
This month’s Life Adventure main article drops deep into the subject of learning how to hold onto the good things that happen to you. To really let them in and to pay as much attention to them as you do to the bad things. I need to tell you about this because, as a human, you are wired to pay attention to the bad; it was a matter of human survival for millions of years. (Think about not noticing the tiger hiding in the bush to eat you.) Now I want you to learn the steps to make the good more a part of your life. The bad news is that the negative doesn’t require work to stick around while you actually have to do some work to get the positive to be as clingy.
Ready? Want to take on the task of being happier and more positive? Read on!
Taking In the Good in Life
Why is it that it’s hard to remember the nice thing your family member said to you yesterday, but you know every detail of the snide remark your friend made last week? It’s because of the negativity bias of the brain. The entire brain is built to make sure you don’t miss any potentially important negative item in your environment. Your survival could depend on it. Unfortunately, that is a lot less necessary in the 21st Century than it was in Stone Age times.
Today you are relatively safe most of the time. Yet those pleasant moments of life are so fleeting and slip out of your mind so quickly and easily – like your morning egg slips off the Teflon pan. In this article, I’ll describe to you the process of learning how to get those good things in life to be stickier. So you can enjoy life more and be happier.
Negative events in life seem to stick in your brain as though they are attached with Velcro. First there is hyper-focus on the negative and then the biology of your brain encourages you to over-react to it. This problem is compounded even more in today’s world. The brain machinery of survival is activated when we simply are frustrated, upset, anxious, let down, or irritated instead of when we are actually in danger.
Here’s a brief explanation of what is happening biologically in the brain’s negativity bias. The negative situation causes a release of cortisol from your adrenal glands. This chemical then moves into your brain where there are two impacts. First it hits the alarm system of your brain and causes it to react both more readily and more loudly. Secondly, cortisol over-stimulates the sensible part of the brain that helps you put things in context (know it’s not a big deal) and that calms down the alarm bell part of the brain.
This process of response in your body is called the Stress Cascade and it can become a vicious cycle because your response to the negative makes you even more ready for more negative. You start sensing it even when it really isn’t there. And if this whole process is left unchecked, you eventually start killing brain cells in that sensible part of the brain.
So it’s time to learn more about what to do about all this!
What does it take to develop positive inner strengths? The traits each of us have as individuals are built upon brain structure – neural pathways. This means we have to create new neural structures for the good stuff we want. Creating a neural pathway takes 2 parts: activation and installation. In practical terms, this means first we have to have an experience of the good thing. This is activation and alone it is not enough to hold onto something. Without installation, there is no lasting value.
Installation is when you allow your positive experience to sink in. Doing that allows the experience and the memory to weave its way into the structure of the brain. It makes the experience long lasting. Please note that this process happens at a slower pace than you might expect – it’s going to take 20 or 30 seconds of effort each time for a good experience to sink in and get installed.
We are talking about positive experiences that you will consider very mild – say a 2 on as scale of 1 to 10 when 10 is great. Here are some examples of mild positive experiences: how good the drink of water tastes when you are thirsty or how soft the cat feels when you pat her or how pretty the sunlight is shining in the window. These types of events happen all the time.
Even though these events are mild, they are still opportunities to create change in your brain. And the small size of the event means they are very authentic and readily available. Lots of little good things will take you to a better place; just like it took a lot of little negative things to take you to a bad place. The secret is to enhance them intentionally and that is a 3 step process.
Step one is to have the good experience and simply notice it. Step two is to enrich the feeling of it by one or more of these factors:
increase the duration of the event
increase the intensity of the event
make it new to you (see it through the eyes of a child)
find personal relevance in it (why it matters to you)
taking in the event in more than one way (adding thoughts, emotions, actions, all your senses)
Step 3 occurs as you are doing the enrichment and consists of intentionally absorbing all that you are experiencing. Imagine and feel the experience becoming a part of you. It might help here to picture yourself as a sponge taking it in like water or feel it as warmth or a soothing balm flowing into you. You need this step in order to get the full installation.
This process of taking in the good can be an isolated experience. But I am challenging you instead to make a practice of it. You will want to repeat the process several times a day in order to feel the impact on your characteristics and your life. Before you know it, the gradual accumulation of these positive moments over time will enrich your life. If you take after others who have done this, you may increase feelings of love, joy, happiness, awe and self-control.
In what parts of your life would you like to be more positive?
How has your own negativity impacted your life this month?
What small positive experience is happening for you right now?
NEW MOTIVATIONAL TOOL
I believe we could all use a lift in our confidence from time to time. That’s why I have been a part of the creation of a new iPhone/iPad app that’s like carrying a boost of confidence in your pocket or purse. the app will be available in The App Store in May!! Please visit our website now for more details.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.