Research has shown that, over time, our experiences reshape our brain and can change our nervous system. This can be both good and not so good. Lately, neuroscientists and psychologists have been zeroing in on how we can take advantage of this “plasticity” of the brain to cultivate and sustain positive emotions.
It is safe to say that we would all benefit from lasting happiness in our lives. Here are some practices and steps we can all take to rewire our brains to cultivate and sustain positive emotions.
1. Start With Meditation
Pick an app, download an audio track, or slip on your Kasina headphones and choose your favorite session. Concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in, quiet your mind, watch your thoughts for ten minutes. That’s it. Nothing more. Everyone has ten minutes. Start there. Whatever or however you want to make it happen, meditate. Meditation not only changes our mind but also our brain – this is what more and more neuroscientific research suggests.
2. Learn How To Take In The Good
“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences,” psychologist Rick Hanson says, “and Teflon for positive ones.” Our brain, to help us survive, looks at and stores negative information over positive information. It takes at least five positive interactions to make up for just one negative one. Here are some of Hanson’s steps to taking in the good:
- The first step is to turn positive events into positive experiences. Notice the good things that happen and make note of them. Pay attention to the compliments and the little accomplishments through your day.
- Second, really savor it. In other words, the way to remember something is to make it intense, felt in the body, and lasting. That’s how we give those neurons lots and lots time to fire together so they start wiring together. So rather than noticing it and feeling good for a couple of seconds, stay with it.
- The third step is to sense and intend that this positive experience is sinking into you and becoming a part of you. In other words, it’s becoming woven into the fabric of your brain and yourself.
3. Shake It, Shimmy It, Lift It, Stretch It…Exercise is Brain Food
You didn’t think there would be a blog about positive emotions without exercise in it did you? Make it fun - Consider taking up Cuban-style salsa (known as Rueda) or New England contradance, both dance styles where the entire room of people dance together. Do you enjoy martial arts? Then consider taking up Ai Chi, known as flowing aquatic energy, a form of martial arts performed in warm water. Or Yoga. Or circus-style gymnastics. Your brain is ready and willing, it just needs your body to take the lead.
4. Write About The Good Times and The Bad
Sticky notes, eraser boards, scented stationary - whatever you prefer will work, just write it out and get it out of your head. Our thoughts can go a mile a minute, especially if we are obsessing over something we said at a party, infuriated by an unkind word from a colleague, sad over a tough break-up with a spouse or friend. It can stick with us for hours, days or even years. Here are some ways to let go and get your mind off of the subject:
- First, free write everything you are thinking at the moment. Get it out and onto paper. Try not to think and keep your pen moving
- Once you have done this, meditate for at least ten minutes (again, use an app or put on your Procyon glasses and headphones) and concentrate on your breathing if your mind wonders
- Next, write a positive message to this person, or a better scenario than the one you experienced.
- Lastly, write down something that you are grateful for or that happened in the past 24 hours
All of these practices zero in on how we can take advantage of the “plasticity” of the brain to cultivate and sustain positive emotions. What are your practices that work? What does not work at all for you? Let us know what you think!