How to Take in the Good

How to Take in the Good

© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. 2010
www.RickHanson.net

The Problem

Over millions of years of evolution, it was more important for our ancestors to react to threats than to opportunities. Here’s why: if you live in the wild under dangerous conditions and miss out on a “carrot,” you could go get another one later – but if you fail to avoid a “stick,” then WHAP, no more carrots forever. That’s why scientists say the brain has a “negativity bias.” In effect, it’s like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. The unfair and unfortunate result is that negative experiences get captured in emotional memory instead of positive ones, gradually darkening your outlook, mood, and sense of self.

One Good Solution

To overcome the negativity bias, and instead, make your brain like Velcro for the good stuff of daily life, take in the good in three simple steps:

  1. Let positive facts become positive experiences. (Let yourself feel good if you get something done, if someone is nice to you, or if you notice a good quality in yourself.)
  2. Savor the positive experience for 10-20-30 seconds. Try to let it fill your body, and be as intense as possible.
  3. Intend and sense that the positive experience is soaking into you, like water into a sponge, becoming a part of you.

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

Try to “take in the good” (TIG) several times a day. Any single time won’t make much difference. But over time, you will be weaving new resources into the fabric of your brain and your self. That’s because neurons that fire together, wire together. How you use your mind sculpts your brain. It’s like building a muscle: if you get a bunch of neurons firing together for positive experiences, that will build new neural structures. The more you take in the good, the more your brain will change for the better.

Filling the Hole in Your Heart

There is an optional, 4th step that is a great way to take in important experiences that may have been lacking when you were young, or even to heal old painful experiences. When you are having a good experience today – let’s say you are feeling cared about or appreciated – imagine that it is sinking down into old places of lack or pain (like being neglected or rejected), and gradually soothing them, and giving them what they need. The key is to keep the current positive experience intense and in the foreground of awareness, with the old material dim and in the background; if you get sucked into the old material, drop it and just focus on the positive experience.

Resources

There is much more on this method in my book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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