Taking in the Good Stuff

Taking in the Good Stuff

I get to the end of a long day and I feel just used up and sort of empty….

You, like every parent, put out so much during the day that it’s easy to get depleted: more is going out than is coming back in. And after awhile, it is natural to feel like you are running on empty.

That’s why it’s so vital to keep putting back in your tank. Here, let’s look at how to fill yourself back up emotionally.

The key is to look for positive moments, and then take an extra few seconds to savor the experience and let it sink deeply into your emotional memory banks. It’s as simple as that.

This is especially important if a fair amount of the day to day experiences you’re having are stressful or upsetting – which is pretty typical for a parent of young children, even when there are also lots of wonderful, sweet times with the kids. Negative experiences get instantly recorded by the brain to help us survive, leaving a kind of residue in the mind – an internal mood or atmosphere that shapes how we feel about life, other people, and ourselves.

But unless it’s a million-dollar moment, positive experiences are not recorded in the same way: we have to hold them in our awareness for some seconds so that they sink in. Of course, if you do that consciously a few times each day, those new positive experiences will gradually build up to make your mood more positive over time, and help you be more optimistic and cheerful and happy.

This is also a great way to help all children, but particularly those whose temperament is either spirited or anxious. Spirited kids tend to zoom along so fast they are onto the next thing before they’ve registered the positive experience they just had. And anxious kids especially need the positive inner resources of reassurance and encouragement that come from soaking in good feelings.

OK, so how to do it?

It’s incredibly simple. There are four steps, but these will become very quick and automatic with just a little practice – and you can adapt them for your children:

  • Notice positive events and then let them become positive experiences for you. (Even better, actively look for opportunities to have positive experiences, such as looking for good things about yourself, or kindness and respect toward you from others.)
  • Savor the experience. Make it last. Try to feel it in your body – like sensing a feeling of love as a warmth filling your whole chest.
  • Sense that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply in emotional memory. Maybe imagine a treasure chest in your heart (an especially good method for children). Consciously intend for it to really sink into you.
  • For bonus points: Sense that the positive experience is going down into old hollows and wounds within you and filling them up and replacing them with new positive feelings and views. Like current experiences of worth replacing old feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or current feelings of being cared about and loved replacing old feelings of rejection, abandonment, loneliness. Or a current sense of one’s own strength replacing old feelings of weakness, smallness. The way to do this is to have the new positive experience be prominent and in the foreground of your awareness at the same time that the old pain or unmet needs are dimly sensed in the background. The new experiences will gradually replace the old ones. You will not forget events that happened, but they will lose their charge and their hold on you.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Try those four steps a few times and you’ll see how effective they are. And from about age 3 on, when you are putting your child to bed, you can take a minute or two to have the child think about something happy, and then feel like those good feelings are sinking in, like water into a sponge, like sunlight into a shirt, or like jewels going into a treasure chest.

In sum, this is a profound, far-reaching, and genuine way to help yourself, or your children. It literally changes the brain in enormously healthy ways.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.



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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