Here is a concept that could help set a positive tone for this coming year, and make it a much better one for you and your loved ones. Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of the book “Hardwiring Happiness” teaches us about the neurological structures of our brains so that we can increase the quality of our lives.
The parts of our brains which allowed our ancestors to hunt, defend themselves and gather in tribes –the brainstem and the limbic system– are as operational nowadays as they were million of years ago. In order for our ancestors to remain hunters, and to not become preys, these subcortical brain structures constantly needed to assess if the noises coming from afar were just the sound of the wind in the leaves, or if they were wild animals ready to make them their next meal; and if the people around them were friends or foes. Nowadays, these predispositions translate in constantly assessing if our jobs, standards of living and health are under threat; if the people in our lives can be trusted as sources of emotional security or if they will betray us; if our social status on Facebook or our emotional private life puts us at risk of being left behind, ostracized, and at worse bullied. While it could be argued that…
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our current survival challenges are far less threatening than those our ancestors faced, our subcortical brains take them as seriously as they did millions of years ago.
When we purposely focus on the good in our lives whether it be our positive experiences, the people who make us feel good and joyful, the places or foods we love or the simple pleasures of life, we rewire our brains for the positive. When we take the time to feel the good and the positive inside our bodies –Dr. Rick Hanson suggests a minimum of 15-20 seconds every time we do it– we begin rewiring our brains for the positive. This is how we overcome the negativity bias of our brains. Doing so consciously allow our survival brains to take a break from constantly being on high alert. Overtime, this creates an attitude of looking for the good and the positive when the stressors of our lives could easily overshadow the good of our here and now. I know of inspiring and amazing people who were able to remain tremendously resilient after loosing all of their belongings in the fires that have ravaged our gorgeous State last year. If they can do so in the face of such traumatic experiences, we owe them to practice these skills while stuck on the freeway. This is what Dr. Hanson means when he says: “Passing mental states become plastic neuro states.”
Making this a daily practice increases our ability to remain resilient and to adapt more gracefully to the inevitable waxing and waning of the stressors we all experience. If we choose to implement this skill this coming year, it will become one more powerful tool to support us to thrive (a function of the cortical brain) and not just survive (functions of the subcortical brains).
If you care to, I invite you to challenge yourself right now and think of a place/thing/experience/person/pet, which brings you joy, peace, calm, makes you laugh or feel good.
- For the next 20 seconds just stay with the sensory experience which comes up when you think of this.
- Allow yourself to remember all of the details, which surround that place/thing/experience/person/pet, and to let yourself feel it deep inside your body.
- Once integrated, carry this state of mind with you as you go about your life.
- By doing this simple experiment you are implementing the scientific principle of the Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb whom stated, “Neurons that fire together wire together.”
- Doing so every day (and why not many times a day?), will help rewire your brain for the positive, which already surrounds you!
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©