Can you do tangible practices that hardwire your brain over time to be happy? Dr. Rick Hanson believes so. Check out this interesting TEDx Talk to dig deeper. I wondered if he was advocating positive thinking, training your brain, or both. Whatever he’s advocating, I like to think it has a lot to do with attention. In other words, what you focus your attention on becomes your life experience.
Dr. Hanson states that “passing mental states become lasting neural traits.” Basically, neurons that fire together, wire together. The brain has a negative bias, probably due to its survival potential. That can leave you safe but unhappy. Finding ways to enhance the positive experiences, through training, can bring balance to the brain.
Basically he is asking you to let positive experiences persist in your awareness. From a neuroscience perspective, that means allowing the neurons to fire longer…together, creating a stronger neural network.
Here’s his easy HEAL acronym of 4 steps to remember to “take in the good”:
- Have a good experience: You must activate it, to get it going.
- Enrich the experience: This helps install it in your brain. Make it last; help it grow in your body; let it be increasingly intense. Give yourself over to it.
- Absorb it: Sense and intend that it’s sinking into you.
- Link positive to negative (optional step): Link the positive experience with something negative. Stay strong with the positive and gradually associate it with the negative. It’ll grow into the negative to calm and soothe it, even gradually replace it.
Dr. Hanson emphasizes that this is not about covering up the negative. Rather, paradoxically, the more you take in the good, the more you’re able to see the bad and do something about it. It’s about taking control of the brain’s bias.
He recommends what he calls “the law of little things.” Ask yourself, “What’s the most important minute in your life?” The answer is, of course, the next one. The next minute, or moment, is all you can control. Thus, it’s a great opportunity for you. If you take care of the minutes–or moments–the years take care of themselves. And you’ll be transformed in the process.
Dr. Hanson ends with a cool Buddhist saying: Do not think lightly of good, saying “it will not come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise ones, gathering it little by little, fills oneself with good.