In these strange and often stressful times, I’d like to share a simple exercise that can significantly boost your well being.
“Take in the Good” is a practice created by Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist and Buddhist teacher, as a way to counteractive the negativity bias of our brain.
Our Brain’s “Negativity Bias”
Biologically, survival is our number one goal. Our brain evolved to be alert to and record experiences of threat and fear much more strongly than those of safety and calm.
This negativity bias means that, when two experiences are of equal intensity, the one that’s adverse in nature has a bigger lasting impact on our physical, mental and emotional processes than a positive (or neutral) one. Or as Dr. Hanson sums it up, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
Studies have shown that in a relationship, it takes five positive interactions to make up for one bad one. If you experience four good, four neutral and one negative event in your day, which one does your mind replay later or remember first when you wake up the next day?
We all know that big, traumatic experiences can have lasting impact, yet even little “bad” things can add up. This can have long-term, often unconscious consequences on our mood, energy, physical health and overall enjoyment of life.
Fortunately, being the smart human you are, you can help balance your perceptions through the power of neuroplasticity.
3 Easy Steps to Take in the Good
Dr. Hanson came up with a practical way to counteract this survival mechanism to better our brain and body. The practice is divided into three steps, although they all kind of blend together. You only need 10-30 seconds, although you could stretch it longer if you’d like.
1. Look for the good and let it become a good experience
Don’t wait for something amazingly wonderful to happen in your day. Instead notice the little good things such as eating a tasty meal, the warmth of the sun on a cold day, or a compliment from a friend or colleague. Rather than just letting it pass by or brushing it off, notice and stay with, acknowledging it as a good experience.
2. Savor the experience
Next, take in this goodness however feels natural to you. Maybe you really enjoy the taste and texture of the food, feel the pleasantness of the sun on your skin or let yourself smile and take in a person’s kind words.
3. Sense the experience sinking into you
Finally, let the goodness of the moment sink in and fill your whole self. You can breathe it in, let it ease tired muscles, and fill your body with comfortable sensations. You may even find it inspires a pleasant sound, color or visual image.
(If you’d like, here’s a video of Dr. Hanson talking about the negativity bias and Take in the Good practice.)
How Soaking in the Good Works
There are many ways this practice supports your brain and body, including…
Cultivating a Positive Habit
The practice primes you to look for and notice the good stuff—moments you might otherwise let pass by unnoticed. In our busy, stress-filled lives, cultivating awareness of good things can become a habit with a positive spill-over into all aspects of your life.
Re-wiring Your Brain
What you pay attention to changes the neural connections in your brain. By practicing paying attention to positive things and the accompanying sensations, you are re-wiring your brain.
“As Marc Lewis and other researchers have shown, the longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory.”* This means accessing and staying on the happy pathways in your brain becomes easier.
Calming Your Nervous System
Finally, when you soak in the good, you calm your limbic system (the fear center in the brain). When you’re in a state of ease or gratitude, you steep yourself in what Dr. Stephen Porges, behavioral neuroscientist and developer of the Polyvagal Theory, calls “cues of safety.” These cues of safety reduce your nervous system’s sympathetic (fight or flight) response, shifting you into a more parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.
And a better balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems isn’t only good for your health. Since “you perceive the world differently based on your physiological state,” taking in the good positively effects your attitude as well.†
Try It Out!
When I do this practice, I feel calmer, happier and more connected with other people. The best part is it’s fast and easy to incorporate into my day.
When I wake up in the morning, I remind myself I want to notice the good today. Then a few times throughout the day, I take 15 seconds to soak in when something is good. If I forget, before bed I take a moment to recall and soak in a couple good moments from my day.
I invite you to try it right now
Close your eyes and think of something good you experienced or are grateful for today. Then allow the goodness of that to fill and warm you for 10-30 seconds (or more!).