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How to Hardwire Your Mind For Happiness

Melli O'Brien






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How to Hardwire Your Mind For Happiness

Here’s a simple practice to rewire your brain to be less negative and shift into having more confidence and a more positive view of life.

Imagine you do a presentation at

work, and then everyone in your team

has the chance to give you feedback.

If five of those people compliment

your work and one person criticizes

it, which one will you remember later?

Which one could keep you up

at night ruminating about it?

If you're like most

people it's the criticism.

And the criticism gets highlighted

in our minds because of what is

known as the negativity bias.

Now, this bias towards the

negative is completely normal.

As we evolved over the last 150 to 200,000

years, it was vitally important to learn

from negative experiences so that we

could outwit predators and avoid dangers.

So the brain registers negative

experiences very, very quickly and

highlights them and stores them in memory.

This helped us remember how to

avoid potential future threats.

On the other hand, positive experiences?

They don't register in the same way.

They need to be held in awareness for some

time before they get stored in memory.

Now, we don't live in a world where

there's constant threats and dangers

like, the hundreds of thousands

of years gone by, but our brains

still operate in the same way.

Now the problem with the negativity

bias for us these days is

that over the long-term we can

develop a growing tendency to be

pessimistic, stressed, and negative.

We can become sensitive to upsets

grievances and resentments, and it can

knock out confidence and really cloud

our ability to see things clearly.

Neuro psychologist and author Rick Hanson

often uses the metaphor that negative

experiences are like Velcro for the mind.

Whereas positive

experiences of like Teflon.

They slide right off.

This is a great metaphor for truly

understanding how sticky negative

experiences can be in the human mind.

Now, on a personal note, I can vividly

remember a potentially damaging experience

that I had thanks to this negativity bias.

It was just a couple of years ago

when I ran the Mindfulness Summit.

The summit was a not-for-profit

project to get mindfulness out into

the mainstream where we raised over

a million dollars for charity and

gave it all away to mindfulness-based

charities around the world.

Now, part of my job in this mission that

we were on was to interview 30 people who

were some of the world's most respected

meditation teachers, spiritual teachers,

researchers, and neuroscientists.

And we had 250,000 people

sign up to watch this thing.

So I was naturally nervous.

I'd never interviewed anybody before.

But to make matters worse, during the

first two days of the summit, a lot

of people got on the forums and they

started doing what's called flaming.

So they put out really

nasty and hurtful comments.

Some people said, things like that

they were finding me annoying.

They didn't like me.

And I'm putting this nicely.

It wasn't written so nicely as that.

And it was really, really hard

for me to see those comments.

I have to be honest with you right now.

I felt like I was publicly

humiliating myself.

I was so embarrassed.

I was, I felt awful.

And I was, you know, having one of

those moments where I was just wishing

the world would swallow me whole.

So it would have been quite

easy to let those comments

really damage my confidence.

And they did put a dint in my

confidence when I first read them.

It put a dint in my confidence and my

confidence in the ability that I had to

complete their mission that I was on.

So here's what happened though.

Eventually, and luckily for me, I

sobered up to the mental hole that I

was going down and I realized that I had

been affected by the negativity bias.

I had completely overlooked for these two

days, the many, many positive comments

that I was also receiving on the forums.

In fact, I had overlooked it

so completely that my business

partner had to point it out to me.

He pointed out to me that actually

95% of the comments were good

and only 5% were negative.

I couldn't see it.

I was literally blind to that fact.

And as the summit went on, feedback

became more, more positive overall.

The people who were flaming

sort of disappeared.

And the overall feedback that

we got from the summit was

incredibly, incredibly positive.

So from that day on, when I realized

the negativity bias had a hold of

me, I decided to make sure that

I spent time each day reading the

positive feedback, as well as taking

in some of the more negative comments

if they had something to teach me.

Just to make sure that I

was seeing things clearly.

That was an important realization for

me that I wasn't seeing reality clearly

before and had to really practice, at it.

The negativity bias was making me not

able to see reality as it truly was.

So you can see how this

negativity bias can stop us

from being able to see clearly.

It can create a lot of inner turmoil that

can knock our confidence and create a

lot of negativity and distress, actually.

We can start to feel sometimes

also like our partner, our lives,

ourselves, we're not good enough

when we ruminate on not going, what's

not going well and what's negative.

So you can see how, you know,

gradually we can become plagued by

negativity, resentment, bitterness,

low confidence, if we're not careful.

So how do we work with this?

How do we counter this negativity bias?

How can we start to make sure that we

can see life in a more balanced way?

Well, here's the really great news.

Over time, and with a little

bit of practice, we can

change the negativity bias.

We can even it out.

And we can actually totally

rewire our brains to see things

in a more clear and balanced way.

Now, as a neuroscientist might say,

neurons that fire together wire together.

So in other words, the more time

you actually train your brain in

taking in the good and seeing things

clearly, the more it becomes an

ingrained way of being, and seeing.

Rick Hanson has this wonderful technique

that I'd like to share with you that

helps you reshape your brain's neural

pathways so that you'll take in more

good and positive experiences and

balance out that negativity bias.

So the technique has three basic stages.

Very simple.

First stage, he advises us to deliberately

seek out good experiences every day.

Really, really simple.

It could be something so simple as just

appreciating the beauty in your garden,

feeling the warm touch of sunlight on your

skin, you know, the taste of a coffee.

Just so what he's saying is you want

to deliberately cultivate, seek out,

create these moments of taking in the

good in your life and then noticing

the times when they happen organically.

This helps you to activate your brain to

start the process of taking in the good.

Secondly, you want to

enrich the experience.

So to enrich any good experience, what

you need to do is just stay with the

experience for at least five seconds

and fully open up to what's happening.

So open up to the body sensations,

the emotions, everything that's

happening in the present moment.

Really drink in that good experience,

fully letting it fill your mind

and body and build in intensity.

As you do this, you'll be able to move

the experience from your short term

memory into your long-term memory,

which is important in rewiring your

brain to take in and see more good.

This may take a little bit of time as

you want to really connect with the

feelings you're feeling in the moment.

So really focusing on allowing that

experience to sink into your being as

you truly engage with it, feel the joy as

you appreciate and savor that experience.

The third step is to then

absorb the experience.

So this is really simple.

Simply after you really allow that

experience to sink in and be fully felt

and known, you simply set an intention.

You just have a moment where you make an

intention to feel that it's now a part

of you and take it with you in memory.

So really setting an intention to take

this with you, to keep it with you.

So this really, really simple

technique can be used every day to

help you truly appreciate and enjoy

the positive moments of your life.

The more we take in the good, the

more we can see and experience

life in a more balanced way.

And it's ,of course, not that

we're going to ignore negative

experiences and we're not going

to stop bad things from happening.

That's just a natural part of life.

We have ups and we have downs.

We have pain and we have pleasure.

So that's fine, but we can take

control of how we perceive life.

We can seek out more good so that we don't

become overwhelmed by the negativity bias.

And over time, with this practice, we'll

be better able to connect with the present

moment and the good experiences that we're

having as we go through the day, because

we won't be so worried all the time about

the negatives or the past or future.

So today and for the rest of this week,

and further on than that, see if you can

focus on taking in the good like this.

Maybe even just right now consider what

are some good aspects of your life that

you don't normally notice that you could

appreciate today, as you're going through

your day, what's beautiful, enjoyable

that you can appreciate and savor.

Maybe making a little intention right

now that when those moments come, whether

it's the hot cup of tea or the sunlight

on your skin, or a walk in nature,

that when those moments come, you'll

really take them in, take in the good.

As you cultivate this capacity for

taking in the good, you'll notice

a shift in your perceptions towards

a more positive view of life.

And you'll likely experience a lightness

of heart and mind and a little bit more

joy and wonder flowing into your days.

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