Did you know that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias?” The negative bias is the brain's tendency to register negative events more readily than positive events. This is why painful experiences are usually more memorable than pleasurable ones.
"The negativity bias is the notion that even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.
In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person's behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative." (Wiki)
Also known as positive-negative asymmetry, your negativity bias means that you will feel the sting of criticism more powerfully than you will feel the joy of praise. This is why, in a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
As neuroscientist Rick Hanson explains: "In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones." This is why it can seem so difficult to heal depression, grief, or trauma.
But the good news is, you don’t have to accept your negativity bias! By emphasizing the good – which is that which brings more happiness to yourself and others – you’ll still be able to realistically see the harder parts of your life, but it will be from a balanced perspective.
In neuroscience, it is commonly stated that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Therefore, when you focus on absorbing the good in your life, you will gather and anchor your good experiences deep down in your brain and nervous system. This can help your present moments feel much brighter and last longer. And, with extensive practice, your good feelings can also reach deep down into old wounds and heal them for good.
Taking in and extending the good is a psychologically skillful way to improve how you feel. The more you get your neurons firing about what is good about your life, the more you will wire up the positive neural structures in your brain.
Taking in the Good
1. Looking For The Good: When you notice something good, take it in a little deeper than you normally do. Try to do this at least ten times a day. Each time takes just a few seconds to do. You can do this throughout your daily life, or at specific times, such as just before falling asleep or upon waking up, when your brain is especially receptive to new learning.
Be aware that your core wound beliefs will pop up in resistance to your new positive practices. Notice any reluctance/resistance that you have to feeling wonderful. See if you think you don’t deserve to feel good, or that it’s selfish, vain, or shameful to feel pleasure. You might think from an inner child place, for example, that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and bad things will happen.
Acknowledge this resistance to yourself, and then turn your attention back to focusing on what feels good. Keep opening up to the good, breathing and relaxing, letting the good in your life affect you more deeply than it normally does.
2. Savouring the Good. Most of the time, a good experience passes by in a blink. But this savouring practice invites you to stay with what is good for a full 30 seconds instead of getting distracted by something else.
The easiest way to do this is to find something to appreciate in your immediate environment and feel the appreciation intensify in your body, mind, and emotions. Encourage appreciation to flood your body, making it a deep, rich, and beautiful experience for 30 seconds.
Neuroscience has proven that the longer something is held in awareness and the more emotionally amplified it is - the more, better-feeling neurons in your brain will fire and wire together.
This is not the same as craving positive experiences with other people and outside circumstances, as this leads to tension and disappointment. By deeply taking in your good experiences and filling your body, heart, and mind with fulfillment, you will feel less fragile and less needy of others. Your happiness, generated by your own practices, will be based on your consistent creation of inner fullness, and will not be dependent on other people or outside situations.
3. Soaking in the Good: Let your good experiences - real or imagined - register more deeply in your emotional system for ten minutes or more. You can do this in various ways. You might feel a good experience as a warm glow spreads through your chest. And with practice, you might choose to bring this warm glow into old places of hurt, core childhood wounds, or old loss and grief.
As you do this extended practice of bringing your good feelings of warmth, safety, happiness, or joy into old wounds, your neurons are firing and gradually wiring
together to create more happiness in your brain and body. Every time you practice taking in and extending the good, it will make a small cumulative difference. And, over time small differences in your brain add up, reshaping you into a happier person!
If you have seen me in a therapy session, you know that I am a big fan of neuroscientist Rick Hanson. I highly recommend that you watch this video to learn how to hardwire happiness into your brain and body.