“What good?” “Where?” “Don’t you know it’s 2020, Alia?”
Yes, I do. I know that we’re all grappling with unprecedented stress, grief and anxiety.
But here’s the thing: humans are hardwired to focus on negative experiences. It’s called a negativity bias and it’s likely causing unnecessary suffering for you and people you care about.
The Negativity Bias
The negativity bias makes sense. It’s evolutionary. Humans that survived to pass on their genes were skilled at dodging danger and our brains developed systems to make noticing negative experiences unavoidable — so we could live to see another day.
In 2020, this doesn’t serve us well in many circumstances.
Have you ever dwelled on that one constructive note amidst a sea of praises in your performance review? Have you ever stewed over your partner’s one habit that drives you batty instead of noticing all the things they do that you find endearing? Have you ever replayed an embarrassing moment again and again in your head?
That’s the negativity bias at work.
Take In the Good Practice
Here’s the cool part. The human brain is not static. It can grow and change — a process called neuroplasticity, our brain’s neural networks ability to make new connections.
Further, there’s a simple practice to help you rewire your brain — a kind of operating system upgrade that can help de-emphasize the negativity bias.
I give full credit to Dr. Rick Hanson and parallel lineages of neuroscientists and Buddhist practitioners for “Taking in the good.” It’s a simple three-step process that you can do right now as you read this.
(1). Have a positive experience. I am drinking a cup of coffee as I write this post. I love coffee. That’s a fact. I’m going to stop for a moment and notice the positive experience I’m having. I’m going to let myself feel good.
(2) Enrich the experience. I’m going to notice the beautiful blue mug that fits my hand perfectly as I raise the cup to my mouth. I’m going to smell the rich nutty fragrance as I hover my nose over the cup. I’m going to savor the warmth and flavor of coffee on my tongue. I’m going to enjoy that reassuring aftertaste as I feel the liquid run down my throat.
(3) Absorb the experience. I’m going to stop for 20-30 seconds to let this enriching experience wash over me.
After you “take in the good” rinse and repeat several times a day. And if you want to hear directly from Rick Hanson, here’s a 6-minute video that will walk you through the process. The activity starts at minute 4, but I recommend watching the full thing.
Yes – the exercise is that simple! The hard part is remembering to do it. But in times like these, we all need to take in the good where we can get it. The negativity bias will happen on its own.