Did you know that there are 15 ways to create a positive experience?
Our brain has the tendency to overfocus on the negative and to get stuck in negative loops. Imagine you had a really good day at work and everything went smoothly. But at one moment you get a negative email where someone criticizes you unfairly. What will you focus on when you get home? On all the things that you got done and that went well or on this one email? Exactly, the latter! The negativity bias of our brain is a very efficient mechanism that helps us to survive by scanning the environment for dangers, but the downside to it is that this tendency decreases our wellbeing. And on top of it it sometimes falsifies our experience because things are perceived more negatively than they are in reality.
This is where a method called positive neuroplasticity can have a tremendous effect. It has been developed by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and is based on the principle that you need to experience positive states so they can change the structure in your brain. Whatever your attention rests upon, this will ultimately grow in your brain. It is not about ignoring the negative, but simply about learning to increase the positive in our mind with the immediate effect that it will make you feel better.
The first skill you need to develop is to learn to create positive mental states.
There are two ways of having a beneficial experience:
- Notice one that you are already having. Very often we experience something positive but we do not really feel and savour it in the moment. It might be that we only notice afterwards that this was a good moment.
- Create one. If there is not an immediate positive experience available we can also simply create one.
When we create a beneficial experience, we bring attention to some stimulus and then let it become an experience.
There are 15 ways for creating a positive experience.
Imagine you are in the car driving back from a very tiring meeting some 200 km from home. An accident has blocked your road and your GPS notifies you that you will need another 4 hours before you get home. This is where mindfulness can come in first and foremost. Your experience is not so much about what happens to you, but how you relate to it. You can start feeling miserable, pity yourself, have all sorts of aversion reactions, but you will still be sitting in the car needing to make it home without having an accident or falling asleep. With mindfulness we learn that we can learn to pause and see clearly what's there: there is a traffic jam and I will be home later than foreseen. We can see all the drama in our head and notice it as thinking, eventually letting go of it and be with the experience that this is unpleasant. If we add the method of positive neuroplasticity to this, we can even transform that moment in the car into a nice one. The only thing you need to do is become a little creative in your mind. You can call up the 15 ways of creating a positive experience that Rick Hanson has identified.
You can start by:
Noticing a positive experience you are already having
- In the foreground of attention: for example, the temperature in your car is just fine and and nothing hurts in your body.
- In the background of awareness: maybe you notice that you feel pretty safe in your car and that there is no immediate threat right now.
You can also create a positive experience by looking at.....
- Your immediate situation: maybe there is some nice music in the radio, or you even have a playlist that you can listen to which gives you good vibes.
- Current or recurrent events: you can think about how good it will feel when you will go back to your yoga or sports class the next day and how your muscles will be able to stretch.
- Enduring conditions: it can be good to remember that you are in a fortunate position, with a safe and well-paid job and a nice house or apartment, if this is the case.
- Your own character: a pretty overlooked way to create a positive experience is by noticing all the good in your own character. Maybe you are a very generous and kind person, or you have a strong analytical mind, or you are very caring for others. This can be a good way to congratulate yourself for the good you have within yourself.
- Your past: you can also remember your last weekend or holiday and think about some nice moments where you really felt good. If you call them up on detail and focus on how you felt in your body and emotionally you can practically relive it and it can make you happy.
- Future events: similarly, you can look forward to something nice in the future, maybe a nice dinner with friends, an excursion or a planned holiday. You can imagine how it will feel to be on that ski slope or mountain or having time with a loved one and savour the feelings that this creates.
- Reframing facts to recognize what is good about them: you could also see the good in the bad, for example that a traffic jam gives you the possibility to create 15 positive experience in your mind and thereby build an inner resource of contentment.
- Lives of others: you can think about the good in the life of a friend, colleague or family member. Maybe a baby was born or someone was recently promoted or fell in love and you can be happy for the good fortune of others;
- Your imagination: it is always possible to imagine something beautiful happening to you. nothing prevents you from imaging yourself on the beach with a cocktail in your hand and looking at the waves......
- Caring about others: at any moment you can call up your own caring feelings and love for others and start feeling invaded by love. Love flowing out or in is the same feeling and it always feels good!
- Evoking a beneficial experience: it is possible to simply call up the feeling of gratitude by naming all the things and people in your life that you are grateful for. The feeling of gratitude will release the hormone dopamine in your body and lift your mood.
- Producing good facts: you can wave at some children or smile at someone in the car next to you and they will smile and wave back. this small gesture can create a good feeling.
So what are you waiting for? Imagine if you would only practice a few of these examples a couple of times a day how it could shift your mood!
This is a way of activating a positive experience. If you want it to become a lasting trait in your mind you need to learn to install those positive experiences in your brain. Not only notice that you are having a good moment, but also spending some extra seconds to enjoy it fully and truly take it in. This will help you increase your wellbeing and over time help shift your mind towards the positive.