July 20, 2015
By Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH, ACC
er notice how quickly pleasure fades from our thoughts while grievances or resentments linger? Recent findings in neurobiology reveal that our brains are more hardwired for negative thinking than positive. Think of it as a survival strategy thousands of years old. Back in the Paleolithic era, the potential to be eaten was significant, thus, our brain, particularly the brainstem, has a habit of attending to threats—quickly! Yet feelings of contentment and connection, with centers in the mid-brain and pre-frontal cortex, are easily overwhelmed by these physical survival patterns. Psychologist Rick Hanson has written about this extensively in his most recent book Hardwiring Happiness, and his solution, using Positive Neuroplasticity, is the HEAL practice. Let’s take a look.
HEAL stands for Have, Enhance (or Enrich), Absorb and Link. Arguing that we need frequent and regular ‘doses’ of positive thoughts, the HEAL practice literally helps grow the brain cells for positive thoughts. The initial step is Have, and we have two options: either have a great time—enjoy food, company, sex, a movie, a sunset, your kids, or, if that’s not available, remember one of these experiences from the past. Try it now—in the past day, think of a time that you felt content, happy or satisfied with what was going on…that’s it! This shouldn’t take more than a few seconds. Dr. Hanson points out that while negative thoughts stick around—he uses the analogy of Velcro, positive thoughts tend to dissipate quickly—like Teflon. Hopefully, it’s not hard to find a positive experience or thought to “have” again.
The “E” stands for Enhance or Enrich, because, given the Teflon nature of our mind, we truly need to practice having these positive thoughts for longer than a few seconds. If you can stick with it for 15 or 20 seconds, you are doing great. Try it now: bring back that pleasant thought you just recalled a few seconds ago. Now, enhance it…imagine what it feels like in your body. What feelings come along with the experience? What else can you notice about the experience that is pleasant? Stick with your positive thought with a broad, open body, mind and spirit. Hopefully, this isn’t too hard. I’m thinking about hugging my two puppies on the couch and how they sigh in happiness and I feel all warm and connected inside. I feel their warmth when I hug them, and they bounce their tails and roll onto their backs in bliss.
Not bad. Continuing along this vein of extending the experience, the “A” stands for Absorb. This is a “taking-it-in” practice. Hanson points out that studies show that while we remember the good stuff, we don’t always take the time to really let it sink in, and we need to. It’s a bit like eating chocolate while you are reading or watching TV; you just don’t notice the taste of the food as much, (but you do get all the calories). So, Absorb involves the mental process of really letting the positive experience sink in to your body, mind and spirit. Try it with me. I often think of the experience “dripping” down my head like rain coming off my scalp. Recall that positive event, enhance it a bit, then begin to let the memory sink into you, like raindrops dripping on your head, the experience drips into you…let it sink into your heart…into your body…really take it in. Consciously absorb the positive qualities of the memory into your body, mind and spirit…Breathe with it and stay open…nice? Now return to your usual thinking.
Often Hanson stops the lesson here. He suggests you do this HEA practice 3 to 5 times daily. It requires less than a minute. You can do it when you wake up, after lunch, before bed, just make sure you do it several times daily and see how much happier you get. “Try it, you’ll like it!”
The final step “L” is for Link, and this requires a bit more skill. A brief introduction to the Linking practice follows, but there is much more. I would suggest going to Dr. Hanson’s website and get the full instruction or read Hardwiring Happiness. Briefly, after you have completed the HEA portion of the exercise, recall a negative experience that you might want to “rewire.” Try not to pick something too hard for this. I have teenagers at home for the summer, so I’m recalling a rude moment that came up last week. I do the full HEAL practice—recalling what I love for my kid, then bringing to mind something he said to me that was difficult. I bring the positive, enhanced, absorbed memory to the fore while keeping that challenging moment in the back of my mind. I let the two mingle a bit. Hanson says “what goes together grows together.” So if I do this several times, the next time I find myself on the short end of a dialogue with my son, I’ve literally created a positive memory association link. Seems magical? Try it out. I think you’ll be impressed with the results.
Have, Enhance, Absorb and Link is the practice that takes in the good and links these experiences with more negative, challenging thought patterns. This is a practice for Positive Neuroplasticity. For health coaches, this is a winner. Find out more today!