Take in the good

In my previous blog I mentioned Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and his book ”Hardwiring Happiness”. Today, I will share with you Dr. Hanson’s HEAL steps and their benefits.  You may expect positive results if you practice it several times a day.

Dr. Hanson states: “By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience – even the comfort in a single breath – you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure. Over time, you can fill up your inner storehouse with the strengths you need, such as feeling at ease rather than irritable, loved rather than mistreated, and resourceful rather than running on empty. These strengths will foster well-being and effectiveness, heal psychological issues such as anxiety, and support creativity, self-actualization, and spiritual practice …

Taking in the good is not about chasing after pleasure or chasing away pain. It’s about bringing the chase to an end. When you get good experiences into your brain – when you build up the sense of being already peaceful, contented, and loved – your well-being becomes increasingly unconditional, less dependent on external conditions such as a partner being nice or a good day at work. As your positive mental states become positive neural traits, you’ll gradually rest in a happiness that emerges naturally inside you …

Taking in the good is the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory. It involves four simple steps:

  1. Have a positive experience.
  2. Enrich it.
  3. Absorb it.
  4. Link positive and negative material.

Step 1 activates a positive mental state, and steps 2, 3, and 4 install it in your brain … The fourth step is optional, but powerful: It uses positive thoughts and feelings to soothe, reduce, and potentially replace negative ones …”

Dr. Hanson also encourages beginners to be very clear about what specifically is happening at every step and what part of your positive experience it is. Is it a thought, sensation, emotion, desire, or action?

I will demonstrate how I practice it on my own example below.

Step 1. Have a positive experience. For me, it often means having a positive sensory experience. I have a sedentary job, so I really look forward to my lunch break with a 30-minute walk in a residential neighborhood near my office. I work in Walnut Creek, California, where it is usually sunny and pleasantly warm.  I truly enjoy experiencing 1) the physical sensation of sunlight on my skin; 2) the physical sensation of my breathing “unfiltered” air and inhaling different smells of nature; 3) the visual sensation of natural beauty such as flowers, trees, and bushes.

Step 2. Enrich it. I stay with and enjoy those three sensations for a half a minute or more …  I make them more intense and look for something new or for different aspects in them.

Step 3. Absorb it. I allow all this goodness to flow from the tip of my head and all the way to my feet, spreading it in every part of my body. I open my heart to it. My mind and body become a giant container of relaxation and pleasure. I sink in this experience. I absorb it and it becomes a part of me.

Step 4. Link positive and negative material (optional). Last, I gently add to the picture something negative. Today, for example, it was a feeling of sadness, which I got after my phone call to an old good friend battling cancer. So, now I hold a space for both, my three positive sensations as well as a negative feeling and I stay that way for up to 30 seconds. Then I say “Goodbye” to my negative material and return to my focus on only positive for another half a minute.

After I am done with my practice, I usually experience a significant mood boost for the rest of the day. I feel stress-free, calmer, happier, and healthier as a result. Nevertheless, whenever I recognize some new positive things during the day, I remember to notice them, stay with them, and take them in as well.

I really encourage you to practice these HEAL steps at least a few times and see how this process works.

If you have completed at least three steps (HEA), what was your experience like?

Drawing from diverse material, let’s imagine you have repeated all four steps (HEAL) throughout the day. What have you learned?

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