How Can I be More Positive?

Have you ever watched or listened to an embarrassing story of another person, that cringe and discomfort of what they might be experiencing?  As I was listening to an episode of This American Life over the weekend that centered around the impact of embarrassing moments I had that very moment. As I cringed (and laughed) at these stories, I was struck by the way the storytellers’ lives had been altered from a single embarrassing event. We are so quick to fall into embarrassment we often miss the positive moments throughout the day.

These brief moments in time had changed a person’s routine, behavior, or even their beliefs about themselves. And the world around them. It is no surprise that these events held such an impact. As humans our brains are wired to survive which causes us to hold on tightly to memories of unpleasant experiences. As psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson says, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. Unfortunately, this can cause what’s referred to as a negativity bias. Our brain fixates on unpleasantness and uses it to write our narrative. A classic example of this is fixating on one criticism about your job performance despite all other praise or compliments.  In order to fight against our negativity bias, we have to actively recognize and embody pleasant or even neutral events as they occur. 

Dr. Rick Hanson’s HEAL yourself method is a simple way to start raising your awareness of pleasant or neutral events.

  1. Have a good experience – this could be as simple as getting a parking spot, having your cat snuggle up to you, or getting compliments on your new skirt. 
  2. Enrich it- take 20-30 seconds just mindfully observe the good experience, how do you feel? What are the sensations that you notice? Is there warmth? A feeling of satisfaction or confidence? Allow the experience to fill your mind and your body. 
  3. Absorb it – imagine yourself “downloading” this experience into your memory. Being intentional about storing this information will help your brain flag this as important information.
  4. Link it- this step is optional, but helpful in building resilience. Link the positive event to a contrary negative event. It’s almost as if you are allowing your new experience to comfort the negative event and challenge the thoughts and perceptions it has created. 

Observing Small Events Helps Build the Connection to the Positive in your Mind

This exercise allows us to observe small events that add up throughout the day. The more evidence we provide ourselves that pleasant or neutral events are occurring, the more likely we are to combat narratives like the “bad day.” As you work to implement this exercise, be cautious of the difference between embodying pleasant experiences vs toxic positivity. Toxic positivity (which can be seen in phrases such as “good vibes only” or “choose happiness”) leads us to ignore and push down painful emotions by wearing a mask of happiness and optimism.  In contrast, when we work towards actively including positive experiences into memory, we can correct the imbalance that our survival brain has created. 

To hear more about Dr. Rick Hanson’s outlook and some of the science behind this method, check out his brief TED talk. And! For an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience, I invite you to listen to the episode My Bad from This American Life.

Kaitlin Cary-King
Empowerment Within

Leave a Reply