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7 Aug 2015

The power of Positive Neuroscience

He was a big man wearing black gum boots, tracksuit pants, a bright red scarf, a crash helmet and carrying a crutch.  His arms were fumbling as he was trying to exit the train at Town Hall station in Sydney.  A small Rail Corp man grabbed hold of his hand, leading him out of the train to safety.  They stood there on the platform holding hands, the two men.  When the Rail Corp man left, our man first stood there a little awkwardly and then shouted: ‘thank you for your love, brother.’  It was a little gem in the middle of the morning rush in Sydney.
When we are stressed we naturally tend to notice the problems and the dangers. This tends to be self-perpetuating; the more I notice the problems and the dangers the more I see of them!   The news we listen to also tends to have this negative slant and accordingly, most of us are disposed to see the world with a negative bias.   Rick Hanson, the author of ‘Hardwiring Happiness’, observes that the brain is like Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive.  This is in the service of our survival.  For survival, it is/was more important that we pay attention to and remember the dangers than the delight moments.  In other words, more important that I err on the side of possible danger than on the side of possible good in people or a situation.
So our disposition is not an even playing field as the brain is designed to go global with negative events while it stays specific with positive ones.  You know this experientially, a passing critical comment seems to have so much power than a fleeting positive one.
To rebalance things we therefor need to ‘feed ‘ the positive much more than the negative.
What we pay attention to is what we are likely to get more of – this is a very important point.  Every time we are ruminating over problems or feeling not good enough, we are feeding our own misery.
This negative disposition means that we easily get caught focusing on what is not right, on problems and dangers rather than experiencing peace, love and gratitude.  The dangers and problems are often threats to our sense of self. This could be anything that makes us feel excluded (including when others do really well for example), anything that makes us feel powerless, not right, not worthy, or anything that challenges our life meaning.  We are vulnerable to misery.
Noticing the good is not about denying pain and sadness, rather it is about fishing for and paying attention to the good. This also helps us deal with pain when it comes our way.  Paying attention to the good, is one of the most powerful things you can do to increase your resilience.
The more positive experiences we have and the more intensely we experience them, the bigger the positive impact on our brain and the more likely it is that the positive will increasing be at the forefront of our experience.   Through paying attention to the good, we start to correct the inherent perception of more danger and problems than good in the world.  There is so much good, there is so much neutral and very little bad, but often our perceptions tell us otherwise.
Here is the challenge; notice the good, the little moments in every day life when love shows up, when kindness is evident, when beauty comes yourway.  Drink in the experience and let it leave a big sparkle on your brain.

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