Soak up the good stuff

Cats seem to instinctively know how to "take in the good."

Cats seem to instinctively know how to "take in the good."

“You look great!” exclaims your partner. You smile, and then think how many times you screwed up your diet this week.

“Well done on this project,” your boss says. You say thanks, and then wait for her to go into what she really means (how you could have handled the client better, given a more polished presentation…)

Your guests arrive and gush, “You have such a beautiful home!” Your eyes dart immediately to the kids’ toys strewn on the living room floor.

It’s amazing how swiftly our minds jump from the positive to the negative. (And then dwell there.)

I’ve been curious lately about this tendency in both my own life, and in coaching.  

I consistently notice that one of the biggest obstacles we face when we stretch to reach our goals is plain, old Discouragement.

On our journey toward our goals, of course we run into issues, frustrations and setbacks. If we can quickly deal with these, we are well on our way again to where we want to go. But if we fall into negativity and discouragement, we lose immense amounts of time and energy. We might even stop all together.

So obviously we need to get really good at keeping ourselves encouraged, right?

Except that it’s not so easy. Especially in light of our ingrained habit of swiftly brushing past accomplishments or acknowledgments to instead focus what we did wrong or how far we still are from our goal.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson has a very interesting solution for this in his book Hardwiring Happiness. It’s a simple daily practice of “taking in the good.”

The human brain, says Hanson, has evolved to have a “negativity bias.” Our primitive ancestors were always in survival mode: in danger of attack, of running out of food, or getting injured or sick, all the basic calamities. The brain evolved to expertly hone in on the threats to us – whether past, present or future.     

In modern life, we no longer need our brain’s negativity bias for survival. Instead, this bias causes us undue stress, anxiety and depression.

Hanson’s solution is to develop a daily practice around “taking in the good.” His four-word summary of taking in the good is: Have it. Enjoy it. First, have a good experience. Then truly enjoy it and soak it in.

Linger in the goodness that is in your life, whether it’s those couple of minutes when the sun warmed your back, or when a friend gave you a compliment. Staying with a good experience even just 10-20 seconds longer can begin to re-wire your brain, says Hanson.

If you want to try it now, Hanson has a great 10-minute audio exercise that guides you in taking in the good.

Your life won’t be changed immediately, says Hanson, but, if you make a daily practice of this exercise, over time your good experiences will grow into lasting inner strengths, like resilience and positive emotions.   

My theme for this month’s newsletter tips is “Encouragement.” Hanson’s “taking in the good” is one practice you can try to stay encouraged on your path toward your goals and becoming the person you want to be.

Get started now with your practice of taking in the good. What’s one good thing from today that you are going to soak in? Leave a note below.