Practice of the Week
Pay Attention to Blessing
Pay Attention to Blessing
"Neurons that fire together wire together"" -Donald Hebb, 1949 (CLICK HERE)Negativity bias. As we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots. That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes. Thus, we developed brains with a built-in negativity bias.
- In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
- People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
- Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.
Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. Negativity bias helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive, but it also oriented their feelings, expectations, beliefs, inclinations, and mood in an increasingly negative direction. This is not fair! Most of the facts in your life are probably positive or at least neutral. Yet the self-reinforcing increasingly negative orientation makes us anxious, irritable, and blue.
Fortunately, the natural negativity bias can be counteracted -- by paying attention to blessing.
By tilting toward the good -- toward that which brings more happiness and benefit to oneself and others -- you can level the playing field.
Don't just count your blessings. By focusing attention on them, the blessings in your life have a chance to change your brain -- re-orienting your feelings, expectations, and mood in a positive instead of negative direction.
You'll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you'll become more able to change them or bear them if you pay attention to blessing, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others.
Take note of positive aspects of the world (something beautiful or pleasing) and yourself (your health, your skills). Take note of positive events (finishing a batch of emails, getting a compliment). Most blessings are ordinary and relatively minor -- but they are till real. You are not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but simply recognizing something that is actual and true.
2. Let yourself enjoy the blessing.
Once you've identified a blessing let yourself feel good about it. So often in life a good thing happens -- flowers are blooming, someone is nice, a goal's been attained -- and you know it, but you don't feel it. This time, let the blessing affect you. Take half a minute or so to give attention to the blessing and how much you enjoy it. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning). Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day.
Be aware of any reluctance toward having positive experiences (thinking that you don't deserve the blessing; thinking that it's selfish, vain, or shameful to feel pleasure; fearing that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen). Then turn your attention back to the blessing. Keep opening up to them, breathing and relaxing, letting them move your needle. It's like sitting down to a meal: don't just look at it -- thoroughly taste it!
Most of our daily blessings are pretty mild. That's fine. Simply stay with it for ten, twenty, even thirty seconds in a row -- instead of getting distracted by something else.
Soften and open around the positive experience; let it fill your mind; give over to it in your body. The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the effect on your base-level feelings, expectations, and mood.
Letting yourself enjoy your blessing is not the same as clinging to it. Actually, it's the opposite: by taking blessings in, you will feel better fed inside, and less fragile or needy. Your happiness will become more unconditional, increasingly based on an inner fullness rather than on external conditions.
3. Intend and sense that the blessing is sinking in to you.
People do this in different ways. Some feel it in the body as a warm glow spreading through the chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside; a child might imagine a jewel going into a treasure chest in his or her heart. And some might simply know that while this blessing is held in awareness, its related neural networks are busily firing and wiring together.
Any single time of paying attention to blessing will usually make just a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your whole being.
Paying attention to blessing means taking moments throughout the day. Extend the practice into your journaling. Name some of the blessings of the day. Write about how you enjoyed them (or are letting yourself enjoy them now). Reinforce the feeling (such as a warm glow spreading through the chest), the image (such as syrup sinking down inside), or the thought (that your awareness is wiring your neurons) by describing it in writing after each blessing you name.
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adapted from Rick Hanson, "Take In the Good"
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"