Do you ever wish you could just wave a magic wand and suddenly be granted more confidence or focus or ease? Do you ever feel trapped in uncertainty, knowing that you need to “change your mindset,” but not knowing how?

In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson writes that although most people think of modes of being such as confidence or focus or ease as inherent personality traits or fleeting emotional states, in actuality, they are emotional strengths or habits that anyone can cultivate.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to put several elements into place to cultivate an emotional habit like courage or calm. However, in his book, Hansen teaches a simple practice for developing new emotional habits which is evidence-based, takes hardly any time, is surprisingly easy, and is actually fun. He calls this taking in the good.

To develop a new emotional strength or habit, you need to pay attention when you’re already experiencing the behavior and feel how you feel in your body.

By repeating a new, desired behavior with full attention, you can literally build new neural pathways and change how your DNA functions. With enough practice, your new neurological circuitry crowds out the old patterns, and your new behavior becomes your default. A temporary state becomes a new habit, an automatic way of being that seems to arise unconsciously. And, as icing on top, when you celebrate these small changes, it triggers endorphins and gives you a natural high. Your feelings of success propel you forward.

The first step towards building a new emotional habit is to choose which one you want to cultivate.

Our challenges require solutions that match. You may immediately know what emotional habit you want to cultivate, but if you don’t, you can refer to the column below for ideas. If you struggle with an emotional pattern in the left column, consider focusing on the one in the right—

  • Burn out…    Curiosity
  • Anxiety…    Calm
  • Fear…    Courage
  • Shame…    Self-Compassion
  • Resistance…    Gumption
  • Withdrawal…    Assertiveness
  • Scarcity…    Gratitude
  • Frustration…    Satisfaction
  • Stuckness…    Forward Movement
  • Drivenness…    Pleasure
  • Pressure…    Freedom
  • Inadequacy…    Worthiness
  • Powerlessness…    Agency
  • Rejection…    Belonging
  • Isolation…    Connection
  • Grief…    Love

Once you identify the new emotional habit you desire, your next step is to practice noticing related experiences.

It’s great when you can catch yourself engaging in a new behavior in the moment, and the more you practice noticing, the more you’ll notice, in a positive feedback loop. However, if you don’t naturally find yourself engaging in your desired emotional behavior (and yes, although it’s subtle, I do consider feeling and thinking behaviors), you can come up with an experience in your mind. For example, you can—

  • Reflect on your day and try to think of a moment when you were engaging in the new behavior, even if only a little bit,
  • Remember times when you engaged in the behavior in the past,
  • Think of someone you admire who has the strength you want and imagine being them, or
  • Imagine yourself engaging in the behavior in a parallel universe or in the future.

Once you notice your desired behavior, there is one critical step that will turn a temporary state into a lasting strength.

To create new connections in your brain, you need to savor the experience. Turn up the dial on the positive physical sensations and emotions. Take in as many sensory aspects related to the behavior as possible—sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, and feeling. Help the experience linger, focusing your attention on what you feel for fifteen-ish seconds or longer. Feel the sensations sinking into you, knowing that they are becoming part of you. By taking the good into your body, you begin to lay down new neural patterns and make the behavior habitual and automatic.

If this practice feels at all challenging, keep coming back to a spirit of gentle curiosity. Your emotions don’t need to be big or intense for you to pay attention to them. Most times, they’ll feel relatively mild, just ones or twos on a scale of one to ten.

Let’s try this now, shall we?

  • First, choose one new habit that you’d like to focus on cultivating. If you need help, you can refer to the list above.
  • Then, ask yourself—When did I engage in this behavior recently? If you can’t think of anything, remember a time in the past when you did or imagine a time in the future when you will.
  • Once you have a moment in mind, your assignment (if you choose to accept it) is to take in the good for at least one minute. Set a timer and amplify the good feelings of the moment, noticing the sensations and emotions in your body and envisioning any related sights or sounds in your imagination. Ready? Go!

How did that feel? Isn’t it cool to know that by merely taking a quick moment to feel good in your body, you’re literally rewiring your brain? All it takes is fifteen seconds to notice what’s good and feel how it feels in your body.

I want you to experience the change you desire, so if it were up to me, you’d do this at least every day. Your ability to focus your attention is like a muscle. It gets stronger the more you exercise it. With time and practice, your ability to take in the good will become a habit you can count on. The more you practice, the faster you’ll change.

Do you have a friend or two who’ve been racking their brains about how to create change in their lives? If so, would you please share this article with them? Thank you!!

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