For most of us it’s natural to presume the worst. As Rick Hanson explains, we are hard wired to focus on the negative – our ancestors who survived learned to do that best. And while we may think its still a dangerous world out there, many of the dangers are now ego-threatening rather than life-threatening.
Even if it’s natural to presume the worst, we can still to learn how to appreciate the good in our lives and in order to do that we need a compelling “why”, a useful “how” and a provocative “who” – “anyone can learn it – even pessimists like you or me”.
I like Rick’s Hanson’s explanation of three parts of our brain that need support, even if Dr Sarah McKay says it’s not strictly true:
• Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm. Rick suggests we practice “petting the lizard” – we can learn to tell ourselves “it’s OK, you’re scared and it’s normal to focus on what might go wrong – but it probably won’t”.
• Mammal – Limbic system, focused on approaching rewards. Rick suggests we can learn to “feed the mouse” – “eg. let’s break this big goal down into little sub-goals and reward ourselves for achieving each of the little goals”.
• Primate – Cortex, focused on attaching to “people like us”. My favourite – Rick promotes daily “hugging the monkey” – this means having people or pets we can hug daily and who will hug us back. A good hug releases oxytocin and looking into a dog’s eyes does too.
But “why” we may ask? Well for the answer to that question we need to talk with Barbara Fredrickson and find out about her Broaden and Build research and the positivity ratio. More next post.