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I recently participated in Rick Hanson’s Positive Neuroplasticity Training and The Professional Course in Positive Neuroplasticity. In these courses, he refers to “Taking In the Good”, a practice which he calls HEAL. I also implemented in my own brain retraining. Brain retraining programs  for chronic states of being, all have this practice of bringing to awareness the “good”, seeing and feeling the positive (even if not at first). Part of rewriting old patterns, thoughts and behaviors is having an experience.  In my recovery from chronic illness, I had to visualize past and future stories that would elicit positive emotions, related of course to positive neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.  The focus created neuroplasticity while the visualizations elicited these chemicals. Each activation of the positive primed he brain to develop new neural pathways that eventually created traits to match the daily states. In other words, if I visualized being strong and healthy, this pathway would be encoded , installed and activated through daily repetition while controlling and calming the limbic system that had become hyper reactive causing me to become ill.

According to Rick Hanson, the brain has a necessary built-in negativity bias created for survival.  Our Homosapien ancestors, who emerged 200,000 years ago, faced the pressure of  dangerous environment. The sensitivity to negativity  assured that they would be cautious of all environmental dangers. As their descendants, we inherited this negativity bias. Therefore the brain is “Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for good ones.” One way to counteract this negativity bias to to use the principles of HEAL.

Repeated mental activity entails repeated neural activity. Repeated neural activity builds a neural structure.  Practice of any skill, emotion, way of being creates neural activity. Repeating this activity, will eventually build a neural structure, to reflect it. A resilient nervous system which defaults into positive, or at least balances the negative with the positive is a skill that can be mastered.

HEAL developed by Rick Hanson entails :

1.Have an experience (Bring to mind a positive experience)  2.Enrich the experience (Stay with the experience for at least 5 seconds, 3.Absorb the experience  (allow the experience to sink in) 4.Link positive experience with negative material  (Hold the positive experience while bringing negative to the background, this is optional)

When I first began brain retraining, the good was only a few seconds a day if at all.  How could I see any good at all when sick, abandoned and losing everything?   It was this focus on the negative that perpetuated the negative.  I continued the practices anyway, and what I found is. “faking it until I made it” worked. Eventually, I began to feel the positive I was reciting (in my practice storytelling was part of the “good” experience.)

A way to begin these practices is to notice. Mindfulness is the entry point to rewiring the brain. Noticing the positive experiences that you have daily is material that can be used for rewiring practices. An example is noticing the room you are in, and how safe it is, bringing this to mind. Allow that feeling of safety to be present in the body, while describing the room and talking through what makes it safe and adding gratitude for whoever created it. Hold these feelings for some time in the body and eventually bringing into the background of awareness a time you didn’t feel safe, link the two shifting in and out of each emotion and visuals and eventually mix them together so that the positive overpowers the negative.

As I said, for me the feeling of “good” was not readily available during my worst times, so I had to enrich and absorb for quite some time each session. After many sessions, and as I began to shift into parasympathetic state, they did become more accessible. And, I bagan to get healthier and stronger, mentally and physcially.

Stefanie