Velcro Brain – Getting positive experiences to stick

After facilitating our Biodanza WinterFire retreat where I experienced a whole bundle of positive experiences for the last 3 days I woke this morning questioning what myself with a negative undertone of criticism.

Was it really that great? Did it actually go as well as I thought?

Now I know there are always things to improve but I’m also aware of the negativity bias of the brain as described by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson in his books. So rather than let the negativity bias take over I decided to go back to one of his very practical books called Buddha’s Brain.

In Buddha’s Brain Hanson gives a simple metaphor that the brain is “like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones” (pg68 Buddha’s Brain).

The negativity bias of the brain means we generally record an underestimation of positive experiences. However thanks to the capacity of the brain and nervous system to adapt and change (neuroplasticity) – we can alter this.

As I read the chapter called “Taking in the Good” I decided to use an exercise on the WinterFire retreat right here and now and to see how it works.

Biodanza is so full of these kind of moments I thought it would be a fun experiment to apply it to this to the weekend we have just done. And as a way of motivating myself to go into it more deeply I decided to share it in writing.

Hanson gives 3 steps for Taking in the Good – these steps can be applied to any kind of moment of life where there is positive emotion or sensation experienced.

So here goes – this is what happened when I applied his 3 steps for boosting the affect of positive experiences:

Step 1 – Turn positive facts into positive experiences.

When you experience something good or positive let it really sink in and affect you.

I sit and take myself back to meeting each person as they arrive. From being just a name on an email or the booking sheet I take them in as a full person before my eyes. I feel a joy arising as I see them, look in their eyes and exchange greetings and express genuinely how happy I am to see them. And I am, I am touched they have accepted the invitation to the weekend and have arrived open and ready to participate in the experience we are offering.

I see the trees and the surrounds of Govinda Valley and the retreat centre – taking in the beautiful shine of the polished wooden floor where we dance, the gentle sway of the tall gum trees on the hillside outside, the crisp stillness in the cold morning air as I dash across to breakfast, the afternoon song of the kookaburras and the cockatoos calling across the valley.

I’m beginning to smile as I’m typing all of this. I can’t help myself. I feel rushes of joy seep up through my heart centre into my cheeks.

govinda-view

I might have already moved into step 2.

Step 2 is Savour the Experience.

Rick suggests to really become present to the bodily sensations and emotions, to call up the feelings that made you feel good. For example remember a special hug you received. Go back to that moment and re-live the feelings you had, perhaps the warmth in the chest, and the sense of being loved and accepted.

Going back there is not to cling to the past but to give what you have lived a full chance to really sink in and become part of you. Coming out of this kind of weekend there are so many of these moments for me to savour.

I remember the feeling of freedom in one particular dance as I let go to the music and flew around the room as if I was dancing my whole heart chest out into the room. I recall seeing soft eyes, gazes that were tender and warm and made me feel accepted and loved.

I am back with the feeling of contentment just simply sitting on the stage and enjoying the session being given by Alison and Heleen.

And I remember sharing spontaneous full-bellied laughs – I remember ‘bombastic’ moments!

Hanson also suggests thinking about challenges you had to overcome to do something.

And I think about the planning, the organizing the preparations I made. All the decisions I needed to make from the email text, to the date, to the price and who to invite and how to run the programme.

And for you reading, those that came to the WinterFire retreat or have recently stepped into doing new things? You might acknowledge the courage you had to go to new places, try out new experiences, make new connections with people.

Recalling the moments and the challenges overcome is all part of savouring the experience.

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Step 3 is to Imagine the experiences sinking in.

Hanson suggest to actually let images come of the experiences sinking in. He gives ideas of imagining warm sunshine on your skin, a sponge filling with liquid, a precious jewel being placed in a treasure chest in your heart.

Let an image come to you he says.

When I do I see myself inhaling deeply from a huge bouquet of beautiful roses full of sweet perfume. I feel their soft petals caress my cheeks and the perfume fill up my senses.

He suggests relaxing your body, taking deep breaths and to keep absorbing the emotions, sensations and thoughts of the experience.

I do this and I feel softness in my cheeks, in my heart, in my belly. I feel joy, I feel gratitude, and I feel a pleasure of living and being alive. I feel loving and loved.

What an experience.

After doing these simple steps I feel both grounded and relaxed.

I’m curious to continue doing this for more experiences but I’m already grateful for where this has brought me to today after the retreat. It has shifted me into a different space and those questioning thoughts have gone quiet.

And what’s great about this is that you can do this to enhance the impact of anything positive that happens in your life.

Acknowledgement and thanks to Rick Hanson (author of the Buddha Brain), to Rolando Toro (creator of Biodanza) and to all the teachers and researchers and people working to bring us closer to our true nature.

And to all the people that did the Biodanza WinterFire retreat with us this last weekend, Claudio and I thank you for your presence and generosity. We are grateful to you for giving us an opportunity to live our passion and share deep moments of dancing with life with you.

If you would like to share your experience with trying out these 3 steps or other ways you get positive experience to ‘stick” I’d love to hear from you.

Kate Clement