Take a Positivity Break

This week’s article comes from Betty Mahalik, one of our own S+EI Certified Coaches.  This article deals with positive psychology and the tremendous positive impact this can have on coaching our clients and on ourselves.  In fact, this topic is so important, we have added an advanced course on positive psychology to the course line-up here at the The Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence.  Betty’s blog post on this topic is definitely worth your time and an excellent article.

Last week I received one of those blog messages that I believe has changed my life. It was from Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of a book I’m reading called Buddha’s Brain, that links current neuroscience research findings with ancient practices such as meditation. His message, backed by research was this: focusing on the positive really works to grow your brain, increase your emotional balance and generally make you a happier, healthier person.

I’ve always prided myself on being a positive person, but Rick’s article took the idea of positivity to a whole new level for me. You see it’s not enough to simply think positive thoughts or keep a gratitude journal or count your blessings. Those are fine as far as they go. But the real juice—that research is now validating as vital for improving your mood, attitude and your health–comes from internalizing those positive experiences at a deep level, using multi-sensory images to “burn” them into your brain. I recently explained it to a coaching client like this: using all of your faculties, reenact the positive experience and then imagine that the positive emotions being triggered are sinking down into your whole body like butter melting into a hot English muffin.

Want to try it? Start right now by recalling a positive moment from the past 24 hours. It might be something as simple as a trip through the produce department of the grocery store to something more emotionally meaningful like a loving conversation with a friend or family member. Now in vivid detail recall that experience with as much sensory memory as you can muster. What color were the fruits and veggies? What color was your friend or family member wearing? What else did you notice during the experience? What smells do you recall? Was there a particularly loving expression or a smile your loved one was wearing? What did you hear? Were there any particular sounds or words you want to recall from the experience?

Once you’ve reenacted the experience with as much imagery as possible, now imagine all of the positive emotions you experienced seeping down through your brain, spreading into your body, neck, back, shoulders and heart. Stay with the imagery and the sensations of love, peace and well-being for as long as you want. You can do this exercise in as little as 30 seconds or take a longer 2-3 minute positivity break. According to Hanson, the longer you can hold the images and feelings the stronger the beneficial effect on your brain: “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 trace in implicit memory.”

This practice not only sharpens your recall of the positive things in life, (something many of us have a hard time doing because of a built-in survival bias for noticing the negative), it actually builds more positive neural activity in the brain, which has a beneficial effect on everything from your productivity to your health, according to Hanson’s research. It also strengthens your ability to experience more positive emotions in the moment.

Keep paying attention to the positive and here’s what Hanson says begins to happen: “Over time you will fill up your cup, overcoming the negativity bias of your brain with a growing, inside-out sense of happiness, love, and peace.”

Don’t know about you, but I think our world and each of us as individuals could do with a growing, inside-out sense of happiness, love and peace.

I’ve noticed since I started consciously taking positivity breaks that I’m calmer, more centered, naturally more grateful and I’m paying attention to the little joy-filled moments of everyday rather than waiting for the “biggies” to happen and being disappointed when those so-called big moments don’t live up to my inflated expectations. I also notice that I’m replaying those negative memories and moments less frequently, another benefit to the positivity practice!

Every moment is a gift. This year I invite you to start engaging in regular positivity breaks. Train your brain to “take in the good” and develop the daily habit of reviewing those small but precious moments of happiness that often flit by unnoticed.

Okay I’ll take the lead and declare today a special occasion: National Positivity Day! Now it’s your turn to help create a groundswell of positive experiences and emotions. Go ahead and take a positivity break….take in the good….feel the love.

Have a positively wonderful day, week, month and year!

If you have an interest in learning more about positive psychology and how it can be used in coaching social + emotional intelligence,  our next class starts Thursday, March 7th.  You can view the entire schedule by visiting  www.the-isei.com/advancedcourses

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3 Responses to “Take a Positivity Break”

  • Mary:

    I use Buddha’s Brain in my coaching and workshops on a daily basis. That is one of my go-to books for quality research. In addition, I also like Learned Optimism by Dr. Seligman. Both are on my Kindle and footnoted and cross-referenced all over the place with my other SEI Tools.

    Words create Worlds!

    • John:

      In addition to Learned Optimism, Dr. Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness discusses focusing on your signature strengths to create greater personal happiness. I think that there is a connection to Betty’s article. When I consider recent positive moments, they are connected to my strengths. Helping my daughter with her homework last night was a positive experience. It falls into Dr. Seligman’s category of Humanity (love, kindness, social intelligence) and Laura’s competency in the SEIP of service orientation. Dr. Seligman’s categories are wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Many of these are consistent with the SEIP competencies. What are your client’s signature strengths? Using the SEIP you can identify them and coach your client to use them more frequently. Not only will they be more effective but they will be happier!

    • Ditto, Mary. I add the VIA strengths, too, adding even more depth,
      especially curiosity and creativity. To be a flexible explorer per Tod Kashdan. Opening your brain to nuance. To be fascinated by life keeps your brain on happy, healthy learning alert.