Life is a journey with ups and downs. But our brains tend to focus on the downs. That’s because we have evolved to spot potential danger. So we see the downs more quickly and think longer and harder about them.
Interestingly, psychological research tells us that we can develop some habits that train our brains to become better at noticing the positives in our life. Here are three two-minute exercises to practice, as described by Harvard psychologist, Shawn Achor.
First, spend two minutes each day thinking of three new things that you are grateful for. They have to be new things. So, rather than say, “I am grateful to be living in Cornwall” you could say, “I am grateful that my walk along the cliffs helped me to appreciate some new aspects of Cornwall”. The research tells us that doing this for at least 21 days can significantly raise your levels of optimism.
Second, think of the most positive experience you have had over the last 24 hours. Visually replay it in your mind for two minutes, describing the experience and mentally bullet pointing the key ingredients. Your brain doesn’t distinguish the visualising from the actual experience, so in effect, you are doubling the experience. Sounds weird, but research showed people with chronic pain doing this exercise for six weeks went on to halve their pain medication six months later.
The final two-minute habit involves starting each day by writing an email or text praising and thanking a person for something you have appreciated. Maybe a bit cheesy for us Brits, but the research suggests that this sending this kind of email can have a powerful impact on our own well-being. And others get the benefit too.
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