“Just do your part by staying connected to
your intention and see how things unfold.”
~ James Baraz
Last month after attending a talk about using your mind to change your brain, I committed to a daily practice of what neuropsychologist Rick Hansen referred to that evening as “taking in the good.”
Rick had been speaking about the latest discoveries in neuroscience, explaining that our brains are wired to scan the environment for what can go wrong. “This is good,” Rick said, “because it has allowed us to survive as a species. Yet the downside is that our brains can become overactive – especially under stress – causing us to focus more on the negative and overlook what is right.”
The good news, I learned, was that this negative pattern can be interrupted. To put a new, more positive one in its place, all I had to do was to become more aware of good experiences throughout each day and allow myself to feel good about them. If I did this just 6 times a day for thirty seconds, over a 2 week period, I was told, a remarkable positive shift could occur in my brain.
The promise of a lift in my energy and spirits and a better outlook on life sounded very attractive, so I decided to see for myself if it worked.
Three minutes a day… how hard could that be?
Before getting out of bed the next morning, I closed my eyes for half a minute and recalled some positive memories from the past (another way of “taking in the good”) and let my brain soak them up. I remembered my daughter Shannon and me laughing over something silly, my son Ryan extending his hand to help me climb over a big rock and a wonderful, heartfelt hug I received recently from a friend. Rick was right. This felt good.
One down, 5 more to go. Piece of cake!
Or so I thought…
Sometime around noon, after making my way through a full Thursday morning work schedule, I realized I’d forgotten to stop mid-morning, as intended, and “take in the good”. So I did what I imagined might be cheating – and twice over the next few minutes practiced again. “Half way there now!” I thought. Then I dove into my to-do list.
It wasn’t until after 6 pm before I realized I’d forgotten to stop again. This simple practice wasn’t so easy after all!
Finding 3 minutes wasn’t the issue; I had taken several breaks throughout the day; it was remembering to stop and practice this new behavior that was surprisingly hard. I wondered why.
I thought carefully about the steps to establishing a new habit – knowledge, skill and desire must be in place; our “big why” needs to be uncovered; and our intentions clearly set.
Then regular practice reinforces a new habit. Yet, this is where I felt challenged, until I recognized what was missing: I hadn’t done my part!
Setting an intention was not enough. If I was serious about achieving a positive shift, I also had to make the right effort. I had to pay attention to my intention!
That’s the fourth step to creating a new habit: do your part.
There were daily action steps I needed to take to support my intention to “take in the good”. Finding certain times for reflection, establishing a routine, using post-it notes – even setting a timer – all helped to gradually build on this habit.
After two weeks, I discovered that this brain-training practice actually worked. Using my mind to change my brain had lots of benefits: my negative focus was diminishing, my mood was better, and it was easier – and more enjoyable – to look for what was right.
This exercise convinced me that we can overcome the obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals and that life will support us in achieving them. Additionally, a multitude of supportive people, places and opportunities abound to help us bring about our vision. Remembering to notice – and feel good about them – is a choice. With practice, eventually it becomes a habit.
This month’s practice:
Think of some personal or professional changes you have wished for, yet not fully achieved.
For example, maybe you intended to improve you communication skills by becoming a better listener, speaking more assertively, or being more involved at team meetings.
Perhaps you aimed to enhance your conflict resolution skills by better managing your emotional reactions, remembering to see the bigger picture, or practicing at not to taking things personally.
You may have set your sights on becoming a better leader by working to improve relationships with co-workers, setting aside time to create an inspiring vision or by regularly asking for feedback about how you are doing.
You may have meant to do any one of these things, yet life can be distracting. Busy schedules, interruptions, personal issues, emergencies – all kinds of circumstances – can come up. By the end of the day, you may suddenly realize you forgot to do what you said you would do.
That all can change by remembering to just do your part.
Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
- Select one behavior you’d like to become automatic.
- Get very clear about what success would look like.
- Write down daily/weekly action steps you can take.
- Write down potential roadblocks and ways to overcome them.
- List tactics you will use to remember to pay attention to your intention.
- Identify the people, places or things you will enlist to help you achieve your goal.
- Acknowledge small successes and allow yourself to feel good about them.
- Practice, practice, practice!
Remember, habits don’t develop overnight. Yet, you are far more likely to create long-lasting change by taking this fourth step.
Fight or Flight?
Watch a short video of Mary discussing