Hardwire Your Happiness

This blog builds on our recent theme of receiving the good in our lives.  Have you been conducting a receiving experiment as outlined in the last blog: Receiving the Good and Creating Flow?  I’d love to hear of your experiences. 

Today, I’m going to share with you a technique based on the work of Henk J.M. Schram of Crack Your Egg.  He created an exercise called HEAL which allows us to overcome our very human and natural tendency toward negativity and do what Rick Hanson refers to as ‘hardwiring happiness’.  I shared Rick’s approach to hardwiring happiness in a previous blog.

The truth is that we all have positive experiences, but they’re usually “wasted” on the brain which only notices pleasant things for brief moments.  As a result, typically, those positive experiences don’t have any lasting value.  The negative experiences, however, are remembered by the brain and emphasised.

The trick is to work with how brain naturally works to lay down neural pathways that hardwire the positive.  The following HEAL technique provides 4 steps enable that process

H – Have a positive emotional experience.  You can do this in three ways. 

#1 Simply notice when you are already having some kind of positive emotional experience or pleasant sensation (in truth these are occurring all the time as you move through your day) e.g.,

  • you have a moment of connection with a loved one, a colleague or receive a compliment or thank you from someone.
  • When you’re busy, you could feel a moment of accomplishment when a job is completed or an email you’ve been procrastinating on has been sent
  • You could simply notice the peace in taking a mindful breath

As Schram says:

“..we’re not necessarily looking for million-dollar moments here… Most positive experiences can be quite mild (1-2 on a scale of 10), which is more than enough to make this process work.” 

#2 is to deliberately create a positive emotional experienceWe have a tendency to take familiar experiences for granted… like a great cup of coffee, a hug with someone you care about, or a sense of inner peace or gratitude. This second practice is to experience those things as if for the first time, deliberately bringing a sense of novelty and freshness to the experience. 

“ see if you can undergo them more like it’s the first time you do – much like a young child. That way, you deliberately bring a sense of novelty and freshness to the experience.” 

#3 appreciate the absence of something you dislike.  This is a great ‘trick’ from Thich Nhat Hahn, who expressed it like this: 

“I want you to remember the last time that you had a really bad toothache. Remember what that was like. I’ve got wonderful news for you today: no toothache!” 

So appreciate all of the “toothaches” (or their equivalent) that aren’t here at this moment. 

E – Enrich the experience by deepening your engagement with it.   Again, Schram provides three ways to achieve this.

#1Prolong the experience – spend time to hang out with it for a while. The longer you stay with it, the more it will sink in. (Aim for at least 10 seconds at a time.) 

#2 Intensify the experience – let it land and sink in… deliberately savour the experience. 

#3 Embody the experience – include multiple senses… for instance by visualizing emotional experience in some way, and/or physically enacting it (e.g., sitting or standing up a little straighter, shouting with joy, breathing more fully, smiling softly, etc.). 

A – Absorb the positive experience, actually letting it land within and receive that good.   

You can prime your neural memory systems by intending and sensing that the positive emotional experience is really sinking into your system. The most straightforward way to do this is through a symbolic visualization and for this Schram also provides 3 suggestions 

#1 visualize it soaking in like water into a sponge – the water represents the experience, and the sponge is your mind/body-system. 

#2 visualize putting a jewel in the treasure chest of your heart – the jewel represents the experience, while the treasure chest is your mind/body-system. 

#3 see it as golden dust sifting down.

L – Create a link.  There’s a famous saying in neuroscience that goes like this: 

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” 

It means that any neurons that fire together repeatedly end up forming actual physical connections that become part of our neurological hard-wiring.  Whenever you’re having a positive experience and you go through the steps above, also bring to mind something that has been troubling to you – like painful thoughts, feelings, or memories. 

Remember how “neurons that fire together, wire together.” So this way, you’ll gradually associate the positive experience with the negative material.  In future, when “negatives” come up due to your brain’s natural “negativity bias”, by deliberately linking positive experience to them this way, those same negative experiences will automatically bring up a positive backdrop to them – which soothes, eases and, eventually, replaces them. 

So those are the four steps to build your capacity to receive the good in your life and retrain your brain and neural pathways towards a positivity bias.  To really experience the benefits of this, you really do have to train yourself.  Doing this once is a nice experience.  To create lasting change you have to do the repetitions.  Just like you have to do multiple repetitions of physical exercises in the gym to get the benefits, lasting change to your neural pathways requires repetition to hardwire the new pathway.    

Schram recommends doing this practice several times per day with the promise that

“you’ll soon discover how this 4-step technique can actually “hardwire your happiness” and turn what used to be fleeting positive STATES into actual, automatic, lasting positive TRAITS! 

Here’s to you living a life you love while you are living it!  You now have tools to start hardwiring your happiness today.  Are you ready to explore coaching together?  Would you love to have a support structure to learn and embody these transformational tools and create a life you love living starting now?   If yes, join me for a complimentary strategy session and let’s create that vision for your best life and discover the steps to get you going!  Book a session here today.