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Wise Online – Week 2
Week 2- Rewiring the Negativity Bias
The Negativity Bias
The negativiity bias is the minds tendency and ability to attend to, learn from and use negative information far more than positive information. Negative events elicit more rapid and more prominent responses than non-negative events. This often explains why we respond more both emotionally and physically to unpleasant stimuli and why we dwell more on unpleasant events, than positive ones.
It can be said that the mind is like velco for the negative and teflon for the positive. Negative experiences and events stick, whereas the positive experiences fall away.
In the context of resilience and wellbeing the negativity bias impacts both in a negative way. When we focus on the difficult, adaptability and flexibility are impacted. We feel more weighed down, heavy. Our sense of joy, happiness and wellbeing is also dimmed and surpressed. The good news is the mind is not fixed it can be changed over time. We know this as neuroplasticity.
Mindfulness meditation supports the re-training of the mind to change its habits. Neuroscience tells us that we can use the plasticity of the mind to rebalance the negativity bias by training and directing our attention towards the positive events and feelings that we experience. In only 21 days of a daily gratitude practice we can build more positive emotion in the brain. This week is about re-wiring the brain to feel and experience more positive emotion.
As we continue practicing ‘mental reps’ for our brain by coming back to the breath and body whenever our mind wanders, we can start to pay attention to where our mind is wandering to. Opening up our awareness to moments of good, as well as pleasant sensations or feelings in our body is key here. This will help us to pay more attention to the good around us and within us. As we continue to develop qualities of a good heart such as kindness, compassion, connection, gratitude, honesty, authenticity and empathy this will also build more positive emotion in our brain.
How does mindfulness training improve our mental health and re-wire our brain?
Well-being has been found to be elevated when individuals are better able to sustain positive emotion; recover more quickly from negative experiences; engage in empathic and altruistic acts; and express high levels of mindfulness.
Richard J. Davidson, PhD & Brianna S. Schuyler, PhD
This eight week program is based on the science of neuroplasticity and modelled from the famous MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) and MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programs. Research documented in over 8000 medical journals demonstrate it takes only eight weeks for the neural pathways to be altered and re-wired.
In eight weeks, areas of the brain linked closely to mental health and mental illness alter in size and function. MRI scans show that after an eight week program, the brain’s “fight, flight, freeze” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. Not only does this result in less stress and anxiety, but it also results in earlier deactivation. This means we can get ourselves out of a stress response state quicker and more effectively.
As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
Furthermore, the insula (responsible for introspection and insight) increases in size, the hippocampus (responsible for memory, emotion and learning) increases in size and the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for higher order processes and executive ‘top-down’ control) thickens. In a nutshell, mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity. In other words, our more primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones.
This eight week program results in:
- More balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems
- Balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- Engages the pre-frontal cortex-which mediates positive emotions and body regulation, attunement, emotional balance, response flexibility, empathy and self-knowing awareness.
- Creates new habits and neural pathways in the brain.
WEEKLY PRACTICE TASKS
INFORMAL PRACTICE- Pleasant Awareness
Each day this week see if you can turn the mind towards noticing more of the good. Begin the pay attention to those things that you might automatically appraise as pleasant, for instance, being with friends, enjoying the sunshine, being outdoors, enjoying a good coffee or a nice meal etc. Really pay attention to them and how they make you feel.
How do we know they are pleasant? What kind of physical sensations are generated by pleasant experiences?
FORMAL PRACTICE-Rewiring The Negativity Bias
Practice the Rewiring the Negativity Bias recording every night this week. This gratitude practice and pleasant awareness meditation turns your mind to focus on all that is good in your day and your life. We can practice the skill of expressing positivity, appreciation, calm and gratitude for every day. This helps us to look at things from a different perspective, and through a more positive and hopeful lens.