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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 and heavy. Our sense of joy, happiness and wellbeing is also dimmed and suppressed. It is also surprising how often we hold on to old narratives and stories. The good news is the mind is not fixed, it can be changed over time. This is the science of 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, senses 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, joy, 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 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, planning 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 ‘felt sense’, 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.
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.
Hardwiring Happiness –Turning the Mind Towards The Positive (Which wolf always wins the fight?)
WEEKLY PRACTICE TASKS
INFORMAL PRACTICE- Daily Gratitude (Night)
Each day this week see if you can turn the mind towards noticing more of the good. Begin to pay attention to those things that went well each day or that you appreciate. You might not automatically appraise these things as pleasant. For instance, being with family and friends, enjoying the sunshine, being outdoors and enjoying a good meal. Really pay attention to them and how they make you feel.
Jot down three things each night that went well during your day or three things that you are grateful for. Keep it simple. We will do this for at least 21 days. Be pleasantly surprised by the outcome! Let’s get started with our gratitude practice tonight…
FORMAL PRACTICE- Starting Calm (Morning)
Practice Starting Calm every morning. This gratitude practice and pleasant awareness meditation allows you to start the day off with stillness and ease. It is an opportunity to recognise that this is a new day that we have not yet experienced. The past has gone and tomorrow is not here yet. We can practice the skill of expressing optimism, positivity, appreciation, calm and gratitude for the day ahead. This helps us to look at things from a different perspective and through a more positive and hopeful lens.
Week 2- Starting Calm (7 min)