Inner strength is a resource that is invaluable for dealing with the challenges of everyday life and turning them into positive experiences. Cultivating your inner strength, or learning to come to terms with who you are and valuing your contributions to the world is a continual process of growth.
In his book Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hansen talks about “positive neuroplasticity” or how to use your mind to change your brain, cultivate inner strength by activating positive experiences in your life. If you don’t make use of this power yourself, other forces will shape your brain for you, including pressures at work and home, technology and media, pushy people, and the lingering effects of painful past experiences.
Since we have a negativity bias that looks for problems and dangers, unless we pay mindful attention to positive experiences they will flow through our brains without being acknowledged.
The best way to compensate for the negativity bias is to regularly “take in the good”. This involves four simple steps:
1) Have a positive experience
Notice a positive experience that’s already present in the foreground or background of your awareness, such as a physical pleasure, a sense of determination, or feeling close to someone.
2) Enrich it
Stay with the positive experience for five to 10 seconds or longer. Open to the feelings in it and try to sense it in your body; gently encourage the experience to be more intense, and find something fresh or novel about it.
3) Absorb it
Intend and sense that the experience is sinking into you as you sink into it. Perhaps visualize it sinking into you like water into a sponge—know that it’s becoming a part of you, a resource that you can take with you wherever you go.
4) Link positive and negative material
While having a vivid and stable sense of a positive experience in the foreground of awareness, also be aware of something negative in the background. (Whenever you want, let go of the negative and rest only in the positive). Get a sense of the positive going into the negative: putting it in perspective, soothing it, easing it, and even replacing it – like flowers crowding out and even pulling weeds.
Sometime we have such a strong negative bias that we many need the help of a therapist to support this process of cultivating our inner strength and learning to take in the numerous positive experiences that are often overlooked. For example, if you often feel worried, hurt, or resentful, your therapist can assist you in finding your antidote experiences that would include belonging, self-compassion, friendship, and kindness.