WIRED TO BE OVERLY CAUTIOUS
Accept the Good”- is a phrase I love from the movie, Things We Lost in the Fire, because Lord knows there are enough “bad” things in our lives daily. Good opportunities surround us, but somehow Negative Biases override our impetus to utilize them, sifting out the good, leaving us with thoughts of all of the possible negative consequences associated with the opportunity instead. In a world that technology has made smaller, people have become more transient, which has weakened our communities and consequently weakened the trust that we place in others and that belief that opportunities that present themselves could hold a positive outcome. There have been numerous studies that show the overpowering effect that negative thoughts can have on a person. Unlike positive thoughts, negative thoughts are entered directly into the long term memory. This function of our memory has a logical purpose, safety; it is an extension of the Fight or Flight Reflex. The ability to recall that cave where the bear sleeps with its’ cubs or that cliff that has loose footing could mean the difference between life and death. We are wired to be overly cautious, to de-emphasize the true value present in opportunities and to ignore the tools and resources available to help us combat pending threats or to help us realize our dreams, to “stay on the safe side”. The take away is “don’t be a fool”, survival is the ultimate goal. One should not be overly optimistic to whatever the elusive point of diminishing return is, that causes you to lose that deal, that girl, or in a more serious case, your life.
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS - RIGHT AWAY!
Negative thoughts certainly are overpowering and as a result, we miss out on the benefits from a myriad of positive experiences and opportunities. Rick Hansen’s study out of UC Berkeley’s, Greater Good Science Center, found that it is necessary to maintain a positive thought for at least 12 seconds for it to transfer from short to long term memory. “Thinking Positive”, starts to sound like a tall order. In this day in age, where people pack every moment with activity and stimulation, 12 seconds is a long time to focus on something. Surprisingly, if you really break it down, positive things occur frequently, but I find I have to calibrate my senses to them. I have often found it suggested to write down 3 positive things that happened in the day, nightly before going to bed. This potentially positive habit, ends up feeling more like a burdensome obligation. Whenever I have attempted to practice it, it was difficult to sustain. I found a hack though, instead of feeling irritated at that time obligation, when I really want to go to sleep; I tried to hold on to the thought of those positive occurrences for 12 seconds, just as they occur, quietly or acknowledge them out loud, if it is naturally appropriate. As a side note, there are others who have mentioned to me that by me doing that, it has helped them to begin identifying “good” things in their lives as well. Initially, I was alert to that class of events that create a sigh of relief…avoidance or clearance from a bad event. Gradually my awareness moved to include “hey that was surprisingly nice of him or what an amazingly beautiful wedding that was.” Now it has expanded to include really small sensory things, like the smell of fresh, cool air or the taste of a tree-ripened peach. Another side note: If you have NEVER watched Wim Wenders, “Wings of Desire”, you must! When you see the man who was hit by a car reciting moments of his life or when the angels gather to recount to each other their collection of human moments that day, you will know what I mean.
IT IS ALL GREATER THAN THIS
The caution that we employ, does help us stay alive and propagate the pending generations, but it does not help us to live content, fulfilling lives. I try to take 12 seconds minimum to acknowledge and enjoy that feeling, to sit in it and observe all of the warmth, fullness, tingling, calmness that I feel. Surprisingly sometimes it is those smaller sensory positives that get me through other very difficult moments. It is as if they remind me that it is ALL greater than this… It is funny, I feel like instinctively we view people who are content as naïve, simple or kooky even. Somehow a large portion of us categorize the person who identifies pitfalls, potential dangers or who expresses skepticism, as being shrewd. The assumed shrewd individual may not be pleasant to be around, but they cannot be duped and therefore gets street cred. We probably need to reassess this. Is it possible to strike a balance?