© Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Jan
Hanson, L.Ac., 2005
Taking In the Good Stuff
I get to the end
of a long day and I feel just used up and sort of empty....
You, like every
mother - and many fathers, too - put out so much during the day that
it's easy to get depleted: more is going out than is coming back in.
And after awhile, it is natural to feel like you are running on
That's why it's
so vital to keep putting back in your tank. We've written a lot
about how to replenish yourself with good nutrition and vitamins
(all posted on our website). Here, let's look at how to fill
yourself back up emotionally.
The key is to
look for positive moments, and then take an extra few seconds to
savor the experience and let it sink deeply into your emotional
memory banks. It's as simple as that.
especially important if a fair amount of the day to day experiences
you're having are stressful or upsetting -- which is pretty typical
for a parent of young children, even when there are also lots of
wonderful, sweet times with the kids. Negative experiences get
instantly recorded by the brain to help us survive, leaving a kind
of residue in the mind - an internal mood or atmosphere that shapes
how we feel about life, other people, and ourselves.
But unless it's a
million-dollar moment, positive experiences are not recorded in the
same way: we have to hold them in our awareness for some seconds so
that they sink in. Of course, if you do that consciously a few times
each day, those new positive experiences will gradually build up to
make your mood more positive over time, and help you be more
optimistic and cheerful and happy.
This is also a
great way to help all children, but particularly those whose
temperament is either spirited or anxious. Spirited kids tend to
zoom along so fast they are onto the next thing before they've
registered the positive experience they just had. And anxious kids
especially need the positive inner resources of reassurance and
encouragement that come from soaking in good feelings.
OK, so how to do
simple. There are four steps, but these will become very quick and
automatic with just a little practice - and you can adapt them for
- Notice positive
events and then let them become positive experiences for you. (Even
better, actively look for opportunities to have positive
experiences, such as looking for good things about yourself, or
kindness and respect toward you from others.)
- Savor the
experience. Make it last. Try to feel it in your body - like sensing
a feeling of love as a warmth filling your whole chest.
- Sense that the
positive experience is soaking into your brain and body -
registering deeply in emotional memory. Maybe imagine a treasure
chest in your heart (an especially good method for children).
Consciously intend for it to really sink into you.
- For bonus
points: Sense that the positive experience is going down into old
hollows and wounds within you and filling them up and replacing them
with new positive feelings and views. Like current experiences of
worth replacing old feelings of shame or inadequacy. Or current
feelings of being cared about and loved replacing old feelings of
rejection, abandonment, loneliness. Or a current sense of one's own
strength replacing old feelings of weakness, smallness. The way to
do this is to have the new positive experience be prominent and in
the foreground of your awareness at the same time that the old pain
or unmet needs are dimly sensed in the background. The new
experiences will gradually replace the old ones. You will not forget
events that happened, but they will lose their charge and their hold
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Try those four
steps a few times and you'll see how effective they are. And from
about age 3 on, when you are putting your child to bed, you can take
a minute or two to have the child think about something happy, and
then feel like those good feelings are sinking in, like water into a
sponge, like sunlight into a shirt, or like jewels going into a
In sum, this is a
profound, far-reaching, and genuine way to help yourself, or your
children. It literally changes the brain in enormously healthy ways.
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is
an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and
son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the
authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind,
and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their
website at www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a personal reply may
not always be possible.)