“Why would I want to do that?”
We want to provide our brains with peek experiences because our brains absolutely love learning. It is what the brain is designed to do; learn and keep up safe. This is called seeking out “novel stimuli” by us PsycNerds.
“Novelty seeking refers to the tendency of humans and animals to explore novel and unfamiliar stimuli and environments. The idea that dopamine modulates novelty seeking is supported by evidence that novel stimuli excite dopamine neurons and activate brain regions receiving dopaminergic input”. Translation, find something new for your brain and your brain rewards you with a little brain dopamine bath. A flood of feel good.
There are so many benefits to getting outside your comfort zone, taking off those sweat pants and adding a little risk-taking discomfort to your life. I am going to take a moment and pull back the psychotherapy curtains and let you in on the secret magic that is happening in the counselling process. Psychotherapy modalities and strategies, like the following, all involve people learning new ways of being and getting outside their comfort comfortzone: Behavioral Activation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Systematic Desensitization, Emotion Focussed Therapy, and really most psychotherapy modalities. This is why therapy works, your plastic brain loves new things and what our brain spends time on is what is built in your brain (new neutrons).
“Doing one thing every day that scares you” does not mean base jumping or holding a tarantula in your hand, unless you want to, it means leaning into your life and taking steps toward the things that you want. Often those things can have some fear instilling obstacles plunked right on your path to happiness. So lean in, roll up your sleeves, at your own pace, in a direction that enhances your life and face those little fears.
Risks with benefits 🙂
Just a reminder that this post is part of a 10-part series designed to help you get out and do things that improve your mental health and wellbeing. #PsychoSocialMentalHealth
I hear you saying…
Well, let’s back up a bit. Peak experiences were originally described by psychologist Abraham Maslow as “moments of highest happiness and fulfillment“, in his 1964 book “Religions, Values and Peak Experiences“. He described a peak experience as “a moment accompanied by a euphoric mental state often achieved by self-actualizing individuals”. Dr. Maslow ranked human needs in a pyramid to show that there are so many important needs that must be met on the road to even being able to spend time self-actualizing. We really need to have a place to live and enough food to fuel this journey, as well as, we need to feel safe and connected to our social groups long before we can even start thinking about building our self-confidence and taking personal risks as we seek opportunities to stretch and grow as people.
Self-actualization is not only massive and wonderful challenges, but also the little ones along the way that spark joy or a state of awe. So, no excuses!
Well, I am glad you asked. To get a little nerdy on ya…
Back in 1983, Gayle Privette developed an Experience Questionnaire (still relevant) that was designed to look at both the shared and unique characteristics of peak experiences. After looking at a wide variety of people, peak experiences have been identified as sharing three key characteristics:
I hear you wondering…
“Perhaps the most significant result of a peak experience can be a permanent, positive change of the individual – a sense that one will never again be the same person.”
Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett, Clinical Neuroscientist
Last summer I ready a really nerdy book that I loved and it explained so much to me about the new frontier in emotion research. Dr. Feldman-Barett describes emotions in the following way. It blew my mind and explained so much about my experience and the experience of my clients.
It all starts with…
and then your brain does this…
First of all, I want to reiterate that peak experiences come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t put pressure on yourself that you have to go out and have the most amazing, high risk, expensive and transformational experience (those are great, but rare). Go out and be in nature, do something for the first time by learning/experiencing something new, go see a film with subtitles and set some life goals that you can plan and prepare for!
Start with listening to this song for inspiration 🙂
“For the First Time” by Darius Ruker
Step #1: Read this: How to Adopt a Beginners Mind
Step #2: Watch this: Mindfulness Attitudes – Beginner’s Minds (Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn)
Step #3: Go out and do some stuff!
Get started cultivating awe and creating new emotion concepts in your brain!
Here is the PsychNERDY Science
According to research at UC Berkeley, awe even has anti-inflammatory effects on your body. Researchers found that feeling the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality lower the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (things in your body that can cause chronic painful diseases).
“Awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” — Dacher Keltner – Psychologist UC Berkeley
Can You Stick Around for a While!?!?!
Two years ago, I wrote about a book that I read and LOVED called, Hardwiring Happiness, by Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuropsychologist. What I loved about this book is that it is very easy to read and apply to your life. I am mentioning it again because it is the final step in your peak experience adventures, making the memories last. Dr. Hansen is a pretty amazing and inspirational speaker to be in the presence of. Yes, I have academically stalked him too 😉
He shares very doable strategies for making positive thoughts stick with you. He says, “the human brain has a tendency to act like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones, a trait that can, over time, lead to anxiety, irritability and self-esteem issues” and “by taking a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience, you will help turn a passing mental state into a lasting neural trait”
Check out his very simple strategy he calls HEAL. Go out and HAVE a good experience (seek out the peak), ENRICH this experience (rattle it around your brain), ABSORB this experience (don’t let it get away) and then introduce it to a negative experience you still have that is hanging around your brain and LINK them.
“Taking in the good, can literally rewire our brains”. Check out my previous post for more strategies to help you take in the positive and have it stick around.
So go out give your brain a little party, try new things, create emotion concepts with life experience so that your brain has a range to choose from and hardwire those positive moments of awe into your brain for recall later.
Well, you can have the opportunity to infuse peak experiences from simple activities to intense events, into your life that change your brain and foster your mental health and wellbeing. Please remember, it is not necessarily about what the activity is, but the ecstatic, blissful feeling that is being experienced during it.
Dr. Heather Drummond, EdD (Counselling Psychology)
eSuccess-Coach * Passionate Advocate for Student Success