Radical self-care and the positivity bias

“Good self-care is determined by the quality of your actions (or inactions) and the degree to which they are life-affirming,” stated psychologist and researcher Dr. Paul Hutman in his presentation on “Radical Self Care” at AHEC’s virtual 2020 Hawaii Health Workforce Summit.

He went on to say that “Good self-care comes from you, and it changes over time.” Because we change over time, our needs change, and our perspectives change.

What is the basis of good self-care? Instead of jumping into a list of self-care practices, Dr. Hutman began by explaining something we have probably all experienced: the negativity bias.

“Positives are in abundance, yet our minds focus on and magnify the negative,” he said. We more quickly identify aggressive faces than happy faces. We tend to discount previous positive experiences. We can list more flaws than strengths.

Awareness of the negativity bias is not enough, Dr. Hutman insisted. We need regular practice to correct it. We need to create a positivity bias, a habit of looking to the positive. By paying attention and practicing the positivity bias, we can turn positive states into positive traits.

To correct the negativity bias, Dr. Hutman shared the HEAL method:

Have a positive experience. It might be a sensation (drinking water on a hot day), emotion (how you feel when someone gives you an unexpected compliment), insight (something that changes your perspective), or mood.

Enhance it. Give the positive experience your full attention and focus. When your mind wanders, as it will, gently bring your attention back to the experience.

Absorb it. Immerse yourself in the experience. Envision light filling you or water surrounding you. Consider expressing it with your body or a gesture, such as a smile, placing your hand over your heart, or a movement.

Link the positive experience to negative material in order to soothe it and even replace it. (Dr. Hutman didn’t share this advanced step, but I looked it up later. If we left it at just HEA, it could be an acronym for “Happily Ever After.”)

Dr. Hutman also revealed a few perspective shifts that he has experienced. From the humor of Wes Nisker, he learned that our subatomic particles are replaced every seven years – we are literally renewed every seven years! From the philosophy of Allan Watts, he learned that the universe is both out there and within us. And from the insight of Pema Chödrön, he learned that compassion is a relationship between equals – we have a shared humanity.

What positive experience have you had recently? The next time you have a positive experience, what will you do to enhance it and absorb it? What positive bias habits do you already practice?

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