18 days ago, I decided to change the wiring of my brain. No, it is not as bizarre as it sounds. Or maybe it is. I had read somewhere that keeping a journal of your positive experiences allows your brain to essentially replay those, in turn enforcing more happy connections. It’s like training your brain by fooling it a bit. Apparently, doing this for two weeks is all it takes to change those wires significantly. Now, who doesn’t like to mess with their own brain?? In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to try it out.
Also, anyone thinking of the movie Inside Out at this point and visualizing those cute characters representing your emotions jumping up and down in the brain? Anyhow, I wrote down a positive experience every single day for 18 days (okay, I kinda cheated on one day). As I discovered with another experiment I had tried a while back, building that discipline to do something every single day is hard but the experimental nature of it surely makes it fun. Did my wiring change at the end of it? Did unicorns and angels enter my world and splash rainbows all over it? Ouch. I don’t know. I hope not. But here is what I found out:
- My days are generally not completely devoid of positive experiences. Yay?
- I didn’t have to try hard to come up with one positive experience a day, they were happening.
- Smaller experiences can have a deeper impact if you take the time to be aware of them. They are after all happening to you and it’s okay to pause and look.
- Emotions are layered. Not exactly segregated like in the movie Inside Out. For example, there can be pride underlying joy or awe underlying jealousy. The emotion that is at the foreground can mask you and throw you off, but looking at the layers underneath can help you deal with a situation in a much constructive way.
- There is a distinction between a positive emotion that you feel while an experience is happening Vs. an action/thought that you deem as a better choice and give yourself a “well done” for it. It’s an important distinction for the latter requires retrospection.
Now if you are still reading, you are probably curious about those journal entries I wrote down. Not gonna disappoint you, my friend! Here you go. If you are feeling more curious and a bit adventurous, then may I suggest that it is time to start your own journal and fiddle with those wires a bit? Beware of short circuits. You have been warned.
Day 1 - I enjoyed a game of monopoly we played as a family. It was relaxing and exciting at the same time. My son was thrilled that he bankrupted his parents and I was thrilled that he had managed to do so only in monopoly.
Day 2 - I had fun in my first salsa dance lesson. Also thankful for this cheerful (and cute!) instructor. I don’t know what it is about dancing, but when I am out there, no matter whether I get the steps or not, it just feels like I am in my element. It instantly puts me in a great mood and makes me do things like raise my hand when the instructor is looking for a guinea pig to show some moves. I think I will go back next week!
Day 3 – I am glad about my son’s attempts at creating a comic book and our time together. We discussed the story line, characters, different endings and he drew a few sketches. I know I am going to have to push him to keep working on it but for now it’s great to see him feel excited about something..so what if the plot involves some crazy head-spinning time travel and gory dinosaur attacks!
Day 4 – I am grateful for the opportunity to act as a mentor in a Technology mentor-protégé program. As I was driving back, I remembered how a few years ago, when I was a protégé in this same program, some very wonderful people had energized me. Today I could relate with my protégé since I had been in that same place. Today the roles were reversed and I felt content that I was there with all my energy and spirit.
Day 5 – I feel good that I chose to exercise restrain and keep emotions out of a text message. Maybe this gave the other person some space to apologize to me profusely, which in turn helped me keep my cool and everything just spiraled in a much positive direction.
Day 6 – It made me feel happy when I heard a phrase from a colleague. I had been advising their team for about a month and we were discussing when I would wrap up my work with them. In the middle of that conversation, I heard the phrase “you are a Godsend on our project, Prachi”. It was very satisfying to see that I was able to contribute towards their mission and in that excitement, I chose to not ponder over what a phrase like that translates to for a non-believer :p
Day 7 – I am thankful for being able to work from home. I realize it’s a flexibility not everyone has. A commute-free day made for a more relaxed and productive work day, which just flowed into an evening of a wholesome meal of tacos, followed by a game of Uno with my son. A game of Uno on a workday, people! That’s huge.
Day 8 – As the day was getting to an end, I thought it was just going meh and I wouldn’t have anything to record. After a long day spent doing weekend chores while my husband was away for a training hike, he came back in the evening and announced that he had made reservation at an Indo-chinese restaurant. One of my favorite cuisines and the taste was pretty good too. It’s funny how I ended up having something to record after all.
Day 9 – I am grateful for a moment I had while cooking. Before I go further, it’s important to note how much I dislike the mundaneness of the daily chore that is planning, cooking and cleaning. Today my son said he wanted to help me cook. As I held his hands to show him how to stir fry vegetables, I was hit by the pure positivity of that moment, in which I was teaching him and we were trying something together. Suddenly, there was a huge meaning in that same act. I hugged him and told him I could keep cooking if he helped me like that every day. Okay, clearly I was a bit carried away. :-)
Day 10 - I am glad that the frustration over a topic led me to snap out of lethargy and act. The details are not that interesting but this was an instance of a seemingly negative emotion triggering some action on my part – a silver lining that I will grab out of that dark cloud any time.
Day 11 – I forgot to add to my daily journal. Maybe an indication that I had a generally action-packed and productive day. So I am being retroactively thankful for that! Yeah, yeah, new rule – retroactive thankfulness is allowed.
Day 12 – I am thankful for friends today. An old friend decided to take time away from his work day and offered to talk to me about some career related questions I had.
Day 13 – I am grateful for a kind gesture by one of the project managers I work with. She emailed me multiple times to make sure I could join a team celebration event. It made me feel good and made for a nice change in the pace of a typical hectic work day.
Day 14 – I was happy and relaxed when I spent a few minutes in the new hammock we put in the backyard. Also felt nice that it was my husband who suggested that I go and lie down in it for a few minutes before dinner. He probably also wanted to test the hammock! Sure, why not?
Day 15 – I was happy when I was spending an afternoon hanging out with a new friend. She is certainly an energetic and animated person that you can have fun talking to. Our boys played and we took a long stroll on the trail behind my back yard.
Day 16 – I had a good time watching Sound of Music with my son. I have to say that this choice of movie from him came as a pleasant surprise and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him watch it.
Day 17 – I felt happy when my son got me a finger ring from his dentist’s office. His dentist keeps small toys like balls and rings in teeny boxes and every kid gets to choose a box on their visit. I have several of these finger rings he has brought for me over the years but every single time he brings one, it fills my heart with surprise and joy.
Day 18 – After a long work day, stuck in traffic, I could see my energy levels dropping by the minute. I also very much dislike the thought of me being hungry. I called home, then stopped at a Starbucks, bought a slice of cake, sat outside and slowly ate all of it. I was just happy that I made a decision to take that small break.
That’s all, people! Thanks for reading. Like I said, I don’t know if this exercise had a point or proved a point. What I do know is that somewhere there is a woman right now happily turning her journal entries into a blog and willing to take on the world just a little bit more again.