Last week, in Part 1 of my Surviving Generation Stress series I introduced you to my 5 to 1 framework for simple daily practices that can change your brain and your life. In Part 1 of this series I introduced the concept of Generation Stress and explained the life changing benefits of practicing 5 Minutes of Mindful Breathing every day.
This week we add a new practice called 4 Roses.
The 4 Roses practice has been adapted for families from Rick Hanson’s inspiring work in Hardwiring Happiness. ROSE is a simple process for engraving the good things that we experience over the course of the day into the neural structure of our brain. It is a profound Mindful Parenting practice that the entire family will enjoy!
How it works:
Rose stands for:
Recognize 4 Roses each day - A rose does not have to be a grand experience. Good things happen all around us, but much of the time we don’t notice them. Take the time, that singular moment, to recognize that the sun is shining, that your house feels warm, the smell of your coffee in the morning, or the feeling of your child’s small hand in yours. We can’t change the past or the future, but we can take in the good during this moment.
Observe how this recognition makes your body feel. Where in your body do you feel it – does the moment cause your belly to soften, or does your heart seem to flutter just a bit? Does it cause you warmth, or give you chills and goose bumps? Take that extra second, from when you recognize the moment, to observe the impact on your body.
Soak it in and savor this experience. Let your attention remain focused on the way your dog wags her tail when she sees you, before moving on to your next thought. Unless we bring conscious awareness to good experiences, they bounce right off of us (remember our brain is more sensitive to the bad then the good). We have to hold our attention on these good experiences for several seconds to make them stick. The longer a positive experience is held in our awareness, the more emotionally stimulating it is. This allows the neurons in our brain to fire, and thus wire together.
Engrave it into your being. The old saying about creating a goal is that if you share it, that goal becomes much more likely to be obtained. Similarly, in order to engrave these good experiences into the neural structure of your brain it is vital to go one step further with them. That step is to share these roses with your family over dinner, or write them down before you go to bed.
This exercise can be particularly valuable for kids who suffer from anxiety, as they tend to downplay or ignore good news. It is also valuable for kids whose attention tends to bounce rapidly from one thing to the next and thus don’t give positive experiences a chance to reside in their brain for any length of time. With kids and grownups alike, it is important to encourage pausing here and there and noticing the good things in our lives.
Why it works:
At birth, the human brain is in a remarkably unfinished state. Most of its 100 billion neurons are not yet connected in networks. Connections among neurons are formed as a growing child experiences the surrounding world and forms attachments to parents, family members and other caregivers.
These connections form an elaborate network that is sometimes referred to as the brain’s “wiring” or “circuitry.” All of our thoughts, experiences and interactions create connections - they shape the neural structure in our brain.
The neurons that are particularly active become even more responsive to input because these busy regions in our brain get more blood since they need more glucose to do their work. The more our brain uses a certain pathway, the more it likes to use that pathway or as neuroscientists like to say “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Our emotions of love, worry, joy, frustration or anxiety also make physical changes in our neural structures. Even when we are not experiencing an event, our thoughts about an event use the same neural pathways as when we are experiencing it. So if I lie in bed dreading about tomorrow’s dentist appointment, these neural pathways are developing similar to how they will while I am in the dentist’s chair. When we have prolonged or repeated mental activity we leave an enduring imprint on our neural structure. Thus a state can become a trait.
Our goal through the 4 ROSE practice is to bring conscious awareness to positive experiences so they can create lasting positive emotions to help create a more positive, happier and optimistic brain. Similar to our five minutes of breathing, this process is simple, but not entirely easy. Provide yourself the opportunity to re-shape your brain in a wonderfully powerful way.
I challenge you to engage in an experiment with your family. Challenge your kids and yourself to find 4 roses everyday during the school week. Each night at dinner, share your experiences and see how this small practice can make a big difference in your life and in the lives of your children!
Proverb - If you can take care of the minutes the years will take care of themselves.
Dr. Kristen Race is the author of Mindful Parenting and founder of Mindful Life. As the parent of two young children, Dr. Race is quite familiar with the hectic lives of what she calls "generation stress." Through her work, Kristen fuses the science of the brain with simple mindfulness strategies for families,schools, and businesses, all designed to create resiliency towards stress. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and on her website, www.mindfullifetoday.com.
Reference: Hanson, R (2013) Hardwiring Happiness: The New brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. New York, NY: Harmony.