Linda Graham, MFT discusses the benefit of remembering missed opportunities for kindness. Active imagination review can reconnect your brain when you missed the opportunity to be kind.
Most of us to want be kind, to ourselves and to others, most of the time. Most of us to prove be kind, most of the time.
And then there are the many, many times when we “wake up” hours or days or years later. “There could be …!” “I should have …!” But the person we now want to be kind to is miles or years away. Possibility gone forever.
The good news about neuroplasticity: this moment is not gone forever in the brain. Because what the brain can imagine or visualize is real to the brain, we can re-create the stage in the eye of our mind and reconnect the brain circuits that contain the memory of that event (or event). which did not happen).
When we remember something that happened (or didn’t happen) in conscious consciousness, we are activating or “illuminating” the neural circuit that constellates that memory. It is open for review. (Anyway, the brain reviews our memories for itself over time all the time). The technical name in neuroscience of this review process is deconsolidation-reconsolidation of memory.
When we “illuminate” a memory in our consciousness, we create the opportunity to reconnect it, at least to review our sense of our self in relation to it. If we remember a time when we could have been kind and not, we can now imagine being kind at that moment, creating a new version of the event in our imagination, and giving us an up-to-date view of ourselves. ourselves as the kind person we want to be and know we are.
Try this exercise:
1. Remember a moment when you could have said or done something kind to someone else. Simple example:
Someone praised you for the good work you did on a project or how you coped with your child’s tantrums, and you were so focused on the task at hand that you barely registered. You didn’t say thank you in return. After a few hours you realized that there was a chance to be kind at the time and you missed it. There could be many lost moments like this that you remember later that day, or later that week, or even years later.
2. As you remember the moment now, activate the bodily sensation of wanting to be kind now, of wanting to match the kindness that is offered. You may feel more warmth, more relaxation, more ease in your body, an openness to commitment, a need to repeat this event and be generous and kind.
3. Imagine a new ending unfolding at the missed opportunity. It didn’t happen that way, but it could have been. You paused, took a deep breath, and let the goodness of the other person register in your consciousness. Imagine how you might smile, what you might say, how the other person might respond, how you might feel about receiving their response.
4. Savor the feeling of the new ending. Remember that this new ending is real for your brain. Let its flavor register in your body, in your consciousness now.
5. Imagining this new possibility / reality of goodness can revise or update your sense of self. You intend to be a kind person, and imagining yourself in this way reinforces that sense of self that you are, now and for the future.
6. Repeat this practice with as many scenarios as you want to remember and review. Over time, what is reviewed is your vision of yourself, claiming your abilities and intentions to be kind, even when opportunities are missed. This revised view of yourself becomes the neural basis for remembering and showing kindness at the next opportunity.
This active review of imagination can reconnect even to negative moments when not only did you miss the opportunity to be kind, but the interaction between you and another went wrong and you felt bad about yourself. These negative messages about who you are can also be reconnected.
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