Turning “States” into “Traits” with Mindfulness

Happy intermittent sunshine, party people!

The Science of Resilience course a few weeks ago taught me bunches of things about how to re-wire the way my brain works to achieve a more peaceful existence in the storm; resilience in a nutshell.  One thing that struck me was the speaker’s statement about our character (what we project as our core values, and how we want others to view us).  How ironic is it that normally we (and our bosses) are focused on identifying and using character strengths we exhibit, but we (and our bosses) spend far less time on DEVELOPING character traits.  In fact, many would argue that these are inherent, and not learned.  I can hear my own voice saying something like “you can’t teach someone ethical behavior…they’re either ethical or they’re not.” a few years back.  Okay, maybe last week.

Can we teach ethical behavior?  In my mind ethics are a multi-faceted, intertwining amalgamation of many character traits…compassion, gratitude, honesty, integrity, authenticity, reflection skills, confidence, empathy…my list of what defines an ethical person could go on and on.  Can we learn these traits if we feel we are a little deficient in one or more of them?  How do we go from a STATE of say, gratitude, to exhibiting the TRAIT of gratitude?

The science says we go from a state to a trait by using our prefrontal cortex as a guide.  This part of our brains controls attention, how we learn new things, our rationale, or planning center…basically the R & D of our brains.  If you engage the prefrontal cortex when you’re in a state of say, gratitude, this is what the science says you should do:

HAVE THE EXPERIENCE.  Recognize it, enjoy it, identify it.  Don’t let it get away just yet…put a label on it and even say or think “I am so grateful for…”

ENRICH THE EXPERIENCE.  Try and make it last a little.  The duration and intensity of these feelings, these states of gratitude will tell your prefrontal cortex that you enjoy this feeling, and you’d like some more, please.

ABSORB THE EXPERIENCE. Sense the way it makes you feel to be grateful; let it percolate; be brave enough to be changed by it; receive it, and even recognize the feeling of gratitude as a reward with meaning.  Your dopamine levels will increase, your serotonin levels will increase, and your brain will flag that experience for long-term storage in the hippocampus if you create the feeling again.

Want to know how to start making states into traits?  The Greater Good Science Center has an amazing podcast series called “The Science of Happiness”.  Episode One is the classic example of how to cultivate gratitude…you can find it here.

Just want to leave all of this sh#t behind and meditate?  A smiling scientist sent me a YouTube link to an “alternative” meditation practice that made me smile ear-to-ear and laugh out loud.  It’s not for the faint of heart if you dislike swear words (makes you curious, doesn’t it?)  Head over to our Meditation Page, scroll down to the bottom and hit play.  Again, listen at your own risk.  It may end up being your go-to meditation practice, you never know.

In the meantime, keep smiling!

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