Recall that our brain is geared to remember painful experiences more readily than pleasant ones; this is our negativity bias. Even when we can’t recall painful events in detail (which often happens with trauma), they remain deep in implicit memory, shaping our expectations, beliefs, and mood—the way we experience ourselves and the world.
In contrast, many of our day‐to‐day positive experiences are quickly forgotten. We retain some high points—those full of emotion and meaning. But most of our moments of feeling relaxed, safe, trusting, successful, and loved are passing states.
Making a desired state into a trait, an enduring quality of our being, requires two basic steps. The first is to “have the experience,” either by recognizing it when it arises spontaneously or by purposely eliciting it with a resource anchor.
The second is to offer our full, sustained, and immersed attention to that positive state and to the self‐sense that arises with it. Psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., calls this second step “installation.” It gives the positive experience “stickiness” so that it becomes installed in our long‐term implicit memory for future retrieval. This is how what might have been a passing state gradually builds into a trait. By repeatedly having the experience and saturating it with our attention, we are recruiting our brain’s neuroplasticity to create a radical shift in how we experience ourselves and our life.
A reflection meditation for installing a positive state.
Installing is possible whenever a positive inner state (moments of calm, confidence, love, safety) arises naturally or when we have intentionally evoked the state. Once it’s there, do the following:
- Bring your intention, interest, and attention to sustaining the experience, staying with it for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
- Allow it to fill your body; invite it to become as big as it can be. Involve all your senses: What are you seeing and hearing? How is your body experiencing touch, temperature, energy, movement? Is taste or smell part of the experience?
- Intend that the experience sink into your cells, the way light fills a room, or water soaks into a sponge. Sense that you are letting in the felt experience, surrendering to it, receiving it into yourself.
- Take a few moments to reflect on what feels meaningful or significant about the experience.
The key to successful installation is repetition: accessing and installing over and over. Practice when you’re feeling fine but also when you’re grumpy or a bit stressed. Each time you touch a state like peacefulness or strength, let it totally fill you; stay with it for a while. Installing—getting familiar with it—will make it more accessible when you encounter real difficulty.
Whatever you practice grows stronger. Learning how to turn positive states into lasting traits is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. No matter how trapped you’ve been in emotions like fear or shame, strengthening your inner resources can help change your brain, heal your heart, and evolve your consciousness.
From Radical Compassion by Tara Brach, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Tara Brach.