Remember how you felt the day that really great thing happened? The “you” that felt that way is still here and it might be easier than you think to tune into that feeling again.
Lots of pop culture mavens have exploited this idea since, but I think it was psychologist Abraham Maslow who made the first useful examination of what he called peak experiences. What I find most likeable about Maslow (besides the fact that he smiled in his pictures – Adler and Skinner scare the hell out of me) was that he seems to have been the first in his field with the presence of mind to start asking what’s right with people. Everybody else in his line of work routinely calibrated their ideas of mental health on the sickest, most impaired sad sacks they could find.
You have to admit, scientific or no, it’s a refreshing approach.
Maybe science had nothing to do with it. Maybe he just got sick of listening to all his patients’ weepy stories about why suffocating misery was their only real option in life. I once knew a divorce lawyer who was tired of his job for the same reason, even with the Oprah money he was raking in every month.
To grossly oversimplify the idea that unfolded from Maslow’s approach, it seems that the collective layers of our sensory and response systems are wired to filter for either pleasure or pain. They’re not very well adapted to processing both at the same time.
This process appears to be influenced by awareness and habit.
The easiest analogy that comes to mind is the childhood fascination I had with AM radio. One of my favorite Los Angeles stations would sign off around sunset, and every so often… if the atmospheric conditions were just right… the signal from KCBS in San Francisco would come through above the static.
Even though it can be tough to do without patient practice, trustworthy evidence supports the idea that we can tune in to one signal or the other simply by making a conscious choice. I’m not talking about extreme cases like when you’re being water-boarded by the TSA – just the assumptions we make about the bobbing surf of everyday life. When peak experiences feel rare (like that stray signal from KCBS popping in) our natural tendency is to assume that they’re less REAL than the rest of our life experience.
What Maslow found was that the opposite is also true.
For me, this is the “goosebump” extension of Maslow’s original discovery; peak experiences are never really “off” or gone, nor are they any less “real” than our other daily experiences. We’re just looking away from them most of the time. Our minds are hard wired to sort for sameness and with a little persistent effort, it’s possible to recalibrate our nervous systems and increase our access to the physical and emotional states we associate with peak experiences.
Try it and see. It’s especially valuable to share these stories out loud with a friend, but journaling works too. Just to get you started, here are a few suggestions:
- Any public recognition you’ve received, going all the way back to grade school
- Any point in your life where you may remember feeling deeply in love
- Any day at work where things just seemed to click and go your way
- Any goal you’ve reached or challenge you’ve overcome just by sticking with it
- Any pleasant surprise or unexpected joy or encouragement that’s come your way
These are the moments when we’re spontaneously filled with what author and philosopher Colin Wilson calls “peculiar self confidence.” Suddenly we’re able to see… and value… the self evident beauty in the most ordinary things. Our energy feels up to any challenge.
This is why our habitual stories matter so much.
Which ones are we rehearsing the most? The victories or the defeats? In his new book The Honeymoon Effect, Bruce H. Lipton, PhD expands on this idea with practical strategies for accessing this state more consistently.
As you look through your own list of peak experiences, please consider this; right now you are still every bit of the person you were on your very best day. In fact, you’re now all of that and more. As Colin Wilson says, the experience itself really doesn’t matter… it’s what you KNOW about it that matters. The conscious practice of tuning in to peak moment feelings increases our capacity to create more of them.
Your input matters – please join the conversation: What are some of the peak experiences you can recall? How would you describe the “you” that triumphed in those moments?