What comes to your mind when you hear the word “emotions?” It’s usually not a positive thing when someone is described as “emotional.” However, emotions are something everyone experiences, male and female alike, on a regular basis that controls much of our lives.
Did you know that your emotions trigger a physiological response in your brain and in your body that will determine how you perceive a situation and how you react to it (Howard, 2006)? This is how positive emotions can counteract a negative incident in your life to help you overcome a negative experience and become more happy overall in the process. Howard (2006) states, “positive emotions broaden and build thought-action repertoires and attentional focus, help us recover from negative emotional experiences and crises, optimize physical health and emotional well-being, enhance resilience, and undo the damaging effects of negative emotion” (p. 662).
But what if you don’t feel positive emotions because of some terrible incident in your life that has occurred? For the times when we feel grumpy, angry, depressed, or disappointed (any negative emotion you might be feeling), you have two options.
Option 1: Focus on the Positive
When you’re feeling some type of negative emotion, you can set your mind to intentionally change to focus on something positive. Focus on what a beautiful day it is, on something you are excited about, or something that makes you happy. After all, we all have plenty to be grateful for even in the worst of situations. Tell yourself you’re not going to let this one thing get you down when there are so many other things in your life that are positive.
If you need to, write out a list of the positive things when you are in a happy and positive mindset. Add things like people you care about or look up to, fond memories, achievements you’ve made for yourself, or even possessions you own that give you a sense of pride, joy, or passion. Then when you run into one of these situations feeling less than happy, you have something tangible to refer back to as a reminder of all the positive things in your life that you can focus on instead to enhance your mood.
Option 2: “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”
Another option is not just a phrase that has gotten me through many a kick-boxing class. This mantra is not just a cliché or saying, it truly works. Here’s how…
Instead of your actions reflecting a negative emotion you feel (i.e. hiding in your bed alone after a break-up, walking around with a sour look on your face when you wake up in a bad mood, or slamming things around and yelling when you’re angry), intentionally change your actions to reflect a positive emotion or act as though you are happy.
For example, when you feel ___, you should ___:
Depressed – get out of your house and do something fun with your friends or family. Laugh and have a good time.
Grumpy – hum or whistle your favorite song to yourself, put a smile on your face, and compliment every 3rd person you see.
Angry – breathe! Take in deep, 10 second breaths to calm yourself. Slow yourself down physically, and go about your day as though just won $100 on a lottery ticket you found on the ground.
Now you might be asking how does this even work, faking it until you make it? The answer is very simple. Remember at the beginning of this post when I talked about how emotions trigger a physiological response in your brain? What you are doing by acting as though you are happy is changing the physiology of your brain from the negative emotion to the positive one, and once that occurs, you will actually feel happier and more positive.
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Howard, A. (2006). Positive and negative emotional attractors and intentional change. Journal of Management Development, 25(7), 657-670.