A Series of Shorts
Collected from various aspects of my work, this series of shorts starts with a Buddha, considers the rain, and debunks the “M” word.
Guatama Buddha is quoted as saying, “The mind is everything. What you think, you become”.
So, when your thoughts generate feelings of sadness, it is important to recognize that it is your thoughts feeding the emotion of sadness, not the other way around.
The things we think about generate feelings which we act upon.
Thankfully, most people enjoy more positive emotions than they suffer negative emotions even though it is usually the negative emotions that seem to shout loudest.
When we learn to change the way we look at things and allow our thoughts to feed positive emotions, we gain greater control over the direction of our lives.
Our thoughts captivate and can hold us prisoner or, set us free.
Here’s a tip . . . Be Amused.
The next time you have a challenging thought, look at it with amused curiosity.
Aim to place yourself in an observer position.
What do you see?
What do you feel?
As a young person growing up and educated in a church related school system, I was informed that “Pride” was the root of all evil, and the beginning of sin.
That was a while back. Young and impressionable.
Today is a different story and I see the emotion of pride as a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction resulting from my achievements or the achievements of people close to me or in my network.
I feel proud when people tell me that my qualities are admired and that leads me to dream BIG, act and push for more achievements.
Pride is a positive emotion.
There is no sin in being proud of who I am or who you are.
Pause for Thought
Thoughts influence our emotions; challenging emotions can affect performance.
This is a central theme to my work with all client groups and individuals.
Formal training in psychology and personal development enables me to empower clients to change how they look at their challenges and develop positive and desired outcomes.
I was asked to outline some of the challenges in my work. I referred to a body of psychological research.
Over 80 years ago, some young Catholic nuns were asked to write about their lives. They described enriching events from their earlier lives and events that led them to the convent.
The essays resurfaced 60 years later when psychologists at the University of Kentucky reviewed the essays as part of a larger study on aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers searched for positive emotional content and recorded examples of happiness, interest, love, and hope.
Their findings were extraordinary!
The nuns who conveyed the greater range of positive emotions lived up to 10 years longer than those who expressed the least.
This gain in life expectancy is significantly larger than the gain achieved by people who quit smoking.
The nuns are not an isolated example of extended life due to a greater range of positive emotions.
Here’s a challenge for all of us.
There is one positive emotion for every three or four negative emotions. This imbalance is also reflected in the relative numbers of emotion words in the English language.
Reflect on the words you often use.
How many are positive?
How many positive words can you add if you tweak your language slightly?
Have you seen any good positive thinking memes lately?
For sure, there is no shortage and some of them, rather like flash cards, are rather good at helping us trigger positive emotions.
Psychological tests show that people tend to think broadly when they experience positive emotions, and they contribute to solving challenges concerning personal growth and development.
Experiencing positive emotions leads to states of mind and modes of behavior that indirectly prepare people for later challenging times.
Positive emotions broaden people’s mindsets, which enables greater creativity and problem solving.
Psychological research demonstrates that positive emotions do more than enable us to feel good in the present. They can also contribute to reducing the physiological “damage” on the cardiovascular system sustained by feeling negative emotions.
Yes, while “negative” emotions might have saved us from the sabre-toothed tiger, they can also be bad for our health, whereas positive emotions increase the likelihood that you will feel good in the future.
What positive emotions have you experienced today?
When we experience positive emotions our thought to action repertoires broadens.
Negative emotions tend to narrow them.
The more we experience positive emotions, we build lasting personal assets, ranging from physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources.
Our awareness expands, our world becomes larger.
Sounds simple in theory and there is strong research evidence in support.
So, the question is: How do we generate more positive emotions?
Here are three useful methods of several I share with my clients.
- Reframe problematic events in a positive light (aka, positive reappraisal).
Redefine the problem as a challenge. All challenges have positive solutions.
- Apply a positive spin to ordinary events.
Oh, it’s raining! That is great for the earth.
How many ordinary events can you ‘spin’ to positive in a day?
- Engage in and accomplish realistic goals.
Unrealistic goals often generate negative emotions.
Change the Narrative.
It’s heart-breaking when somebody we know passes away and I fully empathize with the temptation people have to bury their head in the sand and do their best not to think about it.
Pretending it didn’t happen is not a very enlightened approach and it is not going to take the pain away.
Similarly, when something challenging happens with a lesser impact, self-blame, anger, bitterness, floundering, are not effective ways of dealing with the challenge.
Simply put, the answer lies in building resilience so that when challenges do strike, and they will, we have the means of coping and recovery.
We can’t ignore the “dark side” of our experiences and there are positive evidence-based approaches to dealing with these. Leave a direct message or comment if you would like to know more.
There are also the unseen benefits too.
One of my grandparents was an adept at finding these when she would recall positive things about her challenging experiences and encourage me to do the same.
For example, she once encouraged me to reflect upon my parents’ responses to a major life change, I was planning. Not the negative “sticky” parts, rather the positives that would enable me to learn something about their point of view.
A 2014 study asked participants to practice and write about this each day for three-weeks and the results showed that they became more engaged with their lives afterwards and, their pessimism decreased.
The opposite was true for the study participants who simply journaled their daily routines rather than exploring the positives in their challenges.
After re-assessment two months later, the positive effects of the first group wore off, suggesting that looking for the positive aspect is something that needs regular practice.
“Toxic positivity or sometimes positive toxicity is a dysfunctional approach to emotional management that happens when people do not fully acknowledge negative emotions . . .” (Wikipedia)
Research shows that our positivity needs to outweigh negativity by a proportion of 3-to-1.
I can only quote from American research that 80% of Americans fall short of 3-to-1.
According to positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, 3-to-1 is the tipping point or threshold that enables us to pass into a “flourishing” state.
There is nothing toxic about this research which recognizes that we need to acknowledge negative as well as positive emotions to thrive.
Here’s a simple emotion tracking experiment.
Over the course of a day, note your emotions.
Note with a symbol on a piece of paper each positive and each negative emotion. At the end of the day add up positives and negatives and consider the ratio.
Whatever you scored, what could you do to improve your ratio?
There are times in our lives when we feel stressed, frustrated, lost and it does not necessarily mean we are broken and need fixing.
What many of us need is a personal development toolbox to help calm our challenges when they arise and build resilience to protect from future challenges.
It’s great to have this toolbox yet, it is only effective if we practice and enable the skills, we learn to become integrated into our lives. If we do that, we develop an all-weather fund for the mind.
One of the challenges I see in many of my clients is that they are not as compassionate toward themselves as they might be.
Here’s one of those tools.
When you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a self-compassion timeout.
- What are you feeling? Notice don’t judge. Say it out loud. “This is stressful”, “I feel overwhelmed”.
- It’s not only you. All of us experience these emotions at some time or other. Remind yourself, “this is a part of life”, “my thoughts on what is happening right now will pass”.
- Be kind to yourself – aka, don’t beat yourself up. Embrace yourself or place a hand on your heart and tell yourself that it is positive to feel compassion toward self.
Some people struggle with self-compassion. If this is the case for you, think about a person who matters in your life.
Would you offer compassion if you saw they were struggling?
What might you say?
Can you offer the same to yourself?
During my work, I note the comments people make about the physical things that contribute to their stress.
I’m not going into any of the psychology relating to stress reduction here, instead, I will share the first question I ask.
What can you change, remove, or replace from your routines that will relieve stress?
Answers to that question typically provoke more questions which the answers enable clients to develop a simple stress reduction plan that works.
The “M” Word
It’s interesting how the use of the word “meditation” or my suggestion that I am going to deliver a guided meditation to clients often provokes an “Oh no” response or “awkward” body language.
All kinds of reasons go with the response and brought together usually amount to things like:
“I fall asleep”.
“I don’t have time”.
“I can’t sit still or calm my mind”.
“I’m not a very spiritual person”.
In response, I stopped using the “M” word.
Not once do I mention meditation or the simple two-minute meditative exercises I present during individual sessions and workshops.
Instead of meditation, I talk about ‘spending time with self’ and introduce simple techniques to achieve lasting relief from personal challenges.
One of the beautiful benefits of spending time with self is that it is a highly effective stress reliever and most of the exercises can be followed without other people noticing.
Does spending time with self-help with stress relief?
Meditation comes in different forms and some meditation practices are excellent at enabling us to manage stress.
But let’s look at this in a slightly different way and not make any assumptions about what meditation actually is.
So, rather than assume it’s about sitting on a cushion in the lotus position, let’s say that meditation is simply a way of spending time with self.
For example, I often meditate while riding my mountain bike. . . I’ve noticed raised eyebrows at that comment.
Seriously, you can move, walk, and meditate at the same time.
Follow these simple steps to a world of mindful possibility and find your Zen. You may feel a little self-conscious at first, don’t worry, this will pass.
Start with what you have. If you can go outside and take a walk, great. Even if it’s just around the garden, which will work. Otherwise, you can do it while you walk from one room to another if you work at home or between departments if you work elsewhere.
During lock down last year, a Frenchman ran a full marathon on his apartment balcony. With a little imagination, anything is possible.
Movement is the point of this exercise and don’t worry, no mountain bikes or marathons required.
To begin, stand still with your eyes closed and be aware of your breathing. Enjoy each breath and track it as it causes your body to move. Be curious, don’t question, just allow your breathing to circulate naturally. After a few minutes, open your eyes and start walking at a slower than usual for you pace.
As you move, notice how your body feels. Does it feel heavy, light, rigid or relaxed?
Look at what you see around you; don’t interact, just observe.
Turn your attention to sounds. Don’t think or analyze, just be aware as you pass, or they pass you.
What can you smell? Again, note how the mind wants to create a story relating to your sense of smell.
Notice physical sensations. Does the sun feel warm? Are the lights bright? Can you feel the soles of your feet on the ground? Can you feel any aches or pains? Just notice.
Pay attention to any feelings that come up as you move. What happens when something interferes with your rhythm? A chilly wind blows, it starts raining, the sun is bright. . .? Don’t judge, just notice your thoughts, and let them drift away.
Now move your attention to your pace. Note the speed and rhythm of your walking as your guide. Always aim to maintain the same speed. When your mind wanders, focus on your pace and do it each time you realize your mind has wandered.
You’ll find over time that the routine of walking can convert into a tool you can use to ground yourself and relax, even as you go about your daily business.
Rain or shine, it’s just weather. Or is it?
According to one study, approximately nine percent of adults consider themselves “rain haters” and it severely affects their mood.
Learning to view the rain mindfully, it becomes just another type of weather.
This post has nothing to do with the weather although it does focus on rain. Specifically, as a useful mindfulness acronym.
When you feel a strong emotion RECOGNISE it.
ALLOW or ACKNOWLEDGE that the emotion is there.
INVESTIGATE and be curious about how your body, thoughts
and mind feel. Don’t judge, just curiously check in.
Learn to NON-IDENTIFY with what comes up. Doing this
deflates the story and helps to recognize that the emotion
is passing through your mind and does not define who you are.
You might like to view your emotions as scenes from a movie. You step back and watch the action. Just take it in and foster a curious attitude.
By learning to non-identify with your story and realizing that it’s impermanent, you will begin to loosen your identification.
Learning to dance with R.A.I. N. can help you to be with things as they are and deepen your understanding of what drives, triggers or fuels your challenging emotions.
This isn’t a quick fix although with practice it can help to change the way you look at things and lead to more positive outcomes and less rainy days.
Here’s another acronym that if practiced, can enable us to come down from worried minds and back to the present moment where all the magic happens.
Presence gives us a stronger connection to all our options and resources that can help us to manage our challenges.
S.T.O.P. helps us to connect and step away from stress.
Stop what you are doing.
Take a Breath. Breathe in through the nose, hold, breathe out through the mouth.
Research shows that the in-breath slows the heart rate slightly and long term, that’s good for heart health.
Observe the thoughts, feelings and emotions passing through your mind. Be amused and curious, don’t dwell, just observe. Notice and name your emotions; this has a positive calming effect.
Proceed with something that will support you in the moment. If you are sat at a desk, get up for a short walk. Shake your hands, talk to somebody . . .
Be Here Now.
If any of the brief segments you have found in this post have inspired or provoked you, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments.
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I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy
Peace & Light
Steve Costello is a British Community & Youth Studies and Psychology honors graduate with over 30-years academic and practical experience coaching in the Personal Development public and private sectors. He founded ExGro in 2018 with business partner, and friend, Leo Faerberg.
Leo is also a qualified psychologist with over 20-years experience in supervised and private practice.