Every one of us is going to experience some hardship, disappointment, sadness. But after the dust settles, how quickly can you shake off that dark mood and get back to life?
In this podcast, we’ll learn and practice some specific exercises designed to build emotional strength, clarity and resilience. Based on Dr. William Larkin’s book Growing the Positive Mind, this episode will challenge you to recognize and take responsibility for your emotions, and teach you how to enjoy the work.
This podcast is about YOU — you (and me) feeling better. The desire to feel good drives just about everything we do, but it’s difficult to maintain any happiness if our emotions are out of control.
Let’s say you get in a wreck on the way to work. You call the tow truck and the insurance people, and get those details taken care of, and you’re back safe in your office. How quickly can you get out of the dark, angry feelings that were drummed up during the accident, and get back to your day?
Or maybe your child comes home with a bad report card, and after the lecture, and talking to their teachers, maybe hiring a tutor or setting a new curfew, how quickly can you let go of the sadness, disappointment, maybe even anger — and get on with life, with being a parent?
It can be really difficult to shake negative emotions like these, but the fact is, for the rest of our lives there will be hardships. So after the initial upset, do you have the emotional stamina to get back to life?
I’m here to tell you that we can be in charge of our emotions with a little bit of understanding and some work. Today, we’re going to learn some practical and proven techniques to strengthen and stabilize our inner voice, and we’re going to feel better for it.
This podcast was inspired by a book that I think you’ll really love, Growing the Positive Mind, by Dr. William Larkin. If the exercises described in this podcast are helpful to you, I encourage you to buy the book.
I was attracted to the book, because I think many of us struggle with allowing our negative emotions to be “in charge” of our lives. So when I read Dr. Larkin’s claim that we can control them, I wanted it to be true! For myself and for my clients, I want that ability. It’s so easy to play the victim to our feelings. We say things like:
“My sister made me so angry.”
“The traffic ruined my day.”
“The weather completely wrecked the party for me.”
“I had a bad dream last night, and I’ve been in a terrible mood ever since.”
This kind of language puts our emotions out of our control, as though they just happen to us. It’s as though we are their puppets, and we have to stay in those emotions and don’t really have any say over them.
So, to get started, first we’re going to learn to hear and acknowledge our negative voice. That’s the voice in our heads that gives us the most insulting, soul-squashing, terrible advice. The one that shuts down our confidence.
I call mine “Jenny”. She says things like:
“You’re too fat to go to the gym; why even bother?”
“Nobody wants to hear what you have to say; why don’t you keep your mouth shut?”
“You’re not worthy, you don’t contribute, so why don’t you just stay on the couch. Nobody cares.”
“What us up with that hair? You need to put a hat on it and stay inside where no one can see you.”
Sounds harsh, but you have a negative voice too. It’s the one that tells you you’re usually wrong, that you should stay shut down and inside, hidden away from others.
That’s pessimism — the tendency to listen to our inner negative voice. Whether or not we indulge that voice can be an overwhelming factor in our personal success and achievement, and according to Dr. Larkin, our dark moods, our ugly self talk can be the greatest deterrent to us having well being and overall life satisfaction.
It is also a lazy habit — to allow ourselves to sink back into that dirty couch of self-recrimination and unfair self-loathing. It’s as though we mentally lie back, eat a bag of chips and say, “I’m done. I’m done with trying.”
If we have habits of going to that kind of negative thinking, of listening to and believing our inner “Jenny”, then we need to call them out for what they are, and learn how to recognize that kind of voice, when it’s in charge, and then how to reroute those thoughts.
But can we really change the way we think? Is it possible to set those dark feelings aside and go to something better? Here, I want to introduce you to the idea of neuroplasticity. You may have heard of this word. It’s the capacity of the nervous system to develop new connections.
I know about neuroplasticity because I have multiple sclerosis. I understand intimately how my nervous systems works to reroute around the injuries that the disease has caused, and so I regularly exercise to encourage my nervous system to find new routes, new connections.
Similarly, when we choose to think with a positive mindset, over time, our brains change. They reroute, and find a new way of working. We can teach ourselves how to reroute our negative thoughts to those that are more truthful, fair and positive, especially when we come up against hardships such as the wreck, the bad report card, the cat that’s run away.
Seem silly? If so, please understand that hard times are coming. As long as we’re alive there will be difficulties.
— We need to be mentally and emotionally resilient so that we can recover from these hardships, and bend instead of breaking. —
Dr. Larkin likens emotional resilience and physical resilience, and I love this analogy, because both require exercise. You know that if you regularly exercise, maintain your flexibility, strength, balance, then — not if, but when you fall and bruise your hip, or get in a car accident, or get the flu, you are almost certain to recover more quickly if you start with a healthy, resilient physical body.
In much the same way, we need to build strong, flexible emotional muscle to give us greater control over our moods. And that’s the point of today — to build emotional muscle that in turn builds a strong, positive mind, and consequently, better overall health, right? If we spend more time feeling happy, it’s much more likely that we’ll have a healthy body as well.
Exercise 1 – Identifying Your Negative Inner Voice
Think about your negative inner voice.
Where does your mind go when things go wrong?
What does it sound like?
What kinds of things does your negative voice say to you most often?
What kinds of blaming, hateful things does it say when you’re angry with other people or frustrated with yourself?
Get to know what that sounds like so that when things start going wrong, you can be fair and honest and your own best coach, best friend, best counselor.
Take some time to write down what you know your negative inner voice says to you most often. And then when you recognize that voice is starting to take over the conversation, shut it down. Tell it to stop. “Shut up, Jenny.” (That’s what I say.)
Exercise 2 – Feeling the Feels
The more time we spend feeling good, intentionally pointing our thoughts toward positive things, the easier it will be to shift out of a dark mood and into feeling better when we need it. This is how we’re going to build that emotional muscle.
The first thing we’re going to focus on is the idea of Gratitude. You’re thinking, “We just got through Thanksgiving! We have to be thankful again? Yes! We do! Get out your paper if you’re writing, or just spend five minutes thinking about a time in your life when you felt deep gratitude. (Here, in the audio, I share a memory of gratitude to give you an example of what I’m talking about.)
If this exercise seems awkward or silly to you, think about the first time you rode a bike, or took a yoga class, or tried lifting weights. It felt awkward, didn’t it? If it seems too simple to be effective, try holding “plank” or high pushup position for a while. That’s a really simple exercise that’s still very effective. My point here: If it seems awkward or too simple, still give it a try. It’s just five minutes of your time, and is well worth the effort.
The next thing we’re going to spend time thinking about is Peace. When in your life have you felt deep, abiding peace? Think through that time, and feel those feelings. (Here I give another example from my life.)
You’re doing it! If you’re feeling that peace, then you’re doing it right. You’re building emotional muscle so that you can recover more quickly when things go wrong. And so that you can take responsibility for feeling good.
Lastly, let’s think through the word Love. When in your life have to felt deep love? Sink down into that feeling and really, really feel it. Take the time to enjoy that memory. (One more memory from me here, in the audio.)
There you go! Those are our exercises. I hope you’ll think about practicing them as often as you have the time, willingness and energy. Remember, the more quickly you can turn to good feelings when you need them, the healthier your emotions are going to be. You are building resilience.
You’re welcome and encouraged to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments about this program or requests for future podcast topics. I’d love to hear from you!