As I’ve been going through past podcast episodes, themes have emerged.
Outside of the obvious weight loss themes, you’ll notice how often I talk about thoughts and beliefs and feelings and the power we have to choose and change when it comes to what we believe, think, and feel.
Today, I want to clarify the misconception that it’s as simple as choosing what you think, telling a different story, and believing something new.
Lovely sentiments. Not exactly a prescription of how it looks actually to do it.
My Story of Change
I am doing some new work on me and my stories about me.
I’ve previously done a lot of work on releasing control and accepting reality. It sounds simple, but it took years.
In the past, I was almost wholly focused on trying to control the world and people around me and people’s perceptions of me, and on worrying about the future and ruminating on the past.
As a result of trying to control all the people, I felt continually out of control because you will never find what you need to provide for yourself in someone else’s behavior or opinion. They will just never be able to fulfill it.
I was trying to control everyone and everything and failing. I was wishing I could change the past and failing. I was worried about the future and wanted to predict it accurately and have some certainty and failing. Not for lack of trying but because all of my energy was being spent on the impossible.
I was never going to create the results of controlling everything that I wanted.
And this was all driven by fear. So I lived my life trying to get away from everything, uncertainty, judgment, regret.
So I feel like, as a result, I was much more volatile, much easier to anger, more easily frustrated, quick to be hurt and cry or disconnect, always overwhelmed.
Inviting More Good
The work I’ve done over the past decade to really learn to accept reality and let go of needing to control everything has resulted in me being much more even-tempered.
I don’t experience such swings of intense emotion. Much less irritation, anger, frustration, and overwhelm. Much more peace.
I recognize that I can’t nor do I need to control every aspect of my life to feel the way I want to, and how to live in the present, how to be here now.
But here’s something I noticed: living a more even emotional life, less intense negative swings has also meant less intense positive emotions.
I mean, I count peace as a positive emotion for me, but my focus on peace and acceptance keeps me sort of living in the middle in terms of my emotional vibration.
I’ve shared this quote from Brené before. “When we numb the dark, we numb the light.”
I would say I quieted the light in this case. I don’t feel like it’s a result of numbing. But to quiet and calm the negative noise, I’ve sort of quieted and calmed the positive as well.
But I want more of that in my life. I want more joy, more wonder, more excitement, more of the good stuff. So I want to invite and expand the positivity.
An Emotion Experiment
So I decided to try generating a positive emotion for myself on purpose a few times a day for a week. Just an experiment, just open up to it, expand my capacity to feel it.
I want to share my experience in the process with you rather than after I have it all figured out. I’ll share more then, but for now, let me just kind of tell you what happened.
First of all, I picked gratitude. I just thought that would be a fairly easy one for me to practice. I have a lot I’m grateful for in my life, so I have memories and experiences to draw on to help me get to that emotion and feel it in my body.
So on day one, I close my eyes, think of my kids, and invite the feeling of gratitude as I think of how much I love them and what I appreciate about them.
But, what I feel instead is this tight rolling squeezing ball in the pit of my stomach.
I’m not 100% sure what it is, but I know it’s not gratitude.
I just kind of think to myself, “Huh, okay, I’ll try thinking about my husband.” Ball of ick in my stomach, no gratitude.
I’m pretty puzzled because in my mind, I’m grateful for all of those things, but I’m not feeling gratitude.
Investigating my feelings
I’ve learned to honor and investigate any feeling that shows up, especially repeatedly, by asking, “What message does this feeling have for me?“
I processed through it with my coach later that day and in the days following. What I was able to discover was that part of the problem was I was judging this whole thing as a problem.
So I would try for gratitude, get the ball of ick, and think, “Oh no, this isn’t supposed to be happening. I should be able to feel gratitude. Something is wrong.” And then thinking all of that about the situation was feeding that ball of ick and intensifying it.
I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but it was easy to see in hindsight.
Once I could back up and instead ask, “What is the message?” and apply curiosity rather than judgment to the situation, I could get a closer look at the feeling itself.
But the question remained. What was the ball of ick? Why was it seeming to show up every time I turned my focus to trying to experience gratitude?
When your brain tries to keep you “safe”
And what I finally came to understand was that feeling, that ball of ick, that was my brain trying to warn me, trying to protect me.
My brain wanted to make sure I didn’t go all-in on positive emotion here lest I forget that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
I think I have this notion somewhere that those positive emotions are vulnerable and therefore threatening. I know logically that they aren’t, but subconsciously, there’s some different messaging.
I didn’t realize this was another part of the issue and the likely reason those positive emotions had gotten so quiet. My brain was just feeling safer to stay in the peace and calm of the middle.
Bringing the subconscious into the light
Discovering these two things: that I was judging this ball of ick occurrence as a problem and that I perceived positive emotion as scary in its vulnerability changed things.
When we can bring these things that are hanging out in our subconscious into the light of day and see them, acknowledge them, that’s when we have an opportunity to change them.
So I posed the question, “What if it isn’t a problem to feel this unease? What if the ball of ick can exist, and I can generate and feel positive emotion as well?”
It released so much of the energy of it just in the asking of the questions. You know how much I love a what-if question to open up my brain to possibility. It works.
This allowed me to experiment and try some new ways of experiencing emotion.
I feel like I have a new understanding and direction now. I’m not a pro at positive emotion by any stretch, but I’m looking forward to continuing to expand my capabilities here.
How to create a “Positive Portfolio”
I want to share with you an exercise you can do to start building what Barbara Fredrickson and James Pawelski call a “Positive Portfolio.”
These ideas create a representation of the memory that evokes that emotion that we can then utilize to access that emotion.
So it can be visuals, pictures, quotes, colors, songs, videos, smells, really anything can be your go-to when you want a little dose of that emotion in your life.
The ten most common positive emotions are:
You don’t have to use these. You can pick your favorites.
The first step in building your portfolio is to ask yourself the following questions for each emotion you choose.
- When have I felt this emotion clearly and/or deeply?
- What triggered the emotion?
- When was the last time I felt it?
- Where was I?
- What was I doing?
- What was happening?
And then you can gather artifacts that express that for you. If they’re all digital, you can put them in a folder on your phone that’s easily accessible so you can open it up and remind yourself of that emotional experience whenever you want.
I recommend that you just pick one at a time. You can choose several that you’d like to feel but focus on just one at a time. Please keep it simple for yourself.
Ask and listen
If you notice like I did that it feels difficult or blocked, you can always ask, “What’s standing in the way of me feeling this right now?” And take some time to listen and answer that question for yourself. So don’t skip this part.
We need to see it all to change it.
This kind of thought work is invaluable on your journey to losing weight for life. If you’re ready to get started, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.