In my work over the past decade or so of self-discovery, learning to accept reality, and letting go of needing to control everything and everyone, my emotional state is definitely a lot more stable. I don’t experience swings of intense negative emotion anymore, but that has also meant less intense positive emotions too.
I’ve quieted the positives in my efforts to calm the negatives in my life, but I’ve decided that I want more of the good stuff, so I carried out an experiment. This week, I’m sharing my week-long experiment of trying to generate gratitude because I think this practice of accessing the positives is extremely valuable but underutilized on our journey towards our health goals.
Join me on the podcast as I let you in on my process of tapping into gratitude, the struggles I faced, and what I’ve discovered. Inviting more positivity in won’t happen instantly, so we have to experiment, and I’m showing you how to begin curating your own positive portfolio that you can tap into as you continue to stretch and expand your capabilities.
This is Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown, episode 89.
Welcome to Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you’re a successful woman who is ready to stop struggling with your weight, you’re in the right place. You’ll learn everything you need to know to lose weight for the last time in bitesize pieces. Here’s your host, Master Certified coach, Natalie Brown.
Hey everybody. As I’ve been going through past episodes of the podcast over the last week or so as I’m putting together my podcast study guides for my clients, themes have emerged.
Outside of the obvious weight loss themes, if you’ve listened for any amount of time, you’ll notice how often I talk about thoughts and beliefs and feelings and the power we have to choose and to change when it comes to what we believe, think, and feel.
We have concocted, we’ve bought into, and believed so many stories about ourselves and our bodies, but that doesn’t mean they’re all true and have to dictate who we are and how we show up for ourselves. I’m an advocate of personal growth, of our ability to make changes to our brains, our bodies, and our lives.
But today, I want to maybe clear up the misconception that it’s as simple as that. Choose what you think, tell a different story, believe something new. Lovely sentiments. Not exactly a prescription of how it looks to actually do it.
I am doing some new work on me and my stories about me. This work is ongoing, meaning I’ve been engaged in raising my awareness of myself and learning how to look at and change my stories for years. Really, rather than self-awareness or self-acceptance being a destination we arrive at, I like the term self-discovery, as in there are always new layers and levels to discover. That’s kind of where I’m at.
I’ve previously in my life done a lot of work on releasing control and accepting reality. 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.
For example, I wanted to control my children. What they did and didn’t do, how they looked, what they wore, how they took care of their hair, their teeth, their clothes, what they liked, how they did in school, how much they ate or didn’t eat, what words they said and didn’t say, how they spent their time.
I mean, every detail. It was driven in part by me loving them fiercely and feeling a responsibility to have them grow up as good humans who were functioning and contributing members of society. A noble cause indeed.
But part of it was driven by me wanting to control what other people thought of me based on my children and how they showed up in the world. Not so noble or helpful or possible.
As a result of trying to control all the people, I felt continually out of control because you will never find in someone else’s behavior or opinion what you need to provide for yourself. 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 worrying about the future and wanting 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. 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.
Okay, maybe not always. I had many ups as well. The person I just painted a picture of sounds like kind of a 24/7 nightmare, but I mean, I have long-standing friendships, I have a 20 plus year happy marriage to my husband who loved me even then, and my children still speak to me. So it wasn’t all me freaking out all the time.
But my emotional state definitely ran the whole gamut of extremes regularly. The work I’ve done over the past decade or so to really learn to accept reality and let go of needing to control everything has resulted in me being much more even-tempered, much more chill, as my children would say.
I don’t experience such swings of intense emotion. Much less irritation, anger, frustration, and overwhelm. Much more peace. I’m not saying I don’t feel these things at all, but with much less intensity, frequency, and duration.
I have learned how to take more responsibility for my own feelings, how to recognize and understand what I’m believing that’s creating my experience, and to look at the world with different eyes. I recognize that I can’t nor do I need to control every aspect of my life in order to feel the way I want to, and how to live in the present, how to be here now.
Seriously, that alone, the being where I am and being unafraid to feel what I’m feeling right now in this moment has been a huge part of the change in my life, including my weight.
But here’s something I noticed; living a more even emotional life, less intense negative swings has also meant less intense positive emotions as well. I mean, I definitely 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 inadvertently I would say quieted the light in this case. I don’t feel like it’s a result of numbing. But in an effort 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. I want to invite and expand the positivity. 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. Get familiar with it so it could be readily accessible and more prevalent in my day-to-day.
And I want to share with you my experience in process rather than after I have it all figured out. I’ll definitely 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 in that I have a lot I’m grateful for in my life and so I have memories and experiences to draw on to help me get to that emotion and feel it in my body.
Day one, I close my eyes, I think of my kids. And I invite the feeling of gratitude as I think of how much I love them, what I appreciate about them, and 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. So I try something else. Nature, fall leaves, sunsets, the feel of grass on my bare feet in the summer. Ball of ick.
I’m pretty puzzled because in my mind, I’m definitely grateful for all of those things, but I’m not feeling gratitude. But we’re leaving that afternoon for a short little staycation in a nearby mountain town that we love. And so I know this will be the perfect laboratory for me to feel lots of gratitude.
I get to spend time with the people I love most in a beautiful place, doing fun things, no work, no household to-do list items looming, just space. Have fun together and just bask in gratitude.
And I noticed some gratitude feelings throughout the weekend for sure. Every time I’m like, oh, here it is, open up to it, expand it, bask in it, and as soon as my attention is drawn to it, soon as I focus on it, ball of ick shows up and chases it away.
So I kind of give up for a minute. I was like, this trying to feel gratitude is ruining my weekend. I did feel lots of love and other emotions, but I sort of let go trying to create anything and just pondered what was happening.
So we got home and the next day I had a call with my coaching group and the coach let us through a guided meditation where we visited/observed different past versions of ourselves. Our child self, our preteen self, our teenage self, the self of 10 years ago, five years ago, et cetera.
And as we did, the idea was that we would send that version of ourselves an emotion. Feel an emotion for her. Love, compassion, joy, gratitude, acceptance, whatever she needed. And I sat there focused and open and all I could feel was the ball of ick. I was so confused, so curious as to what was going on.
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 – well, part of the problem, which 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, intensifying it.
I wasn’t really aware of this at the time but in hindsight it was easy to see. Once I could back up and instead ask, what is the message or what’s going on here? And apply curiosity rather than judgment to the situation, I could get a closer look at the feeling itself.
With my coach, I recounted the story of my son’s birth, which was a time when I felt a lot of positive emotions, including gratitude. And as I talked about it in detail with her, I noticed some positive emotion. Excitement at first, and it was in my chest, lifting, rising up, expanding, above the ball of ick.
The ick was still there, a little in my stomach, but without judging its presence, I was able to access the excited anticipation feeling from the experience of my son, my pregnancy and my birth, and his birth.
I read an article written by Nico Rose recently that described this phenomenon that I just talked about. “When we remember something vividly, to some degree, our bodies upload – metaphorically speaking – the emotions state that was present in the original situation.
As our emotional states are accompanied by specific physiological states, such as the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, we can hardly experience opposing emotions simultaneously. That is, it is nearly impossible to be relaxed and stressed at the same time because of the divergent physiological activity.
When faced with contradictory stimuli, in most cases, the stronger stimulus will prevail. If we manage to pick and aggregate distinctly powerful memories, namely those that are linked to vivid and authentic positive emotions, the positive will almost certainly win over weaker negative emotions.”
As I revisited the memory, I could access the positive emotions that I felt and that quieted the ick a bit. That divergent emotion kind of allowed the positive to shine through a little bit more.
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? These are the questions I posed to myself to really think about and find the answer to.
The process of experiencing something and then investigation and questioning and coaching and curiosity, this is not a back-to-back or all in one day type of a thing. The process of understanding and changing takes time. It takes consciousness.
But it doesn’t look like sitting down and hammering it out. Or one magical coaching session, or asking the question followed directly by an answer and then moving on to the next thing. It’s just as simple or clean or timely as that. It’s messy and it takes as long as it takes.
This concept of more positive emotion in my life is one I’ve been working off and on for a while. Trying all sorts of different things, learning from each one of them, trying some more.
This was a week of me spending some time each day thinking about this, posing questions and just listening for the answers, asking more questions and listening some more. Writing about it, talking about it, wondering about it, trying some things, noticing what comes up, looking into that, taking a break to hang out with my family and not think about it, and then coming back to it with fresh eyes a day later.
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. I would think of my son in an attempt to experience that feeling of gratitude that I know I have in relation to him, and simultaneously, my brain would offer memories of times when I had make mistakes with him, regrets I have, things I wish I would have done differently.
My brain was like, yeah, but it just 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. It’s the same situation with all of the examples I tried to use to assist me in generating gratitude.
It would offer, “Yeah, but,” always ready with some evidence or an obstacle to me being able to go all in on that positive emotion. 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 obviously some different messaging. I didn’t realize this was another part of the issue and the likely reason why those positive emotions had gotten so quiet. My brain was just feeling like it was safer to stay in the peace and calm of the middle.
Discovering these two things, that I was judging this ball of ick occurrence as a problem, and that I was perceiving 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 simply 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, try some new ways of experiencing emotion. I explored not just remembering times this emotion was present, but how that emotion moves my body, what it looks like. Gratitude looked like opening my arms up wide, my face to the sky, deep breaths in, a smile, a gentle swaying, trying on some different flavors of gratitude, different shades.
Gratitude for the birth of my child is different than what I feel when I walk in nature. So playing around with some nuances of it as well. 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.
I’ll be sharing more in the future about this for sure. I want to do I think a whole podcast on positive psychology because I think it’s so fascinating. I think it’s really valuable to us on this journey of health goals and I think it’s an underutilized field.
I want to share with you an exercise you can do to start building what Barbara Fredrickson and James Pawelski call a Positive Portfolio. The ideas that we 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, or it can even be songs, videos, smells, really anything can be your go-to when you want a little dose of that emotion in your life.
The 10 most common positive emotions are love, awe, interest, serenity, joy, gratitude, pride, inspiration, amusement, and hope. You don’t have to use these. You can pick your favorites. But 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.
The idea of this of course is not so that you will chase out all of the negative emotion, but rather invite more positivity in. And I also recommend that you just pick one at a time. You can pick several that you’d like to feel, but focus in on just one at a time. Keep it simple for yourself.
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. Don’t skip this part. We really need to see it all to change it.
Okay lovelies, in case you missed it, I’m launching a brand new version of my group weight loss program in 2022. I have learned so much in the last few years from coaching and watching so many women evolve and grow and studying myself and other humans and watching us evolve and grow.
And so my program is evolving too. It’s time. It’s so amazing, it’s going to help so many women love themselves more and reach their goals even more effectively.
I’ll keep sharing details here with you over the next couple of months, but if you want to know the latest first, as well as get spoiled with lots of help, tools, and goodies over the next couple of months, head to itbeginswithathought.com/waitlist and join.
You’ll get my Navigating the Holidays toolkit, a podcast quick start guide to utilize podcast episodes and study guides to start creating changes right now while you wait and much, much more. I’ll see you soon.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you want to learn more about how to lose weight for the last time, come on over to itbeginswithathought.com. We’ll see you here next week.