For a few months, I have been working on opening up to more pleasurable, positive emotions in my life. I started with gratitude because that felt like something I could generate with ease. After all, I have so many things I am grateful for in my life.
And yet, I found it to actually be more challenging than I initially thought, as I shared here. Of course, being grateful and feeling grateful are two different things. But I have persevered, and I have been actively seeking the feeling of gratitude every day.
In November, I turned my attention to gratitude for my body. I meditated with this as my goal, which opened up my mind to notice all the things I am grateful for throughout my days.
It has been transformative.
I say that with the knowledge that some of you may be a little eye roll-y at the word and the concept. I know I feel that way when people say the word transformative about things.
In my life, transformation is a much slower, almost imperceptible process that requires effort and time and conscious acknowledgment.
I have been actively engaged in generating gratitude for several months now. And, when I say actively engaged, I mean I have dedicated time every day, not only opening up to and getting to know the feeling but time and energy investigating what blocks me from feeling it.
I’ve been noticing what it feels like in all its iterations and colors, choosing it consciously when I am with my family or out in nature, breathing into it and expanding it, and noticing related feelings, observing how it’s impacting different areas of my life. This is not a casual endeavor.
Before I had the knowledge and understanding I have now about my thoughts and their optional nature and their creation power, I was just at the mercy of the people and situations around me. That was a very powerless place for me to exist.
Now that I have the tools and skills to understand my mind and manage it differently, I feel so much more empowered, and I’ve really seen a difference in how I perceive and how I handle and how I create discomfort for myself.
In the last year or so, I started to crave more of the higher vibration emotions. I love peace and serenity, but I also wanted to experiment with how I could invite more excitement and joy and love in as well.
I read a book called Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., that helped explain why and how this transformation to more positivity happened for me. It obviously wasn’t just me telling myself to be more positive, and I didn’t follow a prescription necessarily.
How it turned out was so fascinating to me and unexpected. I wanted to share some of the things I learned from the book and some tools she offers to try out and see if you can create the same kind of transformation for yourself.
The expanding effect of positivity
The thing about positivity that I noticed is that it has this expanding effect. My focus was on generating what Ms. Fredrickson calls “heartfelt positivity,” meaning sincere, authentic positivity. Not just plastering a smile on your face and reciting, don’t worry, be happy.
What heartfelt positivity in the form of gratitude triggered for me was more positivity overall. I noticed it permeating my reactions, my thoughts about people, the world, my business, myself, my outlook, my hopes for the future, my ability to be present, expanding my creativity, and my thoughts on possibility.
It wasn’t just that I felt more gratitude. I felt more, period.
I had a good hard cry, the kind that feels healing and clearing and leaves you exhausted. I haven’t cried like that in two years. It felt healing and powerful, and it was a positive experience because there was a lot of love and beauty in that cry.
I had an issue come up again with one of my kids. It was the same one that came up last spring for me, and it caused a lot of turmoil in my family at the time. It was turmoil driven a lot by me and my reaction to it.
This time, I reacted completely differently, not necessarily consciously, just naturally, with so much more love and compassion, and patience. This wasn’t a deliberate change I made to react differently. This was something I noticed in hindsight.
This time around, what ruled the day was how much I love them and how important our relationship is to me. Whereas what drove how I showed up last time was my desire to be right. Last time it caused a strain in our relationship. This time it opened up an opportunity to draw closer.
You are capable of positivity
Ms. Fredrickson describes it like this, “No matter how good you are at negativity, you are also capable of positivity.”
Keep in mind, that like negativity, positivity goes beyond self-talk. Although subtle, it too infuses your mindscape and outlook, heart rhythms, body chemistry, muscle tension, and facial expressions, and your resources and relationships.
Six facts about positivity
Here are six fact’s from the book
- Positivity feels good. It feels light and buoyant. Feeling good is what awakens your motivation to change.
- Positivity changes how your mind works. It opens and broadens your range of vision. “Positivity doesn’t just change the contents of your mind. It also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibility that you see.”
- Positivity transforms your future and you for the better. Moments of positivity accumulate and compound over time to build lasting resources for life. Positivity spells growth.
- Positivity puts the brakes on negativity and fuels resilience. It’s kind of like a reset button, helping you go from negativity’s downward spiral to the upward spiral of positivity.
- Positivity obeys a tipping point. A mathematical equation they discovered reveals the ratio of positivity that signals this tipping point. Most people live their lives with a 2:1 positivity to negativity ratio in their lives. A transformation occurs as a person raises this ratio to 3:1 or higher. You feel more alive, creative, and resilient. She calls this flourishing.
- People can raise their positivity rations. You have more control over your ratio than you realize. Positivity is not automatic. The 3:1 ratio requires you to make the choice, again and again, to open your mind, heart and choose it.
Tuning into positivity
We have so much more power than we know when it comes to creating our emotional lives and increasing this ratio of positivity that we experience.
She says, “Tune into kindness, your own and that of others. Seek out and savor all manner of goodness, beauty, and excellence. Treasure these moments, and you’ll unlock recurrent waves of gratitude, awe, inspiration, and more. Become like a plant, and turn toward the light in all its spiritual, earthly, and human forms. Feed on it. The more you train your eye, mind, and heart to the positivity in your life, the more of it you’ll find.”
Remember that the intensity of your positivity matters far less than its relative frequency. By cultivating positive actions and positive thinking, you see more positivity in your life.
Tools for more positivity
She shared 12+ tools in her positivity toolkit, as well as the positivity portfolio that I described here.
I want to highlight a few that I think could be particularly relevant and helpful on our health and weight loss journeys.
She recommends designating one day as a kindness day and setting a goal of performing five new acts of kindness on that single day. And then to take stock of the good feelings you feel after having increased your kindness.
It might also be fun to experiment with a kindness day where the kindness is directed toward yourself. What might that look like for you? This might be especially poignant if you struggle with being kind to yourself.
Dispute negative thinking
I often tell my clients that when their brains offer up an argument for something that doesn’t move them forward, they need to be prepared with counter-arguments that are even more true.
Ms. Fredrickson takes it to the next level with this tool, though, because she encourages you to do this preparation well in advance and do drills to sharpen your argumentation skills.
She recommends that you get a set of index cards and on each one, write one of your typical negative thoughts. You likely have a pretty good idea of what that critical voice in your head usually offers you. Write them all down, as many as you can come up with it. Then, shuffle them, draw one, read it out loud, and as quickly as you can dispute it. What are the facts here?
As you notice, negative thoughts come in that you haven’t disputed yet; add them to the deck. She says the goal is to become just as quick with disputation as you are with negative thoughts. Nip them in the bud with your fast facts before they have the chance to blanket your day with doom and gloom.
I think the more you do this, the quicker your mind will recall these counter-arguments in the moment, and eventually, your brain will be ready to let the negative thoughts go.
I love the app Insight Timer, and Sarah Blondin is one of my very favorite teachers on there. I just love her voice and her poetic language. There are courses there for beginners, and courses focus on all sorts of subjects. If you’re new to meditation, I think it’s really helpful to try an app like this just to start.
Once you have a foundation, it becomes easy to just turn on some music and do your own thing. If you’re opposed to trying an app, you can always set a timer for 5-10 minutes, listen to some music, and just focus on your breathing in and out. Notice as your mind wanders and gets distracted from this focus on your breath and just gently direct it back.
You can also try loving-kindness meditation. The idea is that the meditation is focused on feeling, not just on presence and mindfulness. So the focus becomes generating love in your body as you visualize someone you love, holding that feeling and then radiating it to others.
You can direct the focus to someone in your life and use traditional statements like, may they be safe, may they be happy, may they be healthy, may they live ease. You can reword the statement, so they resonate with you a little more, and you can also practice radiating the love you feel inward to yourself.
Increase your positivity ratio
Play around with your positivity ratio. Know that it is a choice that we must make repeatedly and that the impacts may take some time and effort, but they will compound and expand and offer the opportunity to see you and your life transform.
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.