All of us know someone who has the uncanny ability to find the negative in any situation. The type of person that just needs something to complain about. On the other hand most of us have also met someone who’s able to remain upbeat in even the most trying of circumstances.
Of course, the question then becomes, “What’s the difference between these two individuals?” The answer is quite simple. They’ve mentally conditioned themselves to behave in that way.
Have you ever noticed that after a period of laziness the first trip back to the gym is always rough? You can’t lift as much as you used to, yet the next day you discover you’re more sore than ever before!
Emotions work in the same way. Someone who’s been depressed for a long period of time has difficulty processing positive emotions, and will even subconsciously filter out stimulus from their environment that may have allowed them to feel better about themselves.
Your brain doesn’t care how you feel, and it doesn’t care if your default emotional state is a positive or negative one because if it’s kept you alive to this point, it’s clearly working. The brain has no interest in allowing you to experience alternative emotions because it perceives them as being more likely to lead you into new, possibly threatening territory.
If you’re a highly conscious person or you’re going through a period of consistently positive emotions you’re loving that your emotional state is addictive. However, when you’re coming from a background of negativity or you’re stuck in a rut you may feel like you’re screwed. You may feel like you’re just destined to live a negative existence.
That’s not true. You’ve simply allowed yourself to get out of emotional shape. However, realize that if you are coming from a place of negativity failure is the default. You need to be proactively changing your emotional habits. If you attempt to coast the negativity will persist.
So what do you do if you’ve allowed your default emotional state to become negative? The same thing as when you’ve allowed your physical body to get out of shape. You begin exercising it.
If you’re constantly negative try a 10-day positivity challenge. Every time you think a negative thought you must immediately reframe it into a positive one. My buddy Huan has had some good success with this.
Initially you may find it difficult, and even exhausting to be positive, but as your brain gathers proof that being positive isn’t a threat to your survival it’ll open you up to experiencing more positive emotions, and after enough time has passed positivity will even become your new default state!
You can resensitize yourself to any emotion using a similar process. If you want to be more social simply nudge yourself into social situations more often, and eventually your default state will become more social.
If you’re able to have fun, but struggle with work challenge yourself to focus for longer, and longer periods of time. The first day you may struggle to read 3 pages of a book, but before you know it your ability to focus will become irrelevant, and you’ll only need to stop reading when your eyes get tired or it’s time to move on to your next task.
Overall I’d say it’s important not to identify with your emotions. I know that when you’re depressed you can’t imagine ever not being depressed. However, you’ve got to understand that your default state is only the result of your habits, and ultimately you always have to power to develop new habits, and thus a new default emotional state.
Picture is either Milwaukee or Madison, I forget. Taken in January 2014.
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