positive

Choose Constructive Emotions (And don’t forget your greatest asset) (3)

Approaching Shadow, 1954 by Chinese photographer Fan-Ho born in Shanghai, in 1931.

“Don’t be so negative! Think positive!”

— positive thinking evangelist


Reading time: 15-18 mins

How many times have you heard the above smiley command from people who have joined the positive psychology bandwagon? Apart from being a tad self-righteous the proclamation might also mask the person’s inability to process the negative realities of this world.

This “pursuit of happiness” tightly bound with numerous affirmations and fixated beliefs intent on to forcing happiness into being doesn’t deliver. If we do not achieve those heights of impossible joy then we sow the seeds of re-occurring resentment.

As we have explored, positive thinking is an important part of self-betterment, but it is literally only half the equation. There’s a huge caveat that goes unnoticed in the drive to cultivate a better outlook and a happier life. Deny the vital role of negative emotions in this process and and we court serious trouble.

In fact, this blind spot is probably one of the primary reasons for many of our global woes and needs to be fully understood before we immerse ourselves in the positive thinking belief system.

Success in cultivating positive emotions lies in the nature of the methods we use to attain them as much as it does the reasons we embark on such a discipline. If the methods and reasons are faulty, then success may be fleeting and come at a cost.

But “the optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought” right?

No. Not always. In fact hardly ever.  If the pessimism of the thought is grounded in the reality of what is, then you can guarantee that the “optimism” and good intentions of the “action” will inevitably create more chaos than order.

As Barbara Ehrenreich described in characteristically blunt terms:

Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller “The Secret” promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world. [1]

This distinctly American obsession with positive thinking tied to a delusional neo-liberal brand of capitalism means “to get what you want” in as little time as possible and with minimum effort; a lifestyle which has permeated virtually every social and cultural domain.

(more…)

Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (2)

 

“Everything can be taken from a man but …The last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

— Viktor Frankel


Reading time: 10 mins

What is it you can tell yourself and that will ensure that every time you get in a negative loop you have constructive thoughts and actions which bypass that habit? Think of it as building new houses of emotion imbued with positive feelings in every wall and every beam. Make sure that you are not in an environment, relationship or work situation that continually places you in that loop. And if you are, ask yourself how much of those negative triggers are under your control to diminish? You’ll not be able change everything externally in your life but you can change how you react to these pressures and head off the kind of habitually negative thinking that harms you. Then you are laying the foundation for your life to change naturally. (Yes, really, you are). That requires faith and not a little persistence. But if you are able to cultivate feelings and emotions that work for you that’s when reality begins to change, even if it seems like a pipe dream.

I struggled with many things in my youth and beyond but passive aggression and an overly critical attitude were high up on the scale. This was due to intermittent depression rooted in a poor sense of self. It was only when I found constructive channels for release which took me away from my inner stress was I slowly able to heal. I could indeed choose positive emotions instead of wallowing in resentment and projected angst. In fact, we are choosing all the time, even if unconsciously.

Remember the two sets of thinking systems: system1 (instinctive and emotional) and system 2 thinking (logical; deliberative) and what Daniel Goleman called the “high and low roads” of emotional intelligence. We are literally a complex, tangled mass of biases and mechanical processes which make a mockery of free-will and independent thought. But we can get closer to those ideals. Our job is to ease into the marriage of the two and make them work for us. And to do that we need to be both internally considerate of our own experiences, pains and fears whilst affording the same external considerations to those with whom we live and work.

Learning to exert proper control over the wild horse emotions and chaotic feelings isn’t a bundle of fun but like unruly animals they can be gently tamed so that they begin to love their master rather than follow the bad parent of the ego who let’s them do anything at all for the next tasty treat.

A concurrent theme that appears throughout this whole blog is that we need a good social network present to keep us nourished. For example, snaps shots of positive social memories is an effective way to bring you back from the negative maelstrom. In combination with breathing this can help to re-connect with the biochemical component of that remembered reality. [1] 

(more…)

6. Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.”

— Barbara Fredrickson
.

Reading time: 15 mins

Our emotions flow through everything we do and every personality type on show: from the “coldest” intellectual academic to the athlete striving to be the best. How we emote, whether we express negative or positive emotion depends how well we know ourselves and if we are prepared to find the balance between too much positivity (yes, it’s possible) and the more well-known excess of negativity.

There is no question that we can choose to have more constructive emotions whilst understanding that negative emotions are not “bad” just in need of balance so that the positive/negative polarities work as a team. It’s the distortion of our emotions which wreaks the havoc. There is nothing instrinsically wrong with us other than allowing our feelings to run wild, often to the point of pathology.

This is especially true of those suffering from trauma and/or the effects of childhood adversity as both tend to make emotions supercharged to threats via a hypersensitive parasympathetic nervous system. Pain, unconsciously expressed becomes the primary interface between reality and the self. We become a walking “pain body” geared to survival and the multitude of triggers from any real or perceived threat to our armour of “protection.” Regardless of whether we have unresolved pain and trauma to cultivate conscious awareness over our emotional mind is the key to regulating our life toward a happier and more constructive state of affairs.

I used “constructive” in the title instead of “positive” for this reason. The latter is frequently promoted whilst ignoring the benefits of regulated negative emotion. Like the word “spiritual,” positive thinking has become a loaded phrase for a number of reasons which we’ll get into later on. Suffice to say, understanding our own particular make-up of feelings and emotions and how they are channelled into every day life is crucial. Without a more harmonious interaction with situations and people with whom we interact (or more probably inter-react) imbalance can only get worse or we remain paralysed in an uncomfortable stasis.

Our emotions determine how we perceive the world, what biases and preferences are operating and what decisions and choices we make. Emotions are what make us human; they are an essential part of our nature without which we would be a robot or the iconic Vulcan Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series. But even he had cracks in his hyper-logic because he was half-human, half-Vulcan. As it stands, Mr. Spock did pretty well in navigating through the problems he and his crew encountered. He was efficient, incisive and highly adept at solving those obstacles. But he found human sensitivities beyond the rational perplexing, since overreaction and over-identification was literally alien to him. He wasn’t exactly the life and soul of a party as a result. Nonetheless, we need Mr.Spock’s laser-like logic to sit comfortably alongside a sense of humour, compassion and intuition if we are to achieve a steady balance in the face of the unknown.

So, what are emotions as opposed to feelings? Is there a difference? It would seem so.

(more…)