Hacking Negative Emotions

I previously wrote a blog about gratitude practices. In this blog I want to talk about the science behind why gratitude makes us happier and how to we can hack negative emotions.

What is Gratitude?

Before getting into the science let’s define Gratitude. I like the definition by Sansone & Sansone:

“Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.”

thankyou

The  “what” in the definition, makes gratitude an event related emotion.  Gratitude is triggered.  Without the “what” (or an event) there is nothing to be grateful for. We, as humans need to be aware of the event, process it, and convert it to a feeling.  The feeling will take us to a state of thankfulness, which is a positive emotion.  

How de we assign feelings to events?

I put my philosopher hat and came up with the following. Note: This helps me understand the process so I can hack it. I just want to share it.

framework

The process of assigning feeling to events  can be broken down into three parts. 1) An event occurs, 2) the event is perceived and 3)  a feeling is associated to that event. Let’s take an event that has a negative emotional outcome.

negative

Event

An event is just something that happens in a given location and at a given time. Example of events are: Someone said that you look great yesterday in the afternoon,  the morning was sunny, I drank a coffee today in the morning,  I hiked for 3 hours over the weekend, I got a bonus this year in December, someone passed me and almost hit my car during my morning commute, etc.

You can’t control some of the events, what people think, say or do. 

control

However, you can control how you react to events, what time you wake up, what you eat and how you spend your time.

Perception

Perception is the process of becoming aware with your senses of a particular event. For instance, if someone is saying that you are great, but you don’t perceive (hear) it, this event is like it never occured. And then later if someone tells you about it you might say in a clueless voice “Whaaaaat?”.

When we process an event, we use previous memories but we can also overwrite the feeling caused by similar events. In other words, we can perceive events (even if they don’t seem negative) to be a positive one, and create a positive emotion.

We process the event both in a conscious and unconscious way. The unconscious way taps into previous similar experiences (thanks to the amygdala).  

Feeling

The third component is feeling. After the event occurs and you perceive it, a feeling is associated to the event. If it is a strong feeling, we call it an emotion. In the perception process we initially and subconsciously assign a feeling.  The feeling take us to an emotional state. The thing is, we can change the outcome (emotional state), by hacking the event, or how we perceive the event.

How can we improve happiness with gratitude?

Here is my practical take on this. One of the ways to be happy is to practice gratitude. Gratitude can come easily with events that are positive and that we can easily find value from them. The difficult part is hacking events that take us to negative emotional states. And this is where I want to suggest some strategies.

  1. Create more events that can take us to positive emotional states. Try to do what you love everyday. Spend your time on stuff that you are passionate about, dance more, sing more, laugh more, have more sex, etc.
  2. Self talk by reframing the perception of the events that take you to negative emotional states and, be grateful about the new way you look at the event.  The trick is to take over your emotional brain. This is how:

 

 

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Our rational mind has the ability to rationalize and overwrite our belief systems. This is why we need to create in our minds a better story. Once we doubt or reframe our previous memories that shape our belief system, we can start looking at events in a different way. We can get so good at this that some people can almost get from an  insane “negative” event  something positive and be thankful for it. Just listen to the inspire story of Mo Gawdat or the JJ Virgin’s story about mindset and miracles both at Lewis Howes Podcast. Also, another good reference about how to get control if your brain is Mel Robbins’ 5 Second rule.

So let’s create positive stories and make this world better by improving our interaction with yourself and others.

 

Four Minute Journal in Evernote

Daily practicing of gratitude, affirmation and goals can help you be more happy and more focus on what you want to achieve in your life. One of the ways to do this is via a journal.

In the past I’ve been journaling in my notebook, in a word document and in Evernote. I felt disorganized. Over the christmas break I found a system that has been working for me only using Evernote mimicking the very successful five minute journal. I call it the four minute journal. I am enjoying it and I thought will be great to share.

ovearall-evernote

A great example journal is the Five Minute Journal from the Intelligent Change company. The journal contains all the sections I think are good to start the day with gratitude, affirmations and goals.

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The Five Minute Journal sections include:

  • A Grateful section
  • Daily Affirmation section
  • What would make your day great section
  • Other sections that are a reflection of the day

This journal is great, but I travel a lot and carrying a paper journal is sometimes impractical. I am also an avid user of Evernote. So, I thought, well maybe I can mimic this great paper journal so it can work in Evernote. Here is how I did it.

Preparation

  1. Create a notebook called Journal (Go to File / New Notebook).
  2. Add the Journal Notebook to shortcuts (Go to View / Notebooks and then right click on the notebook and select Add to Shortcuts).
  3. Create a template, called Template Journal Entry (check it out here to see it and download it).
  4. Copy it inside the Journal notebook.

Morning Routine

After I mediate, take a shower and do my coffee, I sit down and do the following:

  1. Duplicate the template note (right click on the Template Journal Entry note and select duplicate note). duplicate
  2. Open the new note with name: Template Journal Entry copy. 
  3. Rename it to today’s date. I use the convention yyyy-mm-dd, since it will allow me to order the nodes by Title.
  4. Insert an inspirational quote. I have a link in the template which helps me finding an inspiring quote that I can related at that moment. When I found it, I copy it in my note.copy-quote.jpg
  5. Add three things you are grateful for.  This don’t need to be the usual things (e.g. kids, job, home). I try to think about small things.
  6. Write your daily affirmation. I write this from scratch not looking at my vision statement or previous affirmations. It helps me reorganized and tweak my vision.
  7. Write 3 things that will make your day great. I think about this as three achievements that can get closer to my most  important goals.
  8. Move excitedly to your other daily tasks.

This is an Example of yesterday’s note

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I hope you  find this post useful and will help you with your morning routine. Happy New Year 2018!