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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

Practicing Gratitude

I ask my kids every night before they go to sleep to tell me one thing they are grateful for. They respond “Thank you God for …”. They go to bed with the most memorable experience of the day in their minds. This practice is one of the things I put a lot of effort in and is one of the things I would like them to remember for the rest of their lives. Maybe it will be so hardwired in their brain that it will pass to their children. But,  sometimes, let me tell you, it is not that easy.

bedtime

I meditate in the mornings for many reasons. However, one reason is to help me practice my gratitude.  In the morning after meditating and with my hands on my heart I think about various things I’m grateful for.  I think about three to five things. Some I repeat every day (I can never stop being thankful for my kids) but I always try to find one or two new little things.

sunful

On some occasions I use a journal to log my thoughts of gratitude.  Sometimes a jot down my thoughts digitally in Evernote (I will do a post about this in the future) and other times in my moleskin notebook. But, I am more consistent with my thoughts after meditation.

Gratitude has tons of benefits. Just read this post “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude” that compiles more than 40 studies that shows how gratitude improves happiness. Even though I’m not in the place where I want to be, I’m very grateful for where I am and how I got here.

I’m not sure when I started to consciously practice gratitude. Maybe it was my mom, that taught me to be appreciative at the half full glass, one of the podcasts I heard, or a message at church. The fact is, I have stuck with this practice for more than a year.

Here are my two favorite gratitude practices from successful people (Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss) which I consider my mentors.

Tony Robbins practices gratitude in the middle of his 10 minute daily priming routine. I do a similar practice.  I give thanks after my 20-30 minutes of morning mediation.

Tim Ferriss uses the Five Minute Journal in which the first section is about gratitude. I sometimes do something similar. I’m just not as good with paper any more, even though I like my moleskin notebook and have thought about buying the Five Minute Journal. I most of the times prefer Evernote.


I’m planing to do more posts related to this topic in the next weeks. Stay tuned.

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What to do if life doesn’t go the way you want?

What do you do if your life doesn’t go the way you want? You have 3 choices: 1) complain about it, suffer and make yourself miserable (probably in the way creating pain for others close to you), 2) acknowledge and accept the situation, or 3) if you can, do something about it.

I was talking yesterday by phone with Rocio, a very special soul, from Venezuela. Hearing how she takes life is inspirational. In the middle of a country that is passing through one of the toughest times I heard positive and laughter. I can see her smile shine in her face. Hearing her stories with her ex-husband and her attitude to not engage in discussion enforces in me the idea about avoiding fights that will not take anywhere.

Why do we like to complain and suffer?

When I was thinking about writing this blog earlier today, I heard two podcasts by Lewis Howes that helped me understand the root of the problem: 1) BioHacking with Dave Asprey, 2) Making the Equation for Happiness with Mo Gawdat.

Dave mentions three behaviors that every living thing needs to do to stay alive: run away from scary things, eat everything, and reproduce as much as possible. Suffering, as I see it, is a way to run away from reality, to run away to face the problem and not doing something about it.

Mo says that when our expectations are not met, the right brain signals disappointment and suffering is a response of that pain. Mo’s story about his approach to the death of his son is a great example of not getting stuck in the suffering but doing something positive about it. Mo wrote a book that is inspiring thousands and will probably inspire millions.

What can you do?

If you are disappointed about something, ask this question: Can I do something about it? If you can’t, then accept it and move on. If you can do something, then do something positive about it. Most of the times there is a lesson to be learned. Disappointments make us grow if we understand how to process the information.

In a bio-physical level, Dave provides hints about how to hack the mitochondria to make us better at responding to disappointments.  Some of them are: walk at least 20 minutes per day, get a cold few seconds shower, and push your body to the maximum at least once per week. Pushing the body might be interval sprinting or lifting weights. More about this in his book Head Strong.

In my conversation with Rocio, she told me that she was with my Mom when one of my aunts died. My Mom saw her family crying. She said: “please I don’t want anybody to cry when I die,  I want people to remember me happy and not be sad”. I like the idea of celebrating with good memories. Mo’s story is similar.  In the podcast he said his son’s funeral seemed more like a birthday celebration.

Today is also Easter Sunday, one of the happiest days for Christian followers. Suffering got converted into faith and joy. It has changed the life of billions. I just hope we can all learn to put the suffering on the past and decide to be happy.

Creating Happy Moments for Others

I was sitting at the bar at my favorite restaurant having chili and wine on Friday night. I started talking to Mila and her Husband Robert. Mila is a very sensible woman. She is half Bolivian and half Spanish. After some minutes our conversation got very deep. I asked her what motivates her. She said, “Making people happy”. She knew a lot of people in the bar. She hugged them like if they were best friends. She gave her smile away without hesitating. She made people feel important and loved, even for few seconds. She inspired this post.

Last week, I also listened to the Tim Ferris podcast with Adam Robinson. Adam. talked about creating magic for others. He said that in interactions with someone else “the purpose is to delight another person”. Adam told a story about him getting a special gift  to his friend Warren Buffet. Warren earned his first cents  when he was 6 years old by selling Bemoans gum. Adam planned to find a Bemoans gum pack, frame it, and send it to Warren. The interesting part is the way the story unfolds . He finds along the way people that help him to pursue his plan.

This reminded me of a book I read recently Love Does by Bob Goff. Bob helps others achieve their dream by creating fun and magic. It is a very inspirational and almost unbelievable book. One of the first stories is about a guy planning  to propose to his girlfriend using Bob’s Backyard near the coast. Bob have never met this guy. He found the guy to be very passionate about it. Bob decided to help him. As the date gets closer,  the plan gets more sophisticated. Bob, to delight the young man plans a big surprise by getting the coast guard to shoot of canons  from a firefighting boat when the new fiancée said yes.

Lewis Howes at the School of Greatness has a great short podcast about focusing on giving. He provides a great example about how small actions can impact people  lives, like a man taking his shirt  putting it on  a shivering man on a street  He recalls that one of the happiest moments was going to a third world country helping build schools with the Pencils of Promise foundation. Making people happy makes you happy!

So, my take away:

For my future interactions, business or social, I will try my best to:

  • delight the other person
  • make him or her feel good
  • be a great listener and ask details about what the other person is expressing
  • understand better his or her needs
  • sincerely complement
  • create acts of kindness (KindSpring provides great ideas)

I will also try to give 10% or more of my income to my church or a good cause.

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” ― Zig Ziglar

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson