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:

 

 

process-end.png

 

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.

 

Using meditation to visualize your goals

I was listening to the Tim Ferris Podcast interviewing Dr. Michael Gervais, who is a high performance psychologist.  About 50 min into it they started talking about visualization, which Dr. Gervais refers to it as imagery with goes beyond visualizing.  He talks about creating an electric charging moment where we not only see what we want to achieve in full color, but feel it, hear it and smell it. How to do that? Minimizing distraction and training  to improve creating those imageries. Mediation, I think is the way to do it.

I personally like Sadhguru mediation practice  (Chit Shakti) that helps you visualize your goals in the short, medium and long term. I've being doing this mediation for almost 2 months.  He talks about sensing  joy when you feel your dreams being accomplished. He also mentions, as part of your visualization,  experiencing the well being that is spread around including everyone as part of your goals. It seems to me like a great focussed life purpose, which is ultimately serving others.

For example, one of my short term goals is to improve my mother's well being. I  envisioned she saying thank you to me because I found her a nicer place to live with a pleasent view with tall big trees in a place where she can walk peacefully. I imagined she is hugging me while we are sitting together in the living room looking at the branches playing with the wind. I feel her closeness, gratitude and peacefulness.

meditation-1837347_640

This is what I do:

  • I wake up and drink 1/2 litter of water.
  • I go to my living room and place a yoga matt or sleeping bag on the floor.
  • I place a small cushion on top of the mat and put myself  looking east doing a half lotus position, putting my back straight and lifting my head a little bit to the sky.
  • I put my hands looking up resting in my tights and do a Gyan Mudra. The tips of my  index and thumb are slightly touching while the other 3 fingers are bended and closed together like making a container form.
  • I do deep breathing for 5 minutes. I inhale feeling my lungs and counting 10, then hold for 3 seconds, and exhale for 10 counts all through my nose.
  • I do 3-5 minutes of gratitude about big things and little things. For example, God thank you for the house that I live,  thank you because someone help me at the metro, thank you because I found a parking lot near the entrance of the gym, etc.
  • I chant OM 7 times,
  • I do the Sadhguru guided mediation to visualize, feel, touch my goals for 2, 5 and 10 years.
  • At the end, I think about what I will accomplished on my day and how I can improve (e.g. forgiving somebody that hurt me).

This practice takes me 30-40 minutes. I feel great and experience that  I'm more aware and conscious about my dreams during the day than when I  visualize them on my phone, a paper or board sporadically.  It also helps me start my day connecting to God and experiencing gratitude.

Namaste!

 

 

Successfully practicing life like a delicious kiss

If you remember a delicious kiss (maybe your first one) you might recall your heart beating faster, your eyes closed increasing the sensation of your feelings, a sense of warm filling your body, your skin smiling. You were hugged, wrapped in cage of a rare energy where you never want to leave. Your eyes might have closed again losing  your thoughts in a colorful mysterious rhythm.

What happened is that you were living that moment fully aware, fully present, engaging your senses, your mind your soul. Your purpose became making fill the other person good as well as hanging to that precious moment like nothing else mattered.

What if we did everything like a delicious kiss? What if we were able to engage fully in the present, avoiding multi tasking, multi thinking and multi others?

I work from home, have five calls in average per day,  have several projects, currently lead two program and teach. I need to keep myself focus on the important task at hand.

This is how I organized myself:

  • I don’t use a single system to track all my todos. Too many project all with their own tracker make this impossible. I allow multi todos systems and trackers to exist: Trello, GitHub, OmniFocus, list of action items from a meeting, etc.
  • I use the Pomodoro Technique to book my calendar and focus on a particular theme or project. I set aside between 20 min to 3 hours  for each theme.
  • When I’m working in that project, Im fully focused and present. I concentrate in one task at a time.  I fully engage. I do not interrupt myself  by emails or other non-related tasks.
  • In my meetings, I’m listening, putting all my energy, trying to grasp the important ideas, trying to help and finding a best solution to a problem in hand. I imagine the other people on the other side and I consciously care.  This has made my meetings much better.

If we book in our calendar important time to advance our projects to achieve the goals in our lives, they should deserve that attention and concentration like a kiss. So I invite you to live your life engaging in the present, connecting with the people, listening, observing and feeling.  In other words, let’s all practice more kissing the moment.