Removing Emotional Roadblocks to Joyful Living, in 7 Steps

We all find ourselves in negative moods at times.  Though it is common to just try to distract ourselves or alternately, to just push through it, these methods often result in a worsening mood, destructive interactions with loved ones, and decreased productivity.  Worse, not facing our unpleasant emotions creates mental-emotional habits that can feed full-blown depressive and anxiety disorders, addictions, and relationship problems.  The following is a simple 7-Step process that can be used to overcome many negative mood states, complete with a personal example  : )

  1. First, just pause enough to notice that you are experiencing a negative mood, i.e. that you are discouraged, anxious, frustrated, or angry.
    • Don’t try to ignore your mood or push it away. Remember, avoidance actually allows negative emotional habits to gain traction.   A much better bet is to get in tune with what you are feeling, and let it teach you what is happening for you inside and what is needed.

Example:   Dave just spent 2 hours trying to repair the gate on the fence, and doesn’t see that he has made much progress.   He is feeling frustrated and discouraged.

 

  1. Rate the intensity of this mood on a scale of 0-10.
    • Don’t analyze. Go with your gut feeling and pick the number that fits best.  Write it down.   Although this exercise can be successful without any actual writing, the element of writing will make it much more powerful and effective, and much more likely to stick with you over the long haul.

Example:   7

 

  1. Pause and notice the negative thoughts supporting your mood. Write this down, in just 3 or 4 sentences.
    • Ask the question, Why am I feeling this way? If you cannot readily identify this, sit down and ask the question, then write what immediately springs to mind.   Keep writing for a few minutes until you feel you’ve got it.   Then boil it down into three to five succinct sentences and write that down.

Example:   I am such a poor repair-person!  And so inefficient!  I’m never going to get anything done.  How can I expect to be available as a husband and father?  To run a practice?

 

  1. Step back and identify an alternate, positive thought process. Write it down in 2 or 3 sentences.
    • To effectively identify an alternate, positive thought process, you can consider evidence, direction, and what’s in your control.
      • a. To evaluate the evidence for the negative thoughts identified, momentarily step out of the immediate situation and into a more objective role,  perhaps that of a rational best friend, a role model, or God.   Look deeper.  What does the evidence really say?  Do you always fail at this?  What progress have you actually made?  Are there other things you do well at?  How important is this in the big picture?
      • b. Direction means carefully considering the question, If I follow my negative thought process, where will it take me? Answer this question in terms of your mood, your likely reactions, your relationships, your longer term physical and emotional health, and any other important values.   Write down a summation of your most powerful direction-based thoughts.
  • When we are emotionally off-kilter, we are typically accentuating the perceived negatives which are out of our control.   What can you do?   What are your options?
  • Summarize your most powerful evidence and direction-based thoughts in 2 or 3 written sentences.

Example:   So I’m not especially handy – So What!  I refuse to focus on my weakness and become discouraged, irritable, and unproductive!  Besides, I have become much more efficient in 23 years of marriage!  I’ll bet I can ask my handy neighbor for a few tips and save a lot of frustration!

 

  1. Rehearse your positive thought process on the spot.
    • By now, you are starting to feel significantly better. But this is where it gets really fun!  Take the positive, powerful 2 or 3 sentence script you have written and make it come alive!
      • a. If you are by yourself, find a standing Power Posture — a posture that helps you feel strong and self-assured, like the famous hands-on-hips Wonder Woman pose (Google it, this is a well-researched way to reduce the production of stress hormones in the body). If you are not by yourself, find a Power Posture that does not bring undue attention to yourself, even if you are sitting – i.e. legs spread wide, perhaps arms folded or hands behind your head.
      • b. Now, while maintaining your Power Posture, step into the role of your positive statement and repeat the entire 2 to 3 sentences with force and conviction! You can also do this quietly or in your head if needed, though out loud is more effective.  Say it like you mean it!  Allow yourself to feel and express the power in those words!  Do this three to five times.

Example:   6 ft 4 in white male stands erect, feet spread apart, elbow out, hands on hips, cheerfully and confidently repeating three times the words, “So I’m not especially handy – So What!  I refuse to focus on my weakness and become discouraged, irritable, or unproductive!  Besides, I have become much more efficient in 23 years of marriage!  I’ll bet I can ask my handy neighbor for a few tips and save a lot of frustration!”

 

  1. Re-rate the intensity of your negative mood 0-10.
    • By now, you are probably feeling much better. The majority of people whom I engage in this exercise improve their mood dramatically — by 50-100% — within 5 to 10 minutes.   Re-rate the intensity of your negative mood from 0 to 10 (10 being most disturbing) and write down the number that feels most accurate.

Example:   Dave’s discouragement level is now at a mild 2

 

  1. Engage in a course of action incongruent with the negative mood and in harmony with your values.
    • You’re not quite done. To truly put the nail in the coffin of your negative mood, you need to leave it behind.  You can do this by asking yourself this question:   What can I do right now to further my deeply held values?  Select what value is most important to you right now.  Then, regardless of how simple this may be, move forward with it!

Example:   Dave walks to the neighbors and arranges a time to have his friend take a look at the fence.  Then he moves on to brainstorming with his wife about an upcoming family activity.  (His remaining mild discouragement fades as he continues to act in harmony with his goals and values).

These steps are certainly not a panacea for all emotional ills.  However, for most life stressors, repeatedly engaging in this simple process can greatly lessen the duration, intensity, and impact of your negative moods, and help you make decisions that will create a more joyful life!

Have a Beautiful Day!

~Dave