Want To Strengthen An Emotion And Change Your Behavior? Just Your Intention and Mental Rehearsal May Help!

Years ago, I learned that I could direct my emotions. You can, too. I invite you to try it.  First, put a paperclip on your knee. Focus on it and tell yourself to feel “love” for it. Feel the love. Pretty interesting, huh?  Now, try shifting to anger. If you try, you can even feel fear as you focus on that little paperclip.

That you can direct your emotions is old news. The new news, according to neuroscientists’ research, is that “mental rehearsal”--a repeated focus on a feeling such as love, anger, or fear--can make lasting changes to structures in your brain and body! 

An example of mental rehearsal comes from the University of Wisconsin (Psychological Science 2013).  This research suggests that a daily focus on being loving and compassionate affects pathways in the brain and reinforces those feelings. Equally as interesting, the research shows that this daily focus also changes behaviors, which become more loving and compassionate. 

Along the same positive lines,“compassion meditation” was the subject of a recent study from Emory University. This is where you spend time focusing on your desire to develop feelings of compassion and kindness for others. As a result of this compassion meditation, subjects’ ability to read the facial expressions of others increased.

The takeaway is that the awareness of a feeling and simply focusing on your desire to develop that feeling can activate the neural circuits responsible for producing it thus creating or strengthening it. 

Of course, what is true for positive emotions, is also true for negative ones. For example, noted researcher Candace Pert points out that your repeated focus on a negative emotion such as fear or disgust can lead to addiction to that emotion.

It’s the old law of sowing and reaping. (Whatever you put out there, gets you more of it.) It would seem that based on neuroscience research the old law has become the new law. 

So what about you? Will you spend a few minutes each day focusing on some positive emotions and memories... on what you feel grateful for? If you do, the likelihood is that you will strengthen the brain pathways and connections that produce those positive feelings and get more of them.

If, however, you have trouble finding and focusing on the positive, you might be interested in how to overcome the things that block you. I invite you to take a look at Become the Person You Were Meant to Be  The Choice-Cube® Method: Step by Step to Choice and Changehttp://amzn.to/Ug268G. You can retrain yourself, change, and grow to engage life more fully. You can also check out my website to learn more about the method.

2014 Choice-Cube Publications LLC. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Reproduction, copying, or redistribution (electronic or otherwise, (including on the World Wide Web), in  whole or in part is encouraged provided the attribution Choice-Cube Publications is preserved

Stay Aware and Enjoy Life’s Little Pleasures. You Can Create a Happiness Habit.

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“What in the world are you doing?” I asked with a smile. 

Jim was gently rubbing his collarbone with his left hand.

 “Rubbing it in.” he smiled back as he gave one last, quick rub. 

“Rubbing what in?” 

“The good feeling of being here with you, of course.” he replied.    

Then it dawned on me. Jim was taking time to focus on the good feelings we were sharing as he “rubbed it in.”  He was programming his subconscious mind with this positive moment to create his “happiness happy.

You’ve heard the phrase,  “ Take time to smell the roses.” Corny but true. It takes a little effort to stay aware savoring and being grateful for the sweetness of a ripe peach, the good feeling that comes with a genuine compliment, the joy of a family at dinner having a good belly laugh together, or like Jim, the pleasure of just hanging out together.

Positive psychologist, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, suggests that these “good” events are typically subtler than the negative ones and harder to recognize. Also, she says that we tend to take positive feelings in stride because they are less novel, not necessarily out of the ordinary, and not threatening. Studies show, however, that good events outnumber bad events by three or four or five to one and that staying aware of them is good for us.

Happy people generally have better medical, dental and psychological health, suggests Dr. Kurtz of the University of Virginia and coauthor of Positively Happy. Positive people also tend to see improvement in the physical and  psychological conditions of people around them.

Here’s the point. Do you tend to focus on the negative? Do you find yourself craving continuous moments of high passion and intensity and disappointed with the small things in life? Or do you have a mindset that allows you to look for and enjoy those micro-moments of positivity? You have choice!  Instead of automatically going to the negative, you can choose to look for, and enjoy life’s everyday small moments of pleasure, good relationships, satisfactions, and joy. And there’s more good news. You have lots of them.   Your choice…


2018 Choice-Cube Publications LLC. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Reproduction, copying, or redistribution (electronic or otherwise, (including on the World Wide Web), in whole or in part is encouraged provided the attribution Choice-Cube Publications is preserved.   

Get that Paper Bag Off Your Head!

Howard just lay there in bed. He knew he had to go to work. But he felt so anxious and depressed, he didn't want to move. It felt like he had a paper bag over his head, and he didn't know why.

STUCK OR UNSTUCK?  Have you ever awakened feeling out of sorts, not knowing why? When this happened, weren't you tempted to focus on how bad you felt? The danger is, of course, getting stuck inside that brown bag on a mental merry-go-round.

YOU CAN GET UNSTUCK   Yet, there is a way to get unstuck right away. Start with these two simple questions: What am I feeling? and What do I want? can make a difference.

LABEL THAT FEELING!   Yes, you already know you feel lousy. But when you ask the first question and deliberately label what you are feeling, you can locate that feeling in time and space. You make the emotion concrete–something you can manipulate instead of giving it power to run you... you stop doing the same old thing and do something different.

YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BRAIN Recent brain research by Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that simply labeling your feelings—angry, anxious, overwhelmed, sad—changes your brain.

A little almond shaped bundle of nerves, called the amygdala, sits in your emotional brain. It becomes very active when you are upset. Lieberman found that when his research subjects deliberately labeled their feelings, the amygdala began to slow down and “relax.” Also, labeling an emotion engages the thinking part of the brain and better equips you to understand and resolve your problems.

YOU CAN LEARN SOME SIMPLE TOOLS   There are simple tools you can learn to help you stay aware of feelings and label them. These tools can also help you to let go of feelings safely and appropriately. “Appropriately” means to express them without hurting yourself or anyone else. Later I'll tell you where you can find those tools.

So label your painful, angry, and overwhelming feelings. Learn to let go of them and engage the thinking part of your brain. Your mind will clear and now, it’s time for the second question: What do I want?

BAD NEWS – GOOD NEWS     When you ask this second question, look for personal losses and conflicts. There may be surprises. The bad news is that often, emotions help you avoid knowing things you are not ready to face. The good news is that when you release those emotions in an appropriate fashion, the door usually opens to new understanding. This includes knowing what you really want.

EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS CAN POISON YOU   Appropriately managing your negative emotions and thoughts is critical. If you fail to deal with them, they don’t just disappear. They just sit in you. Like bad food, they can poison you until you get them out of you. Whoa, you can become so toxic, confused, and stuck. Why not learn to recognize emotional paper bags and how to get rid of them?

Using the two questions What am I feeling? and What do I want? can help. You can learn about these questions and other things in the book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be – The Choice-Cube Method. The method presented in the book will give you a mental framework, simple tools, and four steps to help you deal with all kinds of paper bags. You can download the first chapter for free.

Stop It You Two!

Stop it you two! Stop it, now! Brenda was screaming at her two oldest children; her lovely blond eighteen-year-old daughter Susan, and her twenty-nine-year-old son John. They were at it again.

“You never listen to me.” Susan yelled. “

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“And you’re a loser. Why should I listen to you,” John, red-faced, but still handsome hollered back. The brother and sister were toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball shouting and throwing memories of old hurts at one another. As they blamed, criticized, and judged one another, never once did John or Susan look at themselves and question what they might be doing wrong.

Brenda felt as is she were suffocating. Without realizing it, she had covered her ears with her hands and was slowly shaking her head feeling helpless and hopeless. “I give up.” she whispered to herself. As Brenda left the room breathing a sad little sigh, the two children were still arguing at the top of their voices. This familiar screaming match had been going on for years and Brenda felt helpless to change the situation or help her kids.  Forty minutes later, and it wasn’t over.

At that moment, the only thing Brenda knew to do was pray. Slowly, she made her way to her bedroom and fell to her knees. “Father God,” she pleaded, “Please help John and Susan find a way out of this mess. It breaks my heart and dishonors you. Please show me what to do.”

Brenda wasn’t crying. She had been through this too many times before. She was cried out. She just waited there, kneeling beside her bed, how long she wasn’t sure. Maybe she had even dozed off. But suddenly, she wide awake and it all seemed simple.

Brenda was a committed Christian and so were her three grown children. Here’s the answer she heard herself say, “We simply have to do what God says. He says. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ Well, here they are and with his help, we can keep them.

James 1:22-23 - Be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only, deceiving yourself. 

Matthew: 23:25 - You hypocrite! First clean the inside of your cup and dish that the outside of them may be clean also.

Ephesians 4:25-27 - Take the log out of your eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Ephesians: 4:26-28 - Be angry but do not sin: do not let the sun set on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.

If you have tried and failed to keep these commandments, you may be hurting pretty bad, too. But getting stuck in anger or guilt doesn’t fix the problem. Why not try something different? I suggest that you stand back as an objective observer of your feelings, label them, and use the Choice-Cube tools to let go of them safely and appropriately (without hurting yourself or others).

You see, your negative emotions, and related stress, lock in distortions and limitations in your thinking, hiding the whole truth from you. They separate you from God. (He never leaves you, but you can’t really hear him.) Getting rid of those emotions (letting go of them, not denying or stuffing them) liberates your mind to see all sides of reality—the big picture--and choose which side you want to focus on.

NOTE: Whatever you focus on will get you more of it!

If you want more information about how to do this, check out my book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be – The Choice-Cube® Method. It’s on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

Negative Emotions: The True Story

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Negative emotions are normal. A daily part of life, they warn and often protect us. But negative emotions can also be dangerous and destructive. The difference depends on how long we allow them to hang around. 

NEGATIVE EMOTIONS: FRIEND OR FOE?    A negative emotion can warn a child to avoid a stranger. But if that child fails to understand his fear and begins to automatically fear anyone who is different, well, that’s another matter. Then fear is no longer a friend but an enemy. Failure to understand and let go of a negative emotion is the problem, not the emotion itself.

5 WAYS NEGATIVE EMOTIONS CAN HURT US     Negative emotions we hold onto hurt us in five major ways. First, they use up energy. Second, they lock in painful and distorted thoughts and mental pictures. Third, they can lead to unhelpful behaviors. Fourth, they keep us in conflict. Fifth, they can lower our immune system and our ability to fight off disease. As Woody Allen implied in a film, he didn't deal with his feelings, he stuffed them and grew a tumor instead.

WHAT TO DO?    What’s the answer? Simple enough. We must stay aware of our negative emotions, acknowledge them, and let go of them safely and appropriately. By "safely and appropriately" I mean without playing the victim or deliberately hurting others. This is a learned skill. We can train ourselves to do this.

I have been a counselor/therapist in private practice for twenty plus years, taught graduate students at George Washington University, and recently published my first book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be - The Choice-Cube Method http://amzn.to/uHGKQ5I would love to share with you what I have learned about the skill of managing negative emotions. Visit my website www.choicecube.com.