Many people think emotions are something we have little control over – that they are something we have to put up with experiencing. However, there are a number of different ways we can change our emotion states short term and long term.
It is also worth acknowledging that negative emotions have value. Fear, for example, can encourage us to be cautious in appropriate circumstances, anger when focused constructively can be used as motivation, while sadness, is an appropriate way to express loss; from a physiological point of view crying can be a good way to relieve stress.
Over the years I have learnt a number of different techniques to shift into useful emotional states. Some work better for me than others, but you may find different ones work better for you.
1) Use the Mind/Body connection
Most people understand that our mind controls our body, however, fewer people are aware that this connection works both ways, our bodies affect our minds. You can see this yourself if you use the following example which increases confidence.
Imagine a thread attached to the top of you head being pulled upwards. As it pulls upwards your back straightens, your shoulders move roll back and your chest puffs out. You should now feel more confident. Research clearly shows that this sort of visualisation/straightening of the body boosts our emotions. I have similar examples where people imagining angel wings unfolding from from their backs causing their bodies straightening and chests expanding as the wings expand. (Seriously what could give you more confidence in any situation than have wings 🙂 )
You can also demonstrate the reverse effect by hunching your shoulders into a slouch – feeling less confident and even a little depressed – it’s simple physiology.
2) “Fake it till you make it”
I’ve heard many a successful person make this comment. As well as moving into a confident posture, focusing on a confident tone of voice and confident gestures can boost your confidence. I know one prominent public speaker who overcame her shyness and discomfort with public speaking by creating a stage “persona” which she shifts into when speaking in public (Twelve Questions: Dr Michelle Dickinson aka “Nanogirl”).
3) The Power of Music
This is one that works exceedingly well for me using specific music playlists when I need a boost of confidence/energy or need to relax. Personally, I favour high tempo music for energy and confidence, and slower music to relax. Some of my favourites (please don’t judge!) are listed below. If you want to put together your own lists, you can find suggested songs by searching in Youtube and Pinterest for example.
Also, because I am quite a visual person, if I am using Youtube, I will often select versions of these songs which have strong visual themes.
What Heros Do – Thor Ragnarok Soundtrack
Fight Song – Rachel Platten
Holding Out For A Hero – Bonnie Tyler
Unstoppable – Sia
To Relax, Calm Down
The Dance – Colm Keegan
Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
Happy Mood Music
Moana – Alessia Cara
Can’t Stop the Feeling! – Justin Timberlake
Age of Aquarius – The 5th Dimension
On Top of the World – Imagine Dragons
4) Recognise and filter that “little voice” in your head
Most of us will recognise that “little voice in our head” which gives us a running critique on what we are doing and what we should or shouldn’t do. For most of us this is quite a fearful and risk-averse voice which tells us things like
“don’t ask a question in class, because everyone will think you are stupid”
“don’t assert yourself, people will think you are pushy”
This little voice makes some silly assumptions, for example, that everyone else is constantly watching us and judging us. Most of the time they are too busy worrying about their little voice and looking stupid themselves. By acknowledging that this voice is often wrong and overcautious is one step towards becoming more confident in oneself. By consciously challenging these assumptions and then acting confidently, through practice we can develop more confidence.
Visualisation has developed a bit of a bad rap from all those who claim that ALL you need to do for good things to happen is to visualise them. Visualisation is a good way to get our minds focused on what we want or need to do, so long as it is followed by actions which support your vision.
One way I have seen visualisation shift to positive emotional states is start by visualising all the times you have succeeded just before you do something that you want to succeed in.
Another approach is to think about all the times you have done something well or been successful and while doing this carry out a small action (e.g. by tapping the back of your hand). By doing this repeatedly, your mind connects success (or another positive emotion) with this movement. After a while, all you need is the movement to shift state.
I use this sometimes when I need to put aside my natural shyness and speak up about things important to me, I have a small action which reminds me of my four core values.
6) Understanding Emotions
Knowledge is power, and the more I have learnt about how emotions and people “work” the easier I have found it to shift into positive emotion states. For example, understanding that most people tend to annoy others out of misunderstanding and not malice has help me understand that it is pointless to get angry, particularly if they are going to have no idea what I am angry about. Far better to focus on working out what the problem and solution actually is.
One of the things I have found most helpful in this area is reading about different philosophies. In particular Stoic philosophu has been most helpful.
The list above is not an exhaustive list, simply techniques I am aware of and have tried myself. As I learn more I will add to this list.
Also, don’t assume from this post that I can always control my emotions. Like most people, I have periods of sadness, depression, and anger. What the techniques described above have helped me do is shorten these periods, and spend most of my time in a positive emotional state.