It’s hard to believe we are more than halfway through this year already. At the beginning of 2017, like many people, I decided to explore what I wanted life to look and feel like for the next 12 months. From past experience I knew I was more interested in how I wanted to feel than I was concerned with external goals. I’ve had more than enough experience chasing the dangling carrot of success only to find myself exhausted upon reaching each achievement.
Instead, I committed 2017 to cultivating feelings of curiosity, love, joy, compassion, and trust with gratitude and focus on the present moment with appreciation for the process more than outcome.
We humans tend to set outward targets with the hopes that they will provide us with the internal experience we crave: happiness, connection, security, etc. Those goals are always set in some future moment and they can cause us to lose the power of now.
Hoping to avoid this trap, I was attracted to Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Planner. She invites us to start with the feelings we desire and work backwards to determine what activities would likely provide such feeling. (See How to Prevent Burnout and Create Space for What Matters Most for help with this.)
Desired Core Feelings
“Desired Core Feelings,” as LaPorte calls them, are very much supported by the field of Positive Psychology. You’re encouraged to counteract your negativity bias – the phenomenon that enabled us to evolve and survive by helping us recognize danger and maintain safety – with positive attitudes. In our safer modern times, we’re now called to actively cultivate joy, gratitude, love, and trust.
Emphasizing positive feelings takes practice. Through conscious repetition, you allow “wiring and firing” of new brain cells and create new neural pathways that lead you in a more optimistic direction. Often, one of the more popular recommendations is to repeat positive affirmations, but this can be quite an uphill battle for many and depend largely on past experiences that shape your world view. Furthermore, research show affirmations are not helpful for those with low self esteem and only slightly helpful for those who already feel pretty good about themselves.
Why is it so hard to stay positive?
It can be challenging to kick the whole “glass half empty” perspective. I know I haven’t always been suited to wear the latest “Stay positive” yoga tank despite my years of practice on the mat. Though there were times I wanted to be more lighthearted, I can look back at my own history of trauma and accept with compassion how the negativity bias worked to protect me. It wasn’t always easy or even smart to trust people or to take situations at face value. Sometimes I regretted that I couldn’t become a full fledge member of the Positive Psychology club.
Call it realism or pessimism, the negativity bias can serve a valuable function as it helps us predict possible obstacles. That said, you need to watch out for the tipping point. Eventually, I realized that the “you never know what lurks around every corner” attitude was more of a burden than a blessing. I needed to create my own felt sense of safety and trust myself so I wouldn’t have to be on guard all the time.
If you’re someone with a trauma background, the negativity bias can be a lot stronger. By “trauma” I don’t just mean catastrophic, life threatening events that most associate with the “t” word. Trauma describes any overwhelming event that you cannot fully process in that moment. When we are children, the experience of neglect, abuse, or even having our feelings minimized or shamed can be traumatic. If parents are avoidant or have trouble dealing with their own feelings, children learn the same. These kids grow up to be adults who avoid their feelings like the plague and will often do anything they can to hide the pain or numb those difficult emotions. You can’t feel entirely whole when you can’t experience the full range of emotions, and it makes it hard to turn on the positivity vibes at will.
Until you begin to heal the after effects of trauma, affirmations can be like annoying band-aids that keep falling off moist skin. You keep reapplying them only to find them on the damn floor an hour later. Affirmations can feel inefficient and offer temporary relief, at best. You may feel like there is something wrong with you when you can’t just use these pretty words to get on with the rainbow and butterfly tea party offered at your local crystal shop or yoga studio.
Eckhart Tolle said it best when he likened affirmations to a megaphone screaming happy thoughts in order to drown out the whispers of self-hate and painful doubt.
Mindfulness: Lean In and Welcome the Feelings
I talk about mindfulness a lot. It helps us observe our feelings, sensations, and stories. Noticing what’s happening to us is the first step in releasing that which doesn’t serve our growth. You need to be aware of your habitual patterns before you can actually shift them. To shift the way you think and feel, you need to notice and accept your thoughts and feelings.
If you take nothing else from this blog, I urge you to welcome all your feelings like a guest in your home. Invite them in, be kind and hospitable. I know you are trying to feel inspired and full of light – just as I aimed to feel when I started using LaPorte’s Desire Map Planner – but if you tend to get stuck in your suffering it may be time to explore the blocks.
This can take some time. Overwhelming events often disconnect you from your feelings and make it hard to get in touch with what’s going on in your body, but we need those feelings in order to make decisions and navigate life. Learning to invite the feelings while letting go of stories about the feelings is key to accessing the power of the present. When you can embrace the present moment, you’ll find it can be a portal to those desired core feelings described above.
When you resist negative feelings, they persist and can even become amplified. Leaning in and welcoming the feeling allows you to accept and let go of the past. As layers of old emotion are peeled away, affirmations may become more useful, but, ironically, you likely won’t need them as you find yourself inhabiting a more positive mindset as old traumas are integrated.
The goal is not to get rid of unpleasant feelings as they are often messengers for your needs. Instead, the aim is to notice and use both positive and negative feelings as information. As Positive Psychology reminds us, it’s helpful to focus on the feelings we want to cultivate while taking the actions that create and sustain them.
Acceptance and Commitment
As we move into the second half of 2017, I invite you to consider how LaPorte’s approach to cultivating Desired Core Feelings may or may not work for you. Reflect on how affirmations have or have not helped you feel more positive. If you are rocking your goals and loving each step…congratulations! But, if you are struggling to meet them or are meeting them and still not feeling so positive, you are likely tripping over some unresolved feelings. Use compassion here to gently notice where you may be missing the mark or struggling to find acceptance.
Ask yourself what is blocking you from taking those steps and, if the positive psychology thing isn’t working out, know that you’re not necessarily an irredeemable pessimist just because it’s hard to feel sustained and supported by affirmations. It just may be a sign that past “trauma” or focus on unwanted feelings is preventing you from connecting with your natural essence of joy and love.
Have you tried to employ positive affirmations only to find yourself discouraged and questioning why they aren’t working for you? Do you have goals yet to be realized but feel stuck in doubt? Would you like to move past the positive affirmation game into a more naturally positive state of being? Are you ready to accept the past and commit to the health of your future?
We offer a free 15 minute phone consultation at 480-360-5484 or check out our services page to learn more…and be sure to leave us a comment and share your experience with affirmations, desired core feelings, or both! We love hearing from you.