If your body had come with an owner’s manual it would stress the importance of understanding what role emotions play in your life and what they do in your body. Emotions are at the fundamental core of motivation. They direct and prioritize what you do.
But what you might not know about emotions is that every time you have a feeling you make a chemical. In the presence of positive emotions the body produces reactions that create chemicals like endorphins – they’re your body’s natural opiates. They help you see change as challenge and can actually reduce pain. Oxytocin helps you build trust, generosity, bonds with others, and short-circuits fear. Serotonin is involved in creating good sleep and digestion. Dopamine and norepinephrine inhibit adrenaline, and cortisol reduces undo stress. Cortisol also dials up learning centers in your brain and even help to improve memory.
As we discussed in Unit 2, when you feel threatened in any way, physically, emotionally, or even socially, your body doesn’t always distinguish between a real and perceived threat. It thrusts the brain into red alert, and activates the amygdala to prepare your body to deal with danger.
There is a “stimulus” which leads to a “reaction.”
The biggest problem with stress in the modern world is that it is often a reaction to a perspective, perception, or interpretation of a situation, that in and of itself, cannot physically harm you.
If in your reaction to the stimulus you dramatize, amplify, or exaggerate the situation, the body keeps you in the red alert condition pumping out the chemicals of fear and their damaging effects.
The stimulus leads to a reaction.
Author Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
When you train your mind and your body to notice when you’re heading into primal mode, you can hit an imaginary “PAUSE” button and take a deep inhale and full exhale.
When you pause in that space, you have a moment to choose a response that can align with your goals and the commitments you’ve made for an improved, more positive life. In that space, that little pause, you come one step closer to your vision of the future. Herein lies the heart of emotional intelligence and Positive Leadership.
Over time with this practice, Stimulus leads to Response-Ability.
S.A.C.K. Your Stress
When your mother told you to count to ten, she was right. By giving yourself a little space to evaluate the situation, you can choose an appropriate response. I like to use this system to remember what to do.
Open Minds Vs. Narrow Minds
One of my teachers, Barbara Fredrickson*, coined the term “Broaden and Build Response” to describe what happens as the body and brain are experiencing positivity. She says, “Positivity opens us.” Positivity broadens your mindset and even widens your field of vision.
Narrowed mindsets, which occur as the result of negative emotions, are valuable in instances when focusing on “what’s wrong” can save your life. Positive emotions offer you the opportunity to broaden your mindset as the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of your brain begin communicating better. They give you a more expansive awareness.
As you begin increasing your own capacity for experiencing positive emotions, something we call “positive capacity,” you build psychological capital, which includes resilience, hope, optimism, confidence and self-efficacy. Just imagine how strong you and your team will be as you fortify yourselves with this kind of capital.
So, why should you practice happiness? Because practicing happiness keeps you open to new experiences, builds your physical and psychological resources and makes you feel good. Optimists live seven to nine years longer than pessimists. Positive emotions are GOOD for us!
List all of the things that are in your voluntary control that can increase your well-being, weather they’re already in your life or not:
Now, list the attitudes and habits you have that work against your happiness:
This exercise is best done at the end of every day. You can do it at the end of your workday or right before bed if you wish. It has been scientifically proven that consistently doing this exercise WILL raise your level of happiness.
Review your day in your mind. List three good things that happened today and reflect on why you think they happened or name the emotions you experienced (or both). This practice helps create new neural pathways.
Start right now:
TIP: You can do a business version of this by asking the same question at a meeting. Ask everyone to list three good things that happened at work and why. It will teach you a lot about building and sustaining a positive workplace. And it will teach you a lot about each other.
Positive Energizers have a set of practices that they do almost daily that get their neurons firing together to rewire their brains with an affirmative bias. You will continue to learn about these practices throughout the course. I suggest you do many of them as rituals.
Rituals create continuity and facilitate change, they imbue key events with meaning. Starting each day with intention is a ritual. Giving gratitude before a meal is a ritual. Starting a meeting with gratitude is a ritual. Checking what emotions you are broadcasting before stepping into your workplace can be a ritual.
Ritual makes an activity sacred. They anchor us in stormy seas. They free us in calm ones.
Do your Positivity Practices at specific times and turn them into rituals. This will help you slow down and be more deliberate.
1. As a student of the Institute of HeartMath for more than 20 years, I’ve accumulated a lot of their techniques for getting my body into a state of coherence and for quieting down the stress response. This is the practice I have come to use most often, and it’s based on their study of Heart Rate Variability. The heart is electrically the most powerful organ in the body – 60 times more powerful than the brain – so to calm the mind, we enlist the help of the heart. It’s what I often do in the “pause” between the stimulus and the response.
2. When you notice that your heart or mind is racing and feel yourself going into primal mode, choose to take a brief time out. Put your right hand over your heart and slow your breathing. Breathe in and out so your inhalations and exhalations are even.
3. Use whatever count works for you – I like to slow my breathing to a count of five. Five even, slow breaths in and five even, slow breaths out. (You can use three, four, five, or even seven as your count as long as it’s comfortable).
4. Imagine that you are breathing in and out of your heart. (Close your eyes if you are comfortable and it’s safe to do so).
5. As your breathing slows into a nice rhythm, bring something to mind – a person or experience for which you are grateful. (I like to imagine a beautiful sunrise or sunset. I like to see palm trees blowing in the wind and remember a time when I was taking a long easy walk on the beach).
6. Stay with your grateful or appreciative thought or recollection for 30 seconds or more.
7. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation that quite reliably turns on your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The longer you can stay in this feeling, the better the chance that all the organs in your body will synchronize with the calm even pattern of your heart rate variability. *
As you think your grateful thought, let an easy smile form on your face. Relax here and be assured you have done something wonderful for your body.