Flash bulletin: you can turn feelings of anger, loneliness and guilt into powerful forces for change in your life.
Whether you're generally a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" type of person, you go through phases. We all do.
While I like to think positively, I also realize there's a balance when dealing with emotions. Rather than stuffing down negativity, it's healthy to label the feeling, feel it and examine what's behind it. Wallowing is even called for (although it's helpful not to stay there for a long time).
A recent Wall Street Journal article, "The Power of Feeling Down," examines this very phenomenon. Author Elizabeth Bernstein explains a movement called "the second wave of positive psychology" in which many psychologists are recognizing negative feelings that make us uncomfortable or unhappy may sometimes be good for us.
The baby and the bath water
If you pay attention to negative feelings, they can help you identify what is wrong and motivate you to seek change. Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College, advises us to think of negative feelings like a baby's cry. While it's unpleasant, it motivates you to do something that is good.
Not all negative emotions have a good side, however. Feelings like hopelessness, worthlessness or despair - psychologists call these "empty" emotions - often signal depression. Experts advise that if these feelings persist for more than two weeks, it's a good idea to seek professional help.
Unlike the empty emotions, negative feelings such as anxiety, envy, guilt, anger and sadness can be harnessed for positive change since they're often based in reality, according to Bernstein. Something has happened to make you feel this way, and these emotions can be seen as warnings.
The key is to be able to identify the emotion and then discover what change in your behavior will relieve it and allow you to turn things around.
Make a list
If it's not immediately apparent why you're feeling the way you are, look at the situation that's causing you distress and break it down. What behavior caused the emotion you're feeling?
Writing about an unsettling situation - for your eyes only - helps you make sense of the situation. Write down all the ways the behavior makes you feel good on one side of a page. On the other side, write down all the ways the behavior makes you feel bad.
A group of friends who gossiped about someone is an example used by Bernstein in her analysis. On the "pro" side of the page, those engaging in the gossiping may write that it felt good to have the attention of the group and that they felt popular. On the "con" side of the page it could come out that the friends felt guilty and worried their other friend may find out.
Maybe you're wrestling with a situation at work or within the family.
This technique can be especially helpful when it's hard to put your finger on why you're feeling the way you are. Looking at the pros and cons can give you a more concrete idea. It may not be pretty, although it can bring things into focus.
Turning it around
Here's where you get the opportunity to imagine a "redo," as described by Bernstein. Focus on what triggered your negative feelings, and then run through the scenario with different behaviors.
If you procrastinated on a project all weekend, for example, and waited until Sunday night to tackle it, it's no surprise you'd be feeling anxious and a little panicked. Those are warning signs.
Redo your weekend in your mind. What would you do differently? Get an earlier start? Prioritize your activities? Say "no" to other requests that came along and took your time? Turn off Netflix and put away the ice cream?
While the current opportunity has been squandered, you could learn a valuable lesson about how to alleviate these negative feelings in the future. Pain is a powerful motivator.
An emotional makeover
Repetition is the key when looking to change any behavior. If this is an ingrained pattern, it will likely take longer. Just keep taking baby steps and move in the right direction.
Now that you've identified how you don't want to feel, you have a path. Remember the pros and the cons. And don't expect too much of yourself too fast. Just as it takes time for a physical makeover, it can take time for an emotional makeover.
And the "before" and "after" shots will be evident in your feelings.
2017 Linda Arnold Live Life Fully, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, author and speaker. For more information on her books from the Live Life Fully collection, "Teach People How to Treat You" and "Push Your Own Buttons," go to www.lindaarnold.org or amazon.com.