Let me share a little theory I have about the power that we give emotions…
… particularly negative emotions, and why I think that might be.
This is inspired by the work of Brené Brown as she talks about leaning into the discomfort of a situation. That inspired me into working with this theory of how we deal differently with what we determine to be positive emotions and negative emotions.
TYPES OF EMOTIONS
For the purposes of this demonstration, positive emotions are things like happiness or excitement or joy; and negative emotions would be shame or sadness or fear.
THE POSITIVE EMOTION CURVE
If we have a situation that triggers a positive emotion then this is how the emotion happens.
Let’s say it’s happiness.
We have a starting point, something triggers that happiness.
We start to get happy, and that feeling grows. We get signals to our body that tells us to start acting as if we are happy and that feeling grows and grows and grows.
But it doesn’t grow exponentially, at some point it stops because otherwise we would explode with happiness.
At some point this curve starts to even out and then it will dissipate because we don’t stay happy all the time.
That’s generally the bell curve of a positive emotion.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS?
Where I think we start to run into trouble with negative emotions because we are taught from a very early age, from people who have the best of intentions, to avoid negative emotions.
If you think about when you were a child, the great likelihood is that when you fell down and hurt yourself, or if something happened to make you sad or afraid, then your well-meaning parents and caregivers told you to do something else, to distract yourself, to cheer up because they don’t want to see you in pain.
I know I don’t want to see my children in pain.
But what happens over time is that we never get to experience negative emotions so we become a bit afraid of them.
THE NEGATIVE EMOTION AVOIDANCE
This is where my theory comes into play.
Something happens that is going to trigger a negative emotion, I have the trigger, the process begins, and I notice that I have that negative emotion.
But because I have all the conditioning from childhood that says avoid avoid avoid I distract myself and I do something else. And if I am being completely honest (which I am) then often what I do is something that is not helping me get closer to my goals. It’s comfort eating, or Netflix-ing. Maybe you can relate?)
For a very long time I never had the experience of the fact that negative emotions also follow this curve.
Yes, they build and yes, it’s uncomfortable but they also will dissipate.
Many people are so afraid of them that they run away. They never actually end up experiencing them.
LEAN INTO NEGATIVE EMOTIONS, EXPERIENCE THE CURVE
When you do experience the negative emotion curve, it’s incredibly empowering to know that you can survive.
YOU CAN SURVIVE THE DISCOMFORT OF EXPERIENCING NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
Being able to experience discomfort without letting it derail you is a key component of becoming a Legendary Leader