July 2017 — Australian researchers have found a powerful way to let go of negative emotions and to embrace positivity. The key is using mindfulness.
Research by Mark Moriarty Drake and co. at Australia’s Charles Darwin University has stunned us.
They found that mindfulness (consciously focusing on how we are thinking and feeling) can help us let go of painful emotions.
In fact, not only does mindfulness help us let go of painful emotions, it actually turns negative emotions into positive ones.
This confirms the Buddhist view of consciousness, which states that when we become conscious of our emotions we gain control over them. It’s a life lesson I myself learned a few years ago.
How I Personally Learned To Stop Being Neurotic And Turn Negative To Positive
While living abroad in Canada I went through a painful breakup that left me emotionally scarred.
The breakup was entirely my fault.
I made a bad mistake.
I left my girlfriend for another woman.
I dwelled on my mistake for months, tearing into myself with self criticism, focusing on the negative.
I was being neurotic. which is precisely the mental state that Mark Moriarty Drake and his colleagues recently studied.
Neuroticism is one of the “five basic factors of personality”. These are factors that shape our personality and our psychological well being (you can read more about this on Very Well).
The five basic factors of personality are:
Neuroticism is a trait characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability.
You might be neurotic if:
- You are prone to self criticism.
- You dwell on your weaknesses and are prone to thinking negatively and worrying
- You always respond to stress with anger, anxiety or other negative responses
- You get stressed by the smallest things
- You have extreme feelings of grief and loss.
- You start worrying over nothing
- You suffer from substance abuse, anxiety or depression
- You dwell on painful memories.
- You are far too sensitive
- You experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness.
- One good way to counteract these problems is by learning to stay positive in negative situations.
Personally I suffered from all those symptoms of being a neurotic.
When I made the mistake of leaving my girlfriend I suffered all sorts of pains. There were the emotional pains, like anxiety and self criticism. And there were the physiological pains. I had pains in my chest and became ill from worrying so much that I would never get back with my girlfriend.
It was very difficult for me to let go of painful emotions that were in my mind at that time.
And I suffered from physical pain because of it (research shows there is a direct link between physical and emotional pain).
How Mindfulness Helps Neurotics Change
It was once thought that people with high degree of neuroticism couldn’t change.
But scientists are now learning that there are paths to change, and that one way to change is through mindfulness.
Drake and colleagues investigated how research affects levels of non-specific psychological distress, such as generalised anxiety (and anyone who suffers from that will like our guide Using Mindfulness To Cure Anxiety).
People with high levels of non-specific psychological distress experience emotional suffering and physiological disorders that cannot be labeled as any one singular health problem.
People with high levels of neuroticism struggle to handle challenging events and can react to setbacks in violent ways.
This, I’m glad to say, is something I did not experience (but then, I’ve always been a peace lover, to the extent of repeatedly telling my mother off for swatting flies). People with genuine neuroticism, however, are prone to violent reactions to negative events.
How mindfulness helps neurotics turn painful emotions to positive ones
The researchers discovered that mindfulness makes us less reactive and more able to handle negatives.
This is why we can use mindfulness to increase emotional control.
With mindfulness, we use consciousness to transform that negative energy into a more positive, productive energy.
When we practice mindfulness, we accept thoughts and feelings and focus on living in the present moment.
When we do this, we don’t judge our feelings but accept them. This removes us from the negativity and enables us to look at it objectively, in a calm manner. The result is that we are freed from the negative energy and we reconnect with the positive, with the present moment.
A couple of months after my breakup I started practicing mindfulness. In fact I used very many different meditation techniques. Those techniques helped me to observe my mind in a clear, conscious and objective way. The result was that I was actually able to see what was happening in my own mind, and once I could see what was happening, I was able to control what was happening.
As the famous Buddhist quote says:
With mindfulness we observe the mind, and this gives us control over our emotions.
When I was going through my breakup, I kept thinking that I was worthless, that I was a bad person. And because I was consumed by these thoughts and emotions, they took over. But when I practiced mindfulness, I stepped back away from my emotions and was able to say “that’s just a thought / emotion. It isn’t me.”
When we practice mindfulness we step back, outside of our emotions, so that we can see clearly. This makes us calmer and gentler both on ourselves and on others.
Some people are naturally more mindful than others, says Drake. But mindfulness can also be learned.
When the researchers gave participants mindfulness exercises they observed a decrease in reactivity and an increase in calmness.
This research proves that we are not stuck as the person we were born as. We are able to change. And mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools for change.
The researchers suggest that anyone who is highly neurotic or prone to self criticism start practicing mindfulness right away.
Mindfulness will promote inner calm and self acceptance, turning negative emotions into positive emotions.
Turn Negative Emotions Into Positive Emotions With Mindfulness. Here’s How
1: Label your emotions
One of the easiest ways to become mindful of emotions is to label them.
How are you feeling right at this very moment? If you had to define that emotion in one word, what word would it be?
When we label our emotions we become consciously aware of them. This moves us out of the emotion and into conscious awareness. The result is inner peace and calmness.
2: Learn the actual technique of mindfulness meditation
Many people think they know what mindfulness is it. They’re surprised to find that mindfulness isn’t what they thought.
There are two types of mindfulness. The first is general mindfulness. This is simply being consciously aware.
The second type of mindfulness is the actual Buddhist technique called mindfulness meditation. This is a traditional meditation technique that has to be learned properly.
3: Mindfulness the other way
As mentioned above, mindfulness also means being conscious and aware in a more general sense.
There are many ways to increase mindfulness:
- Shower with your eyes closed
- Try tai chi
- Eat a meal slowly and consciously
I recommend reading this guide to the best mindful habits.
To learn more about using mindfulness to let go of painful emotions, I highly recommend the excellent book The Mindful Way Through Depression, which is widely regarded as the best book on the subject.
4. Try a mindfulness tracker
If you get stressed, angry, or upset when things go wrong, a mindfulness tracker can help.
Mindfulness trackers work with your Android or iPhone to monitor your stress levels and remind you to practice conscious breathing right when you need to.
I personally recommend the Spire Mindfulness And Activity Tracker.
5. Accept your negative emotions and learn from them
Negative emotions teach us important life lessons. Here’s how to learn from them.
6. Allow yourself to relax while experiencing that negative emotion
When you experience a negative emotion, breathe deep.
This one deep breath is an opportunity to calm your mind. Tell yourself “This negative emotion is natural. When I understand it, I will conquer it”.
Take a second deep breath. Let your body relax. Inhale deeply. Let that energy flow freely into your body. Then breathe out softly and smoothly. Relax.
7. Accept the negative, and understand that it is a healthy part of your natural being
Negative emotions are natural. As the rains that fall to nourish the land, your negative emotions must be released to nourish your mind and soul.
When you try to force negativity out, you actually let negativity deeper in. It’s a paradox.
To be a healthy whole, you must accept the whole. You cannot only accept the parts of you that you like. That forces your mind to split in two. Only by accepting the fullness of your existence can you become a healthy, unified whole.
Negativity will never vanish. It is always there. And that’s good. Because your negative emotions offer insight into your own mind.
8. Learn from the negative emotion
You have taken three deep breaths. You’ve meditate on those breaths. And you have relaxed.
Your mind is calm and open. You are receptive to the fullness of your existence.
Now is the time to awaken to the message your negative emotion is sending.
Take in one deep breath. Tell yourself, “I am receiving the message my spirit is sending.”
9. Listen with curiosity
Most emotions exist as a bridge. The bridge is the gap between where you are now and where you think you should be.
Negative emotions tell us two things. They tell us where we are in comparison where we thought we would be. And they tell us where we will be later compared to where we should be later.
Negativity represents a division between mind and reality.
Is we thought we’d be a million by age 30, and we’re actually struggling to pay off a loan, the mind creates negative emotions, saying “I am not where I said I would be.”
Negative emotions also inform us of where we are heading compared to where we want to be heading. “I want to become famous, but at this rate I’ll end up being nobody.”
In both those instances you have where you would like to be (now or late) and where you are OR where you will be.
Your negative emotions are essentially telling you “Hey. I’m going the wrong direction here. I need to rethink this.”
Now you know the purpose behind your negative emotions, you can use them.
To teach is to empower.
Your negative emotions are teaching you ways to improve your actions. And they’re empowering you to make real world changes.
10: Accept what the negative emotion is telling you. Appreciate it. Use it
You now know that your negative emotions are actually helping you. They’re saying “Hey. Heading the wrong direction. Please change the route.”
It’s like your negative emotions are a GPS. They know where you are. They know where you want to be. So they tell you how to get from A to B.
The moment you accept those negative emotions you can achieve genuine and lasting changes.
Your negative emotions are saying “This job’s kill me.” Okay. Find a way to change your job. Or stick with the job and make it healthier and more enjoyable.
Your negative emotions are saying “I’m going to get ill if I don’t start exercising.” Great. Start exercising and you’ll feel better.
Your negative emotions are saying “I’m not spending enough time with the kids.” Fantastic. Find a way to work more family time into your schedule.
This process is one of the best ways how to remain positive in negative times and when you have negative energy.
Mindfulness is the best way of producing inner peace and stopping reactivity.
With mindfulness we gain control of the mind. We stop being the observed, and become the observer. This can make a world of difference in times of personal crisis. It’s like we’re stepping out of the frantic tides of emotions, and sitting calmly on the shore to observe what’s happening.
With mindfulness I found my happiness once again. I reconnected with good me. I fought hard to become the person I needed to be and to beat depression. And I succeeded. I became stronger, the type of guy my girlfriend deserved.
We got back together a month later. We’ve now been together for nine years.