Positive emotions lead to positive changes

When I was a young pup before my sport psychology days, I worked at Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort. I held a few different positions at that ski resort in the years I worked there, one of which was to help organize the kids ski program.

In that position, one of my tasks was to do a daily inventory of the yurt where the kids ate lunch. I had a checklist to take stock of how many supplies we had and what we would need to replenish for the next day.

Fast forward to today and my daily inventory mostly consists of making sure there is enough coffee for the next morning(!), but I’m going to challenge you to do a different kind of inventory. When you “take inventory” you are checking to see what items you have on hand so you know what to REFILL. You are also checking to see if you have any overstock so you can decide what you want to REMOVE. For your daily inventory— you’re going to take stock by counting how many times you berated yourself or judged yourself today, versus how many times you congratulated yourself or celebrated yourself. What does your inventory look like?

Does it look more like this:

  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Well that was stupid.
  • Why did you do that?
  • Why are you being so ridiculous?

Or like this:

  • You are amazing.
  • I am so proud of you.
  • You’ve done an incredible job.
  • Look how far you have come.

Enter the numbers of times:

Positive _

Negative _

(But don’t actually write on your computer screen because then you’ll have to add a few more to the negative side.)

Guess which ones you want to REFILL and which ones you want to REMOVE? The emotional landscape you surround yourself with is critical to examine when you are contemplating a change you want to make. Let’s say for example that the behavior you want to change is drinking more water in order to stay hydrated. What is the typical dialogue that coincides when you think about making this behavior change? When you think about something that you’ve been wanting to do and haven’t done, your inner dialogue is often littered with statements like:

  • What is wrong with me?
  • Why can’t I just do this?
  • It’s not that hard.
  • I’m always failing at this.
  • Whatever, how important is it anyway?

Other times the dialogue surrounding the behavior change has to do with fear and shame that comes from your internal dialogue, or from external sources.

Behold— my google search:

  • “You’re not drinking enough water” = 109,000 results
  • “Nice job drinking water” = 4 results

(I really did this search.)

The language you use matters. Your internal dialogue matters. Long-lasting behavior change won’t happen if you have it rooted in the motivation of guilt, fear, shame, and regret. Behavioral scientists will tell you that more than anything else, our emotions are what create our habits. There is a much greater likelihood that you will make a lasting behavior change when you pair it with positive emotions rather than pairing it with negative ones. Here are two ways infuse some positive vibes into your emotional landscape:

Highlight Your Progress

When you are working on a goal, does it feel more motivating to look at how far you have to go, or how far you have come? Making this shift changes your perspective and helps you think more positively about the future. If you miss a day or two, or even a week or two, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to give up altogether. Beating yourself up about it is a sure way to be having the same conversation with yourself next year. Just get back at it (and celebrate when you do!). Lasting behavior change sometimes needs to go through a few of these cycles before it sticks. Change is a process.

Celebrate success

The other way to infuse some positive vibes into the process is to celebrate that progress. Behavioral scientist BJ Fogg suggests celebrating the moment you remember to do the habit, while you’re doing the habit, and immediately after in order to speed things along.

A few ideas:

  • Give yourself a fist bump in the mirror (use with caution, especially when excited).
  • Pat yourself on the back and say “Nice job kid! Way to get after it!”
  • Throw your arms above your head and yell “Victory!”
  • Do your end zone happy dance (and please share videos of this).
  • Imagine a huge audience applauding you as you humbly thank the crowd.

You’ve decided that this is important and you’re going after this goal. If this is a positive change in your life, then why wouldn’t you root your efforts in positive emotions? REFILL on highlighting progress and celebrating success and REMOVE judging yourself and being your own worst critic.

Here are some other good reads on creating good vibes and what to REFILL and REMOVE:

What do you most pay attention to (and should you be?)

Where are you “parking” your thoughts?

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