Author Archives: Eric Karpinski

Do You Feel Lucky? Finding the Right Counter-Fact

Imagine this scenario:  You walk into a bank where there are 50 other people.  A robber walks in and fires his weapon once.  You are shot in the right arm.

If you were honestly describing this event to your friends and coworkers the next day, do you describe it as lucky or unlucky?   Stop reading for a minute – what evidence would you use to come to that decision?

…Shawn Achor, bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage, uses this exercise in corporate trainings all over the world.  He found that 70% of respondents say they were unlucky.  Their responses?

“I could have walked into any bank, at any time.  This kind of thing almost never happens.  How unlucky is it that I happened to be there?  AND that I was shot?!”

“There’s a bullet in my arm; that’s objectively unfortunate.”

“In entered the bank perfectly healthy and I left in an ambulance.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not my idea of a good time.”

On the other hand, the remaining 30% of respondents claim that they were very lucky indeed with responses like:

“I could have been shot somewhere far worse than my arm.  I could have died.  I feel incredibly fortunate.”

“It’s amazing that no one else got hurt.  There were lots of other people in the bank, including children.  It’s unbelievably lucky that everybody lived to tell the tale. “

No matter which side you took, you invented a counter-fact, an alternative scenario that your brain made up to help make sense of what really happened.

The “unlucky” group compared the real scenario to not being shot at all.  In that case, getting shot really does seem terrible.  The “lucky” group’s counter-fact was something much worse — getting shot in the head or someone dying.

What’s important here is that these counter-facts are completely made up.   They are pure fiction; neither of those scenarios actually happened.  Realizing this gives YOU the power to make up whatever counter-fact you want.  If the first counter-fact induces fear, loss or disappointment, open up your mind to an alternative scenario, one that makes you feel better.

This past Monday,  I was giving a Science of Happiness talk to a nonprofit organization at lunchtime.  Like with most groups, many appeared engaged and excited, and a few looked really skeptical or, even worse, bored.

My first thought was, “Why isn’t everyone seeing the amazing power of this science?  I need to revamp this presentation so it can be more convincing.”

The disappointment and self-critique I felt came from my counter-fact: “Everyone should get this stuff and it’s my job to be sure they do.”   What a stressful perfectionist thing to think!

So I tried this counter-fact instead: “What if I didn’t come at all?  The people who are really engaged wouldn’t learn any of this.  If even half of the people that are listening actually make the small changes I suggest, I may have significantly increased the happiness of 10 people.  How awesome is that!?!?”    Suddenly, I felt motivated and excited and proud.  .

Another example that Shawn uses in his Happiness Advantage training DVD is this: Imagine you have to stay late at work.  If you compare yourself to being at home with your family or out with your friends, you’ll believe you’re in a bad situation and consider yourself unfortunate.

But if you compare yourself to other people who have to work late every day or to people who don’t have a job in this crappy economy, you can see yourself as the lucky one and it will help you feel better in the short term.

But more importantly, when your brain realizes there are multiple ways to view something, it takes energy away from the negative stress part of your brain and activates the part of your brain that can strategize.  This jumpstarts your cognitive skills and creativity so you can get your work done more efficiently and quickly get home to your family.

So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, think about being lucky.  Notice the counter-facts you choose this week: what are you comparing your situation to?  What would a “lucky” person compare their situation to?  Which works better for you?


Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Choosing your Board of Directors

As you practice listening to those voices in your head (Think we’re talking about visiting Crazy Town?  We’re not; read about how we all have voices in our head here. link), you’ll start to notice some consistent messages or themes.  One powerful way to manage those repeated messages from your mind is to externalize and personify those voices.  Think about them as your Board of Directors – helping you guide your life.

Give them a name and personality. 

Sometimes you might know the exact source of that voice – it could be Critical Mom or Judgmental Neighbor.  Or it could be a stereotypical caricature.  But pay attention: who is trying to influence your decisions?  Give them names and try to understand their biases.  Let me introduce you to two members of my Board of Directors:

  • Mr. MBA – Mr. MBA is a hard-driving perfectionist, the combination of the worst stereotypes of my Wharton MBA classmates.   “If you are going to do it, you have to do it right.”  “These opportunities don’t come along often, don’t mess this up.”  “If you can’t make a ton of money doing this, what’s the point?”  This is the voice that pushes me to constantly plan and revise and add more to every project I take on.  And it’s never enough.  When I let this Director take over the management of my life, there is no rest, no chance to recharge and no time for celebrating victories.
  • Everybody Loves Eric — This is the voice that is looking everywhere for affirmation of who I am and what I’m doing.  “That person in the second row doesn’t seem engaged. They must not like this talk.  Let me focus on them and see how I can get them to like it, too.”  “That was stupid thing to say!  No one is going to listen to you now!”  “What are my old work colleagues going to think of me leaving a well-paying career for this struggle?”  “I bet this guy thinks I’m just trying to sell him something.”  When I let Everybody Loves Eric drive the bus, I live in constant fear of being discovered as a fraud or needing to make everyone like me.  I spend inordinate amounts of time thinking through all possible reactions to my activities or my talks and end up significantly diluting my message.

Listen to your board of directors, but don’t take ALL their advice

So think about these characters as your Board of Directors.  Each is trying to help you in their way. They want you to be safe, successful or not get embarrassed.  Give them credit for the help they are providing and honor their intentions.  But remember that you are the CEO of your life.  Your Board is there to give advice, NOT to make all the decisions.

When I let these guys drive the bus, there is a constant buzz of ‘it’s not enough’ and I find myself sitting down to do work at every spare minute or thinking through possible situations ad nauseam.   That’s not what I went into my own business for.

So when I notice Mr. MBA or Everybody Loves Eric start to get excited and tell me all the things I need to do, I thank them for the great advice.  Their past ideas have helped me be very successful and connected in my life and career.  But then I consider my other needs and desires and make a conscious decision about what I want to do.

Add desired voices to your Board of Directors.  

If your team is full of voices that create stress and negativity, do what any healthy organization does and recruit some new members.

I recently brought on my friend, 80:20.  He’s constantly reminding me (and the rest of the team) that 20% of the work will get 80% of the benefit.   And that it’s infinitely better to push an imperfect project out into the world than work to optimize every detail and possibly give up because it’s not good enough yet.  No one benefits in that scenario.

Of course Mr. MBA’s got a strong voice from the long-tenured role he’s played in my head, so I have to actively encourage 80:20 to step up.  And each time I do, he gets a little more confidence.

Find new Directors to bring onto your team that push you in the direction you want to go.  And encourage their input whenever you can.

It’s your job to be the CEO of your life.  Allow your Board to have their say and to glean what you can from their advice.  But the buck stops with you, not with those voices.  You get to decide.  So slow down and listen to all the input.  Then make a conscious decision before jumping into action.  This simple idea can take you a long way towards living the life you want.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.


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Taking on the Voices in Your Head

Let’s be real here.  We ALL hear voices in our head. They tell us all kinds of things – that that we should try harder, how we can be “safe” and sometimes, if we’re lucky, they tell us we did a great job.  But often these voices trigger a negative spiral, taking one minor thing and fabricating an entire story that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Today we’ll be discussing some tactics for quieting those voices (or at least minimizing their impact!).

Be a detective

First take time to listen in on what you are saying to yourself.  Sometimes our thought patterns turn so quickly with our negative emotions, that we don’t even realize we’re causing the downward spiral ourselves.  Next time you find yourself becoming demotivated, nervous or sad, listen in to those thoughts carefully.  What are you saying to yourself?

For example, last week I didn’t even start a project that I’d planned on finishing, and I noticed I was feeling stressed and down on myself.  So, I listened in to the flood of thoughts that was quietly going on in the background… “I never stay on schedule. I let myself get distracted too easily.  I ALWAYS take so much more time to do things than I should.   I just have to face that I’m lazy and unfocused.  I’m never going to get this new project launched.  I may as well not even try.”

Put it in neutral

Research shows that we do our best self-assessment when our brains are set to neutral or positive; when we’re in a negative space, we do a poor job accurately assessing a situation. I had to break that grip of rumination (link) with a healthy distraction, so I accelerated my planned lunchtime walk.  When I got back, I felt better and ready to tackle my negative self-talk.

Externalize that voice and ARGUE with it

Imagine an actual person is saying those things to you.  Would you let a work colleague talk to you like that?  Would you just sit and take it if your neighbor started in with those statements?

Heck.  No.

You’d stand up for yourself and counter each of their arguments.  So don’t let the voices in your head get away with speaking to you in that tone or saying those outrageous things.  Fight back.

It took me over 30 years to realize that not every thought that went through my head was true or worthy of believing.  Sometimes, my mind can be mean-spirited and aggressive.   So when the voices in your head are taking you down a path you don’t want to go, turn and fight those assertions.  Dispute those thoughts like a good lawyer by using the following:

Use the real facts

What’s true about your situation and what is conjecture?  For me, I missed my deadline.  That’s true.  But the idea that I never meet my deadlines?   Completely false.  As soon as I start to look for evidence to the contrary, I find it.   When I bring up the fact that I’ve posted my newsletter on time EVERY WEEK for the past 6 months, the idea that I can’t meet deadlines is laughable.

So take a good look at that negative self-talk and seek out the evidence to refute those statements.  You will often find that your mind isn’t playing fair. It’s your job to show it the big picture.

Alternative interpretations

Most events have many causes.  What are the other possible explanations for why an event happened?

Did I click over to CNN or Facebook when I should have been working this week?  Sure.  But it was also our first week back after vacation and I had ALL of my clients scheduled on the same week.  I also lost a whole work day because the kids were off school on Friday.   I didn’t get that project started because I had a lot less time than usual, not because I am lazy or too easily distracted.

Remember that it won’t be as bad as you think

Our minds are great at taking a few real facts and leading us down dark paths.   Yes, I missed a deadline, but does that mean I should quit the whole project?  Or, as I think in some of my darker times, that I should quit this whole happiness thing and go back to the comfortable money of my old career?  No way.  Yet when our brains are set to negative, potential catastrophes can seem reasonable.  Once out of the fog, ask yourself the likelihood that the worst case scenario will actually come true.

Even if the worst case happens, will it be as bad as we imagine?  Here, the research is very clear.  Work from Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, shows that we are terrible at estimating how bad we are going to feel.  When a relationship ends or we don’t get that promotion, we feel bad, yes, but not nearly as bad or for as long as we imagined.

Thousands of years of evolution have made us really good at adapting to even the most extreme circumstances.   Often knowing that you’ll be able to adapt to the worst case scenario takes away some of its power to produce fear and anxiety.

Your task this week:  Listen in a little more closely to those voices.  Evaluate those statements as if they are coming from someone external.  Then explore how reasonable they are and practice some of the tools above.  These are some of most powerful ways to fight gratuitous negativity (link) and they will get stronger with practice!

Check in next week as we explore some more ways to counter those voices.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.


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Rumination: Your Brain on a Hamster Wheel

I woke at 3:30 this morning with a wave of anxiety and stress.  Since I’ve been reading a lot about anxiety recently (in my on-going “exploration” of insomnia and perfectionism – link), I took a minute to listen to my self–talk.  It sounded something like this:

“It’s Wednesday morning and the first draft of the newsletter is not even done …I’m going to be scrambling right up to the deadline again…   I’m not going to have time to do a good job with all my other commitments today…  I bet there will be a ton of un-subscribers after this crappy newsletter comes out… Maybe doing a post every week is too much…  Maybe I should just quit writing; I’m not good at it anyway…   I’ve been planning on getting ahead of the newsletter schedule for months.  Ha!… What a failure I am …  Now I’ve wasted another hour lying in bed, not sleeping and NOT making any progress… Why do I do this to myself? … How am I ever going to get this written?…”

This is rumination.  It’s your brain on a hamster wheel – cycling round and round and getting nowhere.  Studies show that when we are sad or angry or anxious, our brain selectively calls to mind negative thoughts which further intensify the negative emotion.  That’s what was happening to me in my groggy, middle-of-the-night awakening – the negative thoughts brought me more anxiety, which induced more intense negative thoughts, cycling into a deeper and deeper hole.

Negativity distorts our view of the world making it impossible to think straight or see the big picture.   Though we try to ‘think our way out’ of these challenges, our brains are simply incapable of doing this consistently.  So the key is to break the rumination cycle. Here are a couple proven ways to do this:

Healthy Distractions

Get engaged in something else, something that completely absorbs you.  Physical activities are great – go for a swim, do a little yoga or take a brisk walk.  Mini social opportunities are good too; call a friend and ask about something fun in their lives or engage in a game with your kids.  Make a list of engaging distractions that you can use – it can be something from your happiness list (link) that brings you joy but neutral activities such as reading articles for work or doing a Sudoku puzzle can make a difference as long as they engage you.

Since rumination can happen anytime, anywhere, it’s helpful to have these distractions with you wherever you are – so keep those running shoes in the car, load your iPod up with your favorite music, and have a puzzle app on your phone.  Just a couple minutes of fully engaging in another activity is usually enough to pull you out of your emotional nosedive.

Just Holler STOP

Another effective method is to yell STOP in your head.   Just telling yourself, “I should stop thinking this” isn’t enough.  It’s got to be your-child-is-running-towards-a-busy-street level of STOP.

When I started using this, I couldn’t get my internal voice strong enough to break my incessant thoughts, so I practiced by bringing up stressful thoughts on purpose and actually shouting ‘stop’ out loud (in a room by myself, of course, can you imagine my kids’ confusion otherwise?)

When you get enough energy into that stop, it literally stops all thoughts for a couple seconds.   That internal voice gets shocked into quiet.  Once you get there, focus on a couple deep belly breaths and bring to mind a positive memory (it’s good to make a list of 10-20 of these so you don’t wear out any specific one).   As I’ve moved forward with the practice, I’ve learned to retain the power of it, but silently (which is fortunate since I find myself using it out in public at times :)).  Once you get good at this, it can transition you out of rumination (or any undesirable thought pattern) in just a couple minutes.

Then What?

Once we break the grip of rumination, the power of those thoughts often recedes with little to no more effort on our part.  As you re-set your brain to neutral or positive, those invasive thoughts often seem silly and our path forward becomes clear.  (Most of us have experienced this the morning after a night of rumination: “Why was I up for hours worried about THAT?!”)

Other times, what set us spiraling down may be waiting in the wings for another chance at us.  This is when we tap tapping into other tools for managing those negative thoughts.  Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as we learn the art of arguing against our thoughts.

Eric K arpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

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Focus on What IS Working in Your Relationship


One of the most significant conclusions from the positive psychology research is that other people matter to our happiness.  Anyone in a committed relationship knows well that our partner can have a HUGE effect on our emotions.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve asked my good friend, San Diego relationship and intimacy expert, Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, to be the guest writer for the newsletter this week.  She shares one of the best ways to bring more positivity into our primary relationship. – Eric


Complain. Bitch. Moan.

It is easy to complain when we have been in a relationship for a while. When dating, everything is new and exciting about our partner, and we are more likely to express our gratitude. However, in the long run, we often take for granted the positive aspects of the relationship. But before you start blaming yourself here, consider that this negativity bias is genetically influenced. As a survival mechanism, we are programmed, just like other animals, to notice what is wrong or not working. Unfortunately, this negativity bias can be a real drag in a relationship if you are on the receiving end of continuous complaints.

I suggest consciously making a shift from being in a relationship that is based on survival, to a relationship that is about thriving. Try focusing on what is working instead of what is not working. This is a strengths-based approach to perceiving your partner. When you consciously choose to see what is already strong and positive, you can break through your negativity bias and prime yourself for even more optimism. Choosing optimism is a much stronger foundation for the relationship to continue to grow and evolve.

A practical way to put this shift into action is to write a list of at least 20 things you appreciate about your partner. What are his/her strengths? Positive characteristics? What traits made you fall in love? Share your lists with each other, and post them in a place where you will see them often. Another way to integrate greater positivity into your relationship is to end each day with sharing two or three appreciations with your partner. What did he/she do that day that you appreciated? Did your partner nurture you? Spend quality time? Make you laugh? Take turns going first each night. If you find yourself continuing to struggle with negativity, every time you file a complaint, take on the challenge of also finding two ways to compliment your partner.

Making these activities a regular part of your interactions will infuse your relationship with a conscious positivity. Not only will this assist you both in recognizing each other’s strengths, it also makes you feel appreciated, and opens your hearts and brains to greater resiliency and creativity in the relationship. These are all key components to growing and thriving!

Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, Sociologist, Relationship & Intimacy Counselor
Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube: DrJennsDen


P.S.  Dr. Jenn is the writer and host of an AWESOME video series about sex, intimacy, communication, relationships, and play.  It is fun, educational and highly entertaining.  Check it out here.   You can also sign up to her witty and informative monthly newsletter here.

Act the Way You Want to Feel

Did you know that an artificially induced smile (biting a pencil lengthwise without touching it with your lips) can make you happier?  Or that botox treatment, which paralyzes frowning muscles, makes it harder to feel angry or sad?

Most of us believe that our actions follow from how we feel, but in fact we often feel because of the way we act.   And this provides one of the simplest and most powerful tools for changing how we feel.

Last week we talked about how to differentiate necessary from gratuitous negativity [check it out here].  Today, we’re going to talk about one of the simplest ways to reduce gratuitous negative emotions: simply act the way you want to feel.

Your brain seeks consistency between your physical body and your emotional state.  When they are out of sync, your brain works to bring them into alignment with each other.

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”   – William James

So next time you want to feel differently, try ACTING the way you want to feel, even if it feels forced at first.  If you want to feel happier, put on a fake smile– activating those smile muscles has been shown to release neurochemicals that make you feel happier.   If you want to feel more energetic, jump into an activity with both feet and fully participate.

If you want to feel confident, stand up straight, look people in the eye and use an assertive handshake.  If you want to feel relaxed, breathe deeply in the belly and systematically release the tension in your shoulders and face muscles.  These activities, even when they don’t initially fit with how you feel, can induce the emotion you want – to make you feel happier, more energetic, confident or relaxed.



Word of caution

This isn’t the same as the old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  Yes, go ahead and fake it, but only for a short period of time – a few minutes at most.  If it doesn’t take initially, try again a few minutes or an hour later, but if that still doesn’t work, STOP trying.  Studies have shown that maintaining this inconsistency causes a lot of stress within the body.  In fact, regularly faking emotions that you don’t feel, can be as bad for your health as the stress of continuous anger.

Implementing an act the way you want to feel stategy:

  1. First, acknowledge what you are feeling [review details here].
  2. Determine if the negativity you are feeling is necessary or gratuitous [review here]
  3. If gratuitous, try to act the way you want to feel as described above
  4. If that doesn’t work, move on to one of the other tools that I’ll be discussing in upcoming weeks.  (Watch for my teleclass on this subject in March, too!)

Stay tuned next week as we take a short break from managing negativity for a pre-Valentine’s Day edition of the newsletter with guest co-writer, Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus (, a relationship and intimacy counselor and educator.   We’ll be exploring how to get more happiness within your primary relationship.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

“Good Sad” vs. “Bad Sad”

We all know that negative emotions are a part of life.  Last week I posted about the importance of noticing negative emotions, naming them, and giving them space to be (see the post here).

Today I want to talk about the difference between two types of negative emotions: necessary (e.g. “good sad/mad/hurt/grief”) and gratuitous (e.g. “bad sad/mad/hurt/grief”).  Understanding which type of negativity we feel determines tools and processes to use to help us get back to a neutral or positive emotional state.









Necessary Negativity  (Some call this essential, authentic or appropriate negativity)

Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life.   It grounds us in reality; facing the truth allows us to move forward with our lives. For example, it is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something doesn’t go your way.

These inescapable discomforts can be seen as the ‘first darts’ of human existence; they cannot be avoided.  If you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel these negative emotions.  The research is clear that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives.

Learning how to acknowledge and experience these negative emotions in a healthy way has been well-studied and we’ll be talking about them in detail in a few weeks.

Gratuitous Negativity

As if these “first darts” aren’t enough,  our active little minds often multiply the negative emotions we feel by adding layer upon layer of gratuitous negativity.  These ‘second darts’ are the ones we throw ourselves.

For example, on top of an authentic disappointment that we didn’t get a promotion at work (first dart), we can add a cascade of second darts…

“I’m not good enough.”

“I knew I should have done x instead of y.”

“Why don’t I ever get anything I want?”

“He stole that promotion from me.”

“Oh God, this is the first step to me getting fired and then we’ll have to sell the house and move in with the in-laws.  Everyone will know what a failure I am.”

Sound familiar?  Our cute little brains make up all these stories about why something happened that over-generalizes an experience (“This always happens!”  “I never get to…”) or catastrophisizes it (“And then I’ll be homeless and alone…”) or assumes victim-hood (“She did this to me!”)

Here’s this week’s challenge: Next time you notice feeling bad (sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, put upon, impotent, outraged, whatever), try to distinguish the necessary negativity (first darts from the outside world) from the gratuitous negativity of our reactions (second darts).

Listen to what you are telling yourself and ask: “What part of what I’m feeling is based on an outside, empirical fact that legitimately sucks?  And what part of what I’m feeling is based on unreasonable expectations or irrational stories?”   Many people find that just adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous can significantly reduce the amount of negativity they experience.

Over the next several weeks we’ll be discussing some of the best tools for reducing gratuitous negativity.  Stay tuned!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness

A key component of being happy is learning how to manage our negative emotions: sadness, fear, anger, worry, guilt, grief, frustration, and all those other emotions that make us feel icky.  And let’s be clear; when I say “manage” negative emotions, I don’t mean “squash down into oblivion so that you can pretend like everything is rosy and be a fake, plastic kind of happy.”

We all know that if you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel negative emotions.  You have to give yourself permission to be human and not push away all these experiences, many of which will teach you valuable things and allow you to grow and learn.

But there’s a difference between being authentically disappointed that you weren’t chosen for that promotion/team/party/friendship, and expanding that disappointment into a story that you are worthless and no one ever liked you and no one ever will, etc. etc.  (We’ve all been there; don’t deny it!).

I’ll be talking about managing negativity for the next couple months.  To kick it off, I want to share some top-level ideas.

Be Aware

Noticing when we are in a negative emotional state is the first step; if you are not aware, how can you change?  Often when we are feeling negative emotions, they bubble along in the background.  When this happens, we sometimes react on autopilot and snap at loved ones or ruminate incessantly.  This keeps us mired in that negative space.  There is nothing you can do about your negativity if you don’t notice it.  So make a practice of checking in with your own emotional state on a regular basis.

Let’s check in now.  What are you feeling at this moment?

If you often fall into negative emotional space without noticing, spend a couple weeks actively checking in.  Set your phone alarm or outlook alert to go off every hour and see what you are feeling.  Or post little sticky notes around your house, car and on computer screen.  Each time you notice one, check in.  When I did this exercise a few months ago, I realized how often I had anxious feelings and was tightening my shoulders and catching my breath.  Awareness is the first step.

Name That Tune (or Emotion)

Brain scans show that verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of negative emotions by engaging the thinking side of the brain.  Once you notice that you are in a negative space, call it out.  Pause and figure out which negative emotion you are feeling (is it disappointment or frustration?  Anxiety or nervousness?). Verbalize it to yourself or a friend. Consciously think, or say, “I’m feeling anxious,” “I’m feeling angry,” or “I’m feeling sad.”

After you name the emotion, pause for a minute and see what it feels like.  Where do you notice it in your body?  Is it butterflies in your stomach?  Is it tightness in the chest?  Are your muscles tensing?  What happens as you bring your attention to it, does it change?  Does it become more intense or less?  Whatever you feel, give it some space to be there, even if only for a few moments.

Let It Be

Often when we notice a negative emotion, we move to squash it as soon as we can. We react, “I don’t want to feel this! Go away!”  But the research is clear: when we suppress our negative emotions, our misery multiplies and (counter-intuitively) it inhibits our ability to feel positive emotions.  But when we give those negative emotions some space to be felt and to grow and change, it opens up the path for positive emotions to flow too.

Make a Decision

Once we notice, name and allow the negative emotion to exist, then we can decide what we want to do.  We may WANT to stay in that space for a while to be angry or sad.  That’s fine.  (You might take yourself away, however, to not inflict your own emotional pain on innocent bystanders or family members).

At some point, seconds or hours or days later, you will want to get back to a neutral or positive space.  We’ll be spending the next couple months going through the tools of how to move through this negativity and provide a healthy path to getting back to positive.  We’ll kick this off next week by categorizing the kind of negativity we are feeling – whether it is gratuitous or necessary.  This initial evaluation will set us on the best path forward.

BTW, If you have thought about inviting friends to join you on this list, this is a good time to do it.  What I’ll be sharing over the next couple months is powerful and worth taking some time with.  And it will be much easier to start at the beginning!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Negative Emotions, or “Adventures in Insomnia…”

Some people find it interesting that I spend significant time in my workshops and talks discussing negative emotions:  “You’re supposed to be the Happiness Coach, right?”

But effectively managing negativity is a central strategy for becoming happier.  And it’s not about ignoring the bad stuff or covering over it.  In fact, it’s the opposite; research has found that the happiest people acknowledge their negative emotions and consciously embrace some of that negativity.

I’ve been getting a lot of practice with this recently (oh, joy…).  I have struggled with sleep maintenance insomnia (meaning I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep) for years.  I’d managed my insomnia using Benedryl but wanted to get off the drug, so decided to quit cold turkey (on Thanksgiving, no less!).   Like most people, when I don’t get enough sleep, my mood tanks and the world looks like a hopeless/uncaring/overwhelming place.  After my sleep fell off precipitously, I cycled deep into negativity throughout December and these first weeks of January (merry Christmas to me…).

In a spurt of panic/proactivity (did you notice that re-framing?), I hired a coaching colleague*, who was a practicing psychologist in a past career.  In our work together over the last few weeks, I realized that my insomnia was a symptom of significant underlying anxiety.

Doh!  Double whammy.   Now I had two problems to manage rather than just one.  Not only was I sleep-deprived and cranky, but I had a diagnosable problem that shook the very roots of my own sense of awesomeness.  Now, I find myself faced with a tidal wave of negative emotions and thoughts: ‘I’ll never sleep again.’  ‘I’m such an impatient and anger-prone dad.’  ‘How am I going to get all this work done with so little energy?’ and ‘I don’t want to be feeling this!’

Before my revelation, I had been planning on using the newsletter during the next few months to share the best of the research on managing negative emotions.   Now I get to share that information while simultaneously USING much of it to manage my own negativity, anxiety and insomnia.  So tune in over the next few weeks to learn about necessary vs. gratuitous negativity, healthy distractions, disputation and when to act the way you want to feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


* BTW, my new coach, Sharon Esonis, Ph.D. is a leader in the positive psychology field.  She’s written a book on the subject and has a very useful and informative monthly newsletter.  You can learn about her book and sign up for her newsletter on her website here (sign up form is halfway down the left column).   ​


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Transforming Resolutions into Lasting Habits, Part 2, the Science of Sustainable Change

Last week, I shared three proven ways to successfully transform a resolution into a sustainable habit:

1.      Pick one thing at a time

2.      Give yourself two months

3.      Start easy.

Click here to read more about the first three in detail.

I am offering a free teleclass on forming lasting habits THIS EVENING (Jan 5, 2012) at 6pm PT/9pm ET.  Sign up here and I’ll send call-in details. 

Here are five more scientifically supported methods for making lasting change in your life:

4.      Do the activity at the same time every day.  Decide exactly what you are going to do and commit to a specific time to do it.  Put it on your calendar and protect that time.  Multiple studies have shown that committing to a specific activity at a specific time doubles the likelihood of the committed action being performed.  We’re simply more likely to follow through when we decide ahead of time how and when it’s going to happen.  Over time, by performing the action at the same time each day, our bodies and minds adapt and prepare for the action.  This helps lock in new neuro-pathways more quickly, allowing the new habit to become more automatic and unconscious.  Whether it’s going on a jog as soon as you wake up, meditating immediately after dinner or writing in a gratitude journal right before bed, commit to exactly what you want to do and when you are going to do it.

5.      Reduce the activation energy for habits you want and increase it for habits you don’t want.  This simply means take away any barriers from the activities you want to do and increase the barriers to habits you want to break.   For example:

  • Decide your morning workout plan before you go to bed.  Sleep in your (clean!) workout clothes.  Put your shoes right next to your bed.  Have your gym bag fully packed and by the door with your car keys and wallet.  With no decisions to make in your groggy morning state, you’ll be much more likely to get up and do it.
  • Store the TV remote control in the closet.  Ask yourself during those 20 seconds it takes to fetch it, whether TV is really what you want to do with your time.  Even better — put that book you want to read in the place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

6.      Visibly track your progress.  You can control what you measure.  I used a sticker chart to get my kids to do their morning routines and it worked so well for them that I adapted it for my own use.  Each day that I perform the habit I’m trying to develop, I get a sticker on the blank calendar page taped to my bathroom mirror. It’s empowering to see my success (“Hooray!  I meditated for 3 whole minutes!  Sticker for me!”).    Sometimes I offer myself prizes – a night out dancing or a visit to Dave & Busters — if I can get a certain number of stickers in a month (notice I didn’t set my expectation as “every day”; cut yourself some slack and realize that missing a day – or three – isn’t a deal-killer.)  If shiny little stickers are a bit too silly for you, find some way of visibly tracking your progress.  The key here is that you put it in a place you’ll see it multiple times per day (on the fridge, in the hallway, in your written calendar, next to computer screen, etc.) and that you have some way to track whether you made it or not each day.  It will remind and motivate you to stick with that new routine as it develops into a habit.

7.     Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends, your partner or roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I play for my clients; when they tell me specifically what they are going to do, they are more successful at doing it.  It’s simply in our nature to follow through on commitments when made to others.  Even better is to have a buddy who is trying to integrate the same new habit.  You can do the activity together, if feasible, but a regular check-in can make a huge difference as you forge ahead.  This is particularly powerful in helping you through those days where motivation is not coming naturally.  Social support is an amazing thing.

8. Commit to it.  Once you’ve decided to develop a new habit, the most important thing is that you commit to it.  Really commit.  Visualize what success would look like and what benefits you’d receive by incorporating this new habit into your life.  Then take the time to make a detailed plan of what you are going to do and when.  Start easy and build up to your goal in small steps over time.  Then lock it into your schedule for at least two months.  Create a way to track your success and pull together a team of people who want you to be successful.  Throw your backpack over the wall so there’s no going back, and then start climbing!  Good luck!!!

If you want to read more detail about these ideas and the science that backs them, check out:

  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (specifically principal #5 and #6)
  • The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (specifically Chapter 10)
Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


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