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Psychology + Self Improvement In the 21st Century
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Why You Should Give Your Negative Inner Voice a Name

April 15, 2019 - 7:05am


One of the most fundamental facts to understand about your mind is: you are not your thoughts.

Often we identify very strongly with what we think and everything our inner voice says to us. We hear a whisper in the back of our minds saying, “You’re not good enough,” “You don’t deserve that,” or “You’re a failure.” And we take these statements as true without questioning them.

But thoughts come and go – and we never quite know where their origins are.

Maybe throughout your childhood you’ve heard parents, teachers, or other authority figures tell you “You’re not good enough,” and now your mind spits it back at you years later because it’s become so ingrained in how you think.

But that thought isn’t necessarily you, it could just be a byproduct of your upbringing, your environment, or a particular situation you’ve experienced in your past.

Cognitive defusion is a process of learning how to accept your thoughts while also detaching from them.

This is best illustrated through certain metaphors for our thoughts, such as “clouds passing in the sky” or “water running down a river.” These metaphors show us that our thoughts are always changing. They are temporary experiences that we don’t have to identify with or cling to.

And one great tool for distancing from yourself from your thoughts is to give your negative inner voice a name.


Give Your Negative Inner Voice a Name

When you give your negative inner voice a name, you automatically detach yourself from it by creating a separate identity for it.

It could be a simple name, like “Jimmy.” And then when you find yourself thinking, “You can’t do that,” or “You’re not good enough,” you can just yell back inside your head, “Shut up Jimmy!” or “Not today Jimmy!”

It seems a bit silly, but it can actually be a very fun and effective technique for better managing your thoughts.

We often have competing voices inside our heads telling us what the best thing to do is. We all experience the “angel-vs-devil-on-our-shoulders” phenomenon in some way, so it’s often easier to view it as a funny TV sitcom rather than a deep and tragic personal conflict.

By doing this, we teach ourselves that we can experience a thought without needing to take it too seriously or too personally. You don’t need to agree with every thought that enters your mind.

If you want to take this concept one step further, consider writing out a whole conversation between your “positive self” and “negative self.”

This will not only help you distance yourself from your thoughts, but also serve as a valuable exercise in introspection that can potentially lead to new insights and solutions to your problems.

You could also add a particular face and voice to your “negative self” to go along with its name. Really flesh it out as a fictional character living inside your head.

For example, consider drawing or sketching what you’d imagine your “negative self” would look like. The more specific and concrete you make your “negative self,” the easier it becomes to grasp and manage on a psychological level.

You can also have a lot of fun by changing the tone of your negative inner voice.

In how to let go of negative thinking, I recommend a simple trick of turning your negative voice into something goofy or silly to lessen its power over you. It’s difficult to take a negative thought too seriously when it’s in the voice of Daffy Duck or Gollum.

In many ways, our minds are a playground.

To better manage our thoughts, we have to sometimes be willing to play, have fun, and experiment. And creating unique names, faces, and voices for your thoughts is one powerful way to do this.


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Sharing New Experiences is the Bedrock of All Healthy Long-Term Relationships

April 11, 2019 - 7:01am


Every relationship is a story and every story needs different chapters.

For many long-term relationships, the big challenge is being able to keep creating new chapters rather than getting stuck re-living the old ones. This means keeping things fresh and stimulating, and not falling into the trap of stagnation and boredom.

If a couple is always following the same routine every day – wake up, have breakfast, go to work, come home, watch TV, go to sleep – then they may start to get the feeling that they’ve stopped growing and stopped moving forward as a relationship.

At that point a relationship can still survive, but there’s also the risk that people will slowly grow sick of each other, or perhaps even look for alternatives to keep their lives interesting. Every relationship needs to find its balance between being familiar and comfortable, while also being novel and exciting.

This is why sharing new experiences is the bedrock of all healthy long-term relationships.

No matter how old your relationship is with someone you can always find new things to explore together and experience together. And the more memories you build with someone, the deeper and more meaningful that relationship becomes.

This is because the more you experience with someone, the more chapters you add to your relationship’s story. And as that story grows and expands, you can look back on those memories and be reminded of the strong and unique connection between you and the other person.

This is true for virtually any type of relationship, whether it’s with a loved one, a friend, a family member, or coworker.

For example, have you ever ran into an old friend from childhood who you share a long and rich history with? It’s often incredibly easy to re-spark that friendship simply by reminiscing on all the “good times” you had over the years.

When you build a long history of new experiences with someone, that relationship often sticks with you for the rest of your life.

It’s not difficult to find new experiences to share with someone, you just have to both be open to trying new things for the sake of trying new things.

In one interesting study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers discovered that when couples simply attended an art class or played a board game together, they released oxytocin (which is a hormone in the body often associated with love and bonding).

That’s just one simple example of how engaging in new activities together can play a huge role in building a stronger connection with someone.


Building New Experiences With Someone

There are many different possibilities for keeping your relationship fresh and interesting. Here are a few quick examples of positive experiences you can share with your partner:

  • Try out new restaurants together.
  • Visit museums, art galleries, and historical monuments.
  • Attend a class together (such as a dance class, art class, or learning a new skill).
  • Travel to new places together.
  • Practice cooking a new meal together.
  • Go to concerts to check out new bands.
  • Go on hikes or nature walks together.
  • Collaborate on an art project.
  • Start a movie marathon on rest days (such as only “Western” movies or “Horror” movies).
  • Join a sports league together (bowling, tennis, softball, etc.)
  • Read the same book together.
  • Watch the sunset on a beach.
  • Take a romantic bath together.
  • Have a board game night.
  • Work on home improvement/D.I.Y. projects together.
  • Go skydiving together.
  • Take turns giving each other massages.
  • Have friends over for dinner or a weekend party.
  • Do a puzzle together.
  • Go on a road trip together.
  • Start a campfire in your yard and roast marshmallows.

Most of these suggestions are simple and easy. You don’t need to do anything extraordinary to keep your relationship fresh and interesting. It’s often the little things that can turn into something special over-time.

The important thing is to always be looking for new experiences to share with your partner, whether big or small.

Even just putting a unique twist on ordinary experiences, like eating popcorn with chopsticks, turning chores into a friendly competition, or role-playing different characters in bed, is a great way to keep things fun and exciting.

Ideally, you want to create experiences that you can one day look back on and say, “Remember that time we…?” And then it brings a smile to your face or you have a good laugh about it. Those are the moments that create real meaning in our lives.

Every relationship needs to offer opportunities for individuals to explore, grow, and improve with one another. And the best way to do that is to continue to seek new experiences to share – and continue to build onto your relationship’s story.


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The Power of a “Hard Reset” In Your Life: When It’s Time to Make a Big Change and Start Anew

April 8, 2019 - 7:54am


Whether you’re feeling trapped in your life or you’re just looking to make a major change, sometimes your best option is to start going down a completely new path. This means doing a “hard reset” to your current life and starting from scratch.

A “hard reset” can be any life-changing decision, including (but not limited to): moving to a new place, changing career paths, or ending a marriage or long-term relationship.

None of these decisions are easy or should be taken lightly. A “hard reset” is life-altering and risky by definition. You’re leaving your current life (which is familiar and safe) and willing to take the chance to see what else the world has to offer you.

Your ability to do a “hard reset” depends on a variety of factors, especially your current responsibilities and obligations.

The more responsibilities you have, the more difficult it will be to do a “hard reset.” I certainly wouldn’t recommend someone with a family and children to completely ditch them to “try to find themselves” or something silly like that. That’s just irresponsible and neglectful.

A “hard reset” is a serious decision that requires adequate thought and planning before you jump into it, but it can also be the best decision you ever made if you do it correctly.

I did a “hard reset” several years ago when I moved from New York to Florida. I’ve always lived in New York all my life (grew up on Long Island, went to college in Binghamton, and lived a couple years in Brooklyn), so I was craving a new environment to shake things up in my life, especially while I was still young and in a position to explore.

Thankfully, I didn’t have many obligations in New York. Nothing was keeping me tied there such as taking care of a family, or a long-term career, or serious girlfriend, so it was easy for me to just pack up my things and start anew in a completely different place.

And to be honest, it’s one of the better decisions I’ve made.

The excitement of moving somewhere new, building a new social circle, and exploring a completely new place helped to reinvigorate my life and gave me an extra boost of motivation and inspiration.

We often underestimate how much our daily environment can influence us.

For the longest time, I believed that the only thing that mattered to my well-being was my attitude and mindset, but as I learned more about psychology I discovered that a big part of self improvement is finding the right environment to succeed and flourish.

Completely changing your environment can become a “crash-course” in learning new things, discovering more about yourself, and broadening your perspective of the world.

Yes, we have the power to change our environment – but our environment also has the power to change us. Sometimes throwing yourself into a new environment can be the single, best way to change the direction of your life.

Of course our minds crave what is familiar because we see it as “safe” and “normal,” even if what is familiar is a life of misery, disappointment, frustration, and sadness.

This is why people tend to get stuck in jobs they hate, relationships that are toxic and destructive, and negative living situations in general. It sucks, but most people would rather choose the “evil they know over the evil they don’t know.” And that makes sense…if you think the world is mostly filled with evil.

But I believe the world is filled with a lot of good. And sometimes, you just have to hit that “hard reset” button and start a new life from scratch before you can begin discovering it for yourself.


“Hard Resets” vs. “Soft Resets”

A “hard reset” is a permanent escape from your current life. It’s often a life-altering decision that is difficult to come back from (though not always impossible).

You should only do a “hard reset” if you’re truly ready to leave something behind and take the risk of re-starting some aspect of your life from scratch (whether it’s a career, relationship, or living situation).

A “soft reset” is a temporary escape from your current life.

The most common examples of a “soft reset” would be going on vacation, taking a scheduled break from your relationship or career, or traveling to new places.

A “soft reset” can be a lot less riskier of a decision, but it can still be powerful. Being able to temporarily walk away from your everyday life can help to put things into perspective, re-evaluate your current situation, and re-enter it with a fresh mindset.

Due to the inherent riskiness of a “hard reset,” it is often recommended that you try a “soft reset” first.

Take a short break from your current life and then go back to re-evaluate it. If you still find it unbearable and intolerable, then you can start thinking if a “hard reset” is the right decision for you.

Don’t underestimate the power of a “hard reset” or “soft reset” to change your life. While they are both serious decisions, they can sometimes be the very best decision available to you if you want long-term happiness and success.


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The Value of Solitude: Why We Should Learn How to Be More Comfortable Being Alone

March 28, 2019 - 6:36am


Are you comfortable with solitude and being alone? It could make a big difference in your overall mental health and happiness.

While humans are a social species who naturally crave relationships and social interaction, solitude can often be a necessary counter-balance to our busy and hectic social world.

For many people, being alone can seem like an unpleasant experience. One possible factor is how you score on extroversion, where you often seek to socialize and be around others because it energizes you and makes life interesting. For those people, being alone can often seem boring, pointless, or tedious.

As someone who is more introverted, I’ve always valued my alone time. It not only gives me a break from being around people (who I love, but can often suck the energy out of me), but it also gives me an opportunity to pursue personal interests like reading, writing, making music, or just relaxing with my dog.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescence, not all solitude is a bad thing. While there can be a stigma surrounding solitude, chosen solitude may contribute to personal growth and self-acceptance by leading to activities that promote self-reflection, creative expression, or “spiritual renewal.”

Researchers found that the motivations behind solitude can make a big difference in whether that solitude is healthy or unhealthy. If you’re spending time alone because you lack friends, don’t like people, or have social anxiety, then your solitude is less of a choice and it can have damaging effects leading to loneliness and depression.

However, those who seek solitude for positive reasons such as self-reflection, a desire for peace and quiet, or to pursue personal interests (like creative hobbies) benefit much more from spending time alone.

These benefits are true for both introverts and extroverts, although introverts often need it to a greater degree.

The main lesson of these findings is that there is an important value in solitude. And if you’re someone who likes to spend a lot of time alone, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.

Another potential lesson behind these findings is that if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy any type of solitude, it may be something worth pursuing more of.

Some people like to avoid being alone with their thoughts at any cost. In one study, participants were more likely to choose a small electric shock rather than have to spend just 5 minutes alone in a room without their cellphone, TV, or any type of distraction.

This constant need to distract ourselves from our own minds can be unhealthy. Perhaps some people fear what they may think or discover if they are left alone with their thoughts, but mental health requires being able to fully engage with our minds without feeling the need to run away or distract ourselves.

Solitude doesn’t have to be boring or unpleasant either.

There are plenty of everyday activities that put you into a natural state of reflection, such as going for a walk through nature, watching a sunset, driving in your car, doing chores around the house, or just laying down and listening to music.

You don’t have to run off to a cave in Tibet and meditate for 30 days to experience the benefits of solitude. There are positive opportunities for solitude all around us if we make the time for it.

Overall, solitude can be a healthy and valuable thing. And it’s important that everyone becomes more comfortable with spending time alone every now and then, because it can be an important avenue for self-discovery and self-growth.

How comfortable are you with being alone?


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How to Take Bad Advice: Staying Calm When People Give You Terrible Solutions

March 21, 2019 - 6:38am


The world is filled with bad advice. We often have to listen to this bad advice on a daily basis, whether it’s from family, friends, coworkers, bosses, or even a random acquaintance.

This is especially true for those who struggle with their mental health. Often people don’t understand how difficult and complicated these problems can be for us, so they try to help by giving vague and over-simplistic solutions like, “Just be positive!” or “Just smile more!” or “Just be yourself!” or “Just relax!”

But when someone is in a bad mood, this advice can often backfire immensely.

When someone is really stressed out or anxious about something, telling them “Just relax” is probably the last thing they want to hear. Often that just makes them more stressed out and flustered. It heightens their negative feelings, not helps them.

In the heat of the moment, it can be really difficult to swallow bad advice. But one big part of becoming a more emotionally mature and emotionally intelligent person is knowing how to take bad advice without letting it get too under your skin.

While no one likes being misunderstood, we have to accept the fact that people often want what is best for us even if they don’t exactly know what is best for us.

One reason bad advice exists is the hot/cold empathy gap which is a theory in psychology that describes how it’s more difficult for a person in a positive state to empathize with someone in a negative state, and vice versa.

It’s hard to fully empathize with someone if you’ve never been in their shoes before. So from an outside perspective someone may feel like they have all the answers, but to the person who is experiencing it first-hand, the advice may be woefully misguided or unhelpful.


How to Take Bad Advice and Stay Calm

While it’s difficult to avoid bad advice altogether, here are a few healthy suggestions for what you can do when you come across it.

  • Accept the person is likely coming from a good place. Most people don’t purposely give bad advice to sabotage you or make you feel like crap – they genuinely want to help you and make you feel better. So pay more attention to their positive intentions rather than the substance of their advice.
  • Take a step back and breathe. When we hear bad advice and we’re in a negative mood, it’s very tempting to want to snap back or tell the person their advice is useless. However, the key to maturity is being able to add a space between your immediate reactions and how you respond to them. When you feel that negative reaction bubbling up, take a step back and a few deep breaths before saying anything.
  • Thank them for their efforts anyway. Being polite and patient is way easier than being mean, and it’ll make you feel better in the long-term. If someone gives you bad advice, keep in mind where they are coming from and just give a simple, “Thanks” or “I appreciate your concern.” Then you can go back to ignoring them. It’ll often save you way more trouble in the future.
  • Seek good advice from the right places. Good advice is out there, we just need to find it. One important thing to consider when seeking advice is to find people who have already been through what you are going through. We often find motivation in other people’s struggles, especially when they are people we can relate to. With the internet, it’s often very easy to seek out people on social media, message boards, or websites who have already been through similar experiences as us. You are likely not the only person to ever be in this situation.
  • Ask for specific, actionable solutions. One characteristic behind most bad advice is that it is too vague. When someone says, “Be happier!” or “Be healthier!” there’s usually not much we can takeaway from it and apply to our daily lives. Instead, if you think a person has more to offer you, ask them directly, “What exactly do you think I should do?” or “What exactly would you do if you were in my situation?” By asking people to be more specific, you’ll get a much clearer idea of what advice they are offering you. Then you can still choose to accept it or ignore it depending on if it’s relevant to you.
  • Be open to your potential blind spots. Sometimes a person may have good advice for us but we interpret it as bad because we are unwilling to accept it. This is one big reason why it’s important to at least listen to your friends and family because they can often protect you from blind spots in your perspective that you are unaware of. Many times our pride and ego can stop us from taking in good advice, because it rarely feels good to admit we don’t know what is best for us. However, we should at least be willing to give other people’s perspective a chance if we truly want to learn and grow.

There’s no escaping bad advice in this world. And sure, it sucks to have to hear it when we are looking for real, helpful solutions to our problems.

However, because bad advice is a part of living, it’s important we have healthy ways to respond to it without letting it get too under our skins. Hopefully you can keep these guidelines in mind the next time someone shares something misguided, unhelpful, or just plain wrong.


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