10. Run at the dog.
A wise woman once told me that when something scares you, just “Run at the dog.” Rather than walking up to that scary, growling, teeth-baring dog, run right towards it with no fear. Now, I don’t recommend you actually run at a real dog, but the metaphor stands. Running toward what makes you feel uncomfortable is a great way to overcome that discomfort and build resilience.
In life, a great many things may make you feel uncomfortable. For example, if you’re worried about your finances, you may not want to look at your credit card balance. Or if you had a bad day at work, you may want to drink alcohol to forget about it all. But this kind of emotional avoidance can be dangerous because the emotions never get resolved.
Instead, they fester and build up. If you’re not addressing negative emotions, they never go away, and you carry them with you wherever you go. Now, imagine facing a big challenge when you’re already carrying a bunch of negative emotions with you. It’s going to be a lot harder to cope, be resilient, and thrive.
So if you are the type to avoid feeling uncomfortable — for example by avoiding doing things that will be hard, having difficult conversations, or being out of your comfort zone — challenge yourself to feel uncomfortable, just in small ways at first. For example, I used to have a hard time speaking up.
To get out of my comfort zone, I challenged myself by speaking up at least once in every meeting. At first, my heart would beat like crazy. I was a sweating, miserable mess. Now, I contribute freely to conversations and don’t even think about it. All that fear that I used to take with me to every situation is now gone.
You can do it too. Think of something small that makes you uncomfortable, something other people might even find silly, and face your fear. Run at the dog.
Don’t let yourself back down. If you do, your fear will just build, preventing you from moving forward in the ways you desire.
11. Use your negative emotions to propel you forward.
I’ve spent a lot of time helping you learn how to increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions. But it’s important to remember that negative emotions are completely normal and healthy. Besides, negative emotions have benefits too.
Negative emotions like sadness and grief help communicate to others that we need their support and kindness. Negative emotions like anger can help motivate us to take action, make changes in our lives, and maybe even change the world.
At their root, emotions are designed to direct our behavior in important ways. Casually pushing negative emotions aside without reflecting on where they come from can leave us stuck and unable to move forward in the ways we desire.
So when life throws you into a ditch, and you feel crappy, ask yourself, “Is this negative emotion trying to teach me something?”
Would pushing the negative emotion away leave whatever is causing this negative emotion intact? Must something be done to stop this negative emotion from emerging again in the future? If so, then don’t push it away — use it to fuel change in your life or in the world. Pay attention to see if your negative emotions are trying to lead you in a positive direction. Then decide for yourself: Will you follow?
If you need help understanding your negative emotions, you could take some time alone to reflect or talk to a therapist or life coach.
Check out Berkeleywellbeing.com to learn how to find happiness, balance, and connection in our technology-obsessed world.
Cooney, R., et al., Neural correlates of rumination in depression. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2010. 10(4): p. 470-478. Wallenstein, M.B. and M.K. Nock, Physical exercise as a treatment for non-suicidal self-injury: Evidence from a single case study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007. 164(2): p. 350-351. Jerath, R., et al., Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical hypotheses, 2006. 67(3): p. 566-571.
Written by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. Originally appeared in Psychology Today