Category: The Emotion Machine

Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model for Emotions


The two-dimensional model of emotions is a simple but helpful way to classify your emotions and better understand them. It categorizes emotions based on their degree of “valence” and “arousal.”

There are many different dimensions to our emotional world.

While there are countless ways to breakdown and classify emotions, one helpful model that is well-known in psychology is the two-dimensional model of emotions.

It’s a simple model but it provides a useful framework for analyzing your emotions and the potential function they serve in your life.

In the two-dimensional model of emotions, emotions are seen in terms of two factors:

  • Valence: the intrinsic attractiveness of an emotion (“feeling good” vs. “feeling bad,” or “positive” vs. negative”).
  • Arousal: the level of activation in the nervous system (“feeling energetic” vs. “feeling lethargic,” or “wakefulness” vs. “sleepiness”)

Every emotion can be classified based on its degree of valence and arousal.

On the valence dimension, emotions are typically described as “positive” or “negative” – this refers to the overall tone behind an emotion. For example, we typically want to experience “positive emotions” such as joy, excitement, or contentment; while we typically don’t want to experience “negative emotions” such as fear, sadness, or guilt.

Keep in mind, “valence” describes the subjective experience of that emotion, but it’s not a judgment of that emotion in-itself.

While negative emotions generally “feel bad,” that doesn’t mean they are always bad – and while positive emotions generally “feel good,” that doesn’t mean they are always good. This is an essential insight behind learning emotional intelligence.

On the arousal dimension, emotions are typically viewed as “energizing” or “lethargic.” For example, fear and anger can be seen as negative emotions, but they are also energizing emotions because they activate your nervous system and motivate you to take action. In the opposite way, relaxation and contentment are seen as positive emotions, but they also tend to be lethargic emotions that cause you to sit back and not take action.

Just as with the “valence” dimension, the “arousal” dimension describes the subjective experience of an emotion – it’s in no way a judgment of that emotion.

Let’s now take a closer look at how other emotions fit into this two-dimensional model.

Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model

Here’s how different emotions fit into this model. Each of the 4 sections represents a certain type of emotional experience (although each emotion has its unique flavor to it).

As you can see, emotions that are both high in valence and arousal include “astonishment,” “excitement,” “happy” and “delighted.” These are all emotions that not only feel good, but also energize us and make us feel alive.

Emotions that are both low in valence and arousal include “sad,” “miserable,” “gloomy,” and “depressed.” These are all emotions that not only feel bad, but also make us not want to do anything (which can probably make them that much more self-fulfilling).

In truth, no specific emotional experience is “good” or “bad,” what matters is the context behind that emotion, how you interpret it, and how you choose to respond to it.

I believe that knowledge of the two-dimensional model can help you respond to your emotions in a smarter and healthier way, because they often reveal the underlying function or purpose behind that emotion.

Helpful Guidelines Based on the Two-Dimensional Model

Here’s a simple guideline for how to respond to each of the 4 categories of emotions.

While every emotion is unique and requires its own response, this breakdown can give you some direction and insight into how to respond to certain types of emotions.

Here they are:

  • Fear, Anxiety, Anger (Low Valence, High Arousal): This is often a sign that you should channel that emotion in a constructive way through some type of action (exercising, conversation, writing, creative hobbies, going for a walk, etc.) When these highly energized negative emotions aren’t channeled in a healthy way, they are susceptible to build up and eventually spillover into some type of destructive action (such as lashing out at someone when we are angry, or running away from a situation when we are afraid, or engaging in self-sabotage behaviors when we are anxious). A good “rule of thumb” is that if an emotion is both negative AND energizing, it’s usually trying to motivate you toward some positive and productive action. One of my favorite examples of this is reframing anxiety as motivation.
  • Sad, Gloomy, Miserable, Depressed (Low Valence, Low Arousal): This is often a sign that you need to be patient with yourself and start with a super small change to help reverse the flow of the emotion. This is due to the fact that these low-energized negative emotions can easily become self-fulfilling – they demotivate you and make you want to do nothing but lie down, which only leads to them continuing to fester and linger (I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’m depressed because I don’t exercise, and I don’t exercise because I’m depressed.”) Identify one super easy change you can make TODAY to gain positive momentum (such as taking a minute to reflect on what you’re grateful for, doing a 5 minute workout or mindful stretching, or writing down your thoughts). The opposite action technique can be helpful for these types of emotions, because your goal is often to do something counter-intuitive to reverse the self-fulfilling cycle. Don’t want to go outside? Maybe some sun and nature is exactly what you need. Don’t want to see anyone? Maybe you should reach out to someone to talk to. Don’t want to exercise? Get down and give me 20 right now! (I know these things are easier said than done, but the more inertia there is the smaller you need to think to get the energy moving in the right direction).
  • Content, Relaxed, Calm (High Valence, Low Arousal): Generally we don’t feel the need to change these positive emotions since they both feel good and calm our nervous system. The only caveat is if these emotions are in excess, they may demotivate us or cause us to slack on our responsibilities and goals in life (“I’m not going to go to work, I just want to chill!”) Trying to be completely calm and content 24/7 is often an unrealistic goal, and even if we could achieve it we wouldn’t necessary want to because it would often end up interfering with our larger goals and values in life. If you find yourself struggling with these lethargic emotions, consider getting an accountability partner or using an app to measure your progress to help kick your butt into gear when it comes to habits you’re procrastinating on.
  • Excitement, Happiness, Aroused (High Valence, High Arousal): Again, we don’t generally feel the need to change positive emotions, but the high arousal ones definitely come with a caveat as well. Since these positive emotions are more energizing and motivating, they can also occasionally lead to risky decisions that can end up hurting us more in the long-term; even too much optimism can blind us – if we ignore the realities of a situation, we may end up doing some stupid or foolish things. “Excitement” and “aroused” (while positive emotions) can sometimes fuel destructive habits or unhealthy thrill-seeking through sex, drugs, gambling, or alcohol. If you have trouble managing excessively high positive emotions, it’s probably a good idea to teach yourself some relaxation techniques such as a 100 Breaths Meditation or Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This will give you more control over your nervous system overall, and help to calm down those “high arousal” states.

These are rough guidelines, but hopefully they give you some idea of the different ways you can respond to different emotional states.

The first step is to identify which category of emotions you tend to struggle with the most. Then devise a better plan for how you can respond to those emotions in the moment, without letting them takeover.

Overall the two dimensional model of emotions is a very simple but helpful framework for analyzing our emotional world and learning how to better navigate it.

Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement from The Emotion Machine:

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Negative Emotions: Create A Plan to Respond to Them in a New Way

have a plan

The current way you respond to your negative emotions doesn’t have to be the only way. Create a plan and choose a new way to respond to your negative emotions before they happen.

It’s difficult to manage negativity when you are in the heat of the moment.

You get angry at something someone says, so you snap back and yell. It comes so naturally and impulsively that you barely had time to even think about it.

Of course, you reflect on it later and feel bad about your emotional outburst. Then you tell yourself, “I really need to stop getting so angry over the little things.”

But is that enough to change? Usually not.

While being aware that your outbursts are irrational and destructive is an important first step, it’s often not enough to change your patterns and behaviors.

We often continue following these same emotional patterns unless we start planning a new response to them.

If you create a plan to respond to your emotions in a new way before they happen, then you’ll be more ready and prepared to change your responses when those emotions arise in the moment.

Here’s how to create a plan to manage your negative emotions.

Create a Plan for Negative Emotions

Find a paper and pen or create a document on your computer so you can write out your plan (writing it out will make it more real and tangible).

  • First identify one negative emotion that you want to change your response to (anger, sadness, anxiety, procrastination, etc.)

  • Now write out your typical response when you feel that emotion (for example, anger = “I yell or snap back at someone,” sadness = “I stay home and watch TV,” procrastination = “I forget about my work and play a video game”).

  • Now brainstorm one alternative response to that emotion and write it down (for example, anger = “I will practice being silent and polite,” sadness = “I will do something creative, such as drawing or journaling,” or procrastination = “I will set a timer for just 5 minutes and get the ball rolling.”)

  • Keep in mind there are multiple ways to respond to ANY emotion – your current pattern doesn’t have to be set in stone. You have a choice.
  • Consider the opposite action technique for devising your alternative response. Sometimes the best way to change the flow of your emotions is to do the exact opposite of what that emotion is telling you to do. When you’re feeling sad and just want to stay inside all day is sometimes the best time to get out of the house, go outside, or reach out to a friend or family member.
  • Pay attention to the early signs when an emotion is beginning to brew inside you. For example, when you’re angry you may notice yourself clenching your jaw, or your body temperature rises, or heart rate speeds up. The quicker you can catch a negative emotion while it’s happening, the easier it will be to choose a new response. The longer you wait for the emotion to build up, the more difficult it will be to reverse it.
  • Practice mental rehearsal with your new plan. Close your eyes and imagine yourself feeling that old and familiar negative emotion but then choosing your new planned way to respond to it. Repeat several times for extra preparation.
  • Get ready to apply this new behavior in the real world; but be patient with yourself too, it will likely take a few trials and errors before it becomes a more natural response for you.

Make sure you put in the time and effort to create your new plan and practice it in your head.

The most important thing is to put in the work before that negative emotion arises again, so that when it does you’re prepared for your new course of action.

If you wait until the emotion happens in the moment to try to change your behavior, you’ll most likely fail unless you have really strong willpower or discipline (hint: most people don’t).

Our emotional patterns often follow a predictable habit loop like all other behaviors, but we can adjust them if we are aware of the “cue → routine → reward.” By learning your emotional cues and changing your routine, you can change your actions and results in life.

Ultimately, you should be able to express your new plan with a simple “If, Then” statement…

  • IF I start feeling angry, THEN I will go for a walk.
  • IF I start feeling sadness, THEN I will reach out to someone to talk to.
  • IF I start feeling anxiety, THEN I will write or play guitar.

Of course you have to come up with a plan that works for you. These are just ideas and suggestions, but you may need to experiment with new responses before you find one that most helps you.

For now just choose one emotional pattern you want to change and create a plan – don’t try to completely change yourself overnight. Once you begin to make progress with one negative emotion, you can begin to focus on changing your responses to others as well.

One small change at a time and you can completely transform your emotional well-being.

Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement from The Emotion Machine:

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Authentic: What It Means to Be “Real” According to Psychology


What does it mean to be authentic and real? Psychologists explore the concepts of “realness” and “fakeness” in an interesting new study. 

How good are you at communicating your true thoughts and feelings?

If a friend acts in an embarrassing way in public, are you willing to call them out on it? If your partner asks you what’s bothering you, are you honest with them? If you meet someone new you like, are you able to reach out and connect?

These are just a few questions that touch on the idea of being authentic and real.

According to psychologists, being “real” is when how you behave on the outside matches how you feel on the inside regardless of personal or social consequences. In contrast, being “fake” is when you hide or conceal aspects of your inner experience.

In a new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers conducted several experiments to pinpoint the concept of realness. They discovered that “realness” is an aspect of one’s personality that people can often pick-up on.

To measure “realness,” participants were asked how much they agreed with statements such as…

  • “I tell the truth even if it makes others unhappy.”
  • “I express my needs and desires directly.”
  • “I tell people what I want even if they may not want the same thing.”

The more people agreed with those statements, the higher they ranked on the “Realness Scale.”

People are most likely to consider someone else “real” when they act in a way that comes at a personal cost to them – they are willing to put their image and reputation on the line for the sake of honesty.

The researchers of the study note:

    “At the moment, the world is awash in ‘fake news,’ citizens are routinely manipulated by politicians who do not mean what they say, and social media platforms incentivize virtue signaling and punish straightforwardness. Although being ‘yourself’ is often extolled in modern society, it comes with social risks. It is these moments of social risk that provide perhaps the most valid test of whether a person is actually being real: a person who is only real when it pays off is not really real at all.”

If a person only gives compliments at work to their boss, it doesn’t typically come off as “authentic” because they are usually motivated to be nice only to win over that boss and be liked. Perhaps they are aiming toward a bonus or some other external reward.

On the other hand, if a person was to call their boss out for making a mistake or correct them on something even if the boss might get upset at them, then the person is seen as “authentic” because they are taking a real risk by doing the right thing.

(This doesn’t mean you should call out your boss all the time, it’s just an example of how “realness” is often perceived by others).

Keeping it real often means taking a risk. It means sharing your thoughts and feelings in a way that may backfire on you or get you rejected by others, but you share them anyway because you feel it is genuinely the right thing to do.

This aligns with my take that being yourself is often a costly and uncomfortable process – it could mean getting rejected or ostracized by a group.

Life’s not as simple as “be yourself and people will like you,” sometimes it’s “be yourself and people won’t like you.” Humans are diverse people with many different values and interests, so you can’t expect to get along with everyone, especially when you are true to yourself.

As Elbert Hubbard famously said, “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing, and you’ll never be criticized.” This type of self-censoring is a great way to be safe from external judgments, but it’s also the opposite of being real and authentic.

The truth is no one is completely normal. We all have certain traits, interests, or hobbies that aren’t going to match with what’s popular or mainstream. Due to this, being “real” is often going to require embracing those rough edges we all have and recognizing that you’re not always going to fit into society perfectly.

In the study mentioned earlier, researchers found that “realness” was often associated with traits like extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, honesty, dominance, and an internal locus of control (the belief you have power over changing your circumstances in life). “Realness” was also associated with less neuroticism, self-monitoring, and fear of negative evaluation.

Being real sometimes means being disagreeable and going against the crowd; but this type of healthy dissent can serve a positive function in society by helping to break old social norms and facilitate social progress.

The researchers point out:

    “Standing up to or criticizing powerful people and institutions to promote social justice is socially risky, by definition. People who have been made famous for doing so (e.g., Joan of Arc, Sitting Bull, Colin Kaepernick, Thomas Paine, Rosa Parks, William Tell, Henry David Thoreau) strike us as prototypically real – and they have historically experienced both the costs and benefits of this trait. To the degree that being real is an important ingredient for making the world a better place, understanding and promoting realness at the individual level may contribute to a more just society.”

Of course being real doesn’t mean being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable – that’s just being a jerk or a “troll.” If you have to be disagreeable in a situation, it should be when defending your genuine values and beliefs – not just to cause conflict or controversy.

The first step toward being a more authentic person is to be honest with yourself about your true thoughts and feelings. Without that self-awareness, it’ll be difficult to decide what battles are worth fighting in life.

Unfortunately, sometimes people use “honesty” as an excuse to be negative and destructive. They yell out insults and criticisms at someone and then reply, “Sorry, I’m just being honest!”

“Realness” isn’t about putting your feelings above everything or expressing yourself willy nilly. Every emotion takes place within a context and you have to recognize the best way to respond in the moment.

So the next most important thing to being “real” is to know how to communicate your feelings in a healthy and constructive way.

This includes watching the words you choose, your body language, and your tone of voice to make sure you’re not being unnecessarily hostile or aggressive, even when you are expressing a deep and serious concern.

It’s important to remember that you can be honest and straightforward with others while at the same time not being negative or toxic. But that all comes down to your social skills and communication skills.

Overall, “realness” can have both its costs and benefits, but it can generally be a positive and constructive thing for building stronger relationships and a more authentic lifestyle.

How often do you keep it real?

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How Reading Fiction Improves You and Your Brain

reading fiction

Reading fiction has shown to have a variety of cognitive benefits including boosting empathy, verbal abilities, moral attitudes, motivation, and social skills.

We have so much exciting technology to keep ourselves entertained and occupied (TV, movies, video games, and the internet), so it’s easy to forget the power of reading a good old-fashioned book.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about one in three people say they haven’t read a single book within the past year, including print, electronic, or audio form.

When’s the last time you’ve finished a book of any type (fiction or non-fiction)?

Unfortunately, many people today haven’t read a book for entertainment or pleasure since they were last in school. While reading can seem like an old habit from a past generation, a lot of new research shows that it can lead to a variety of mental benefits.

Here’s a breakdown of the mental benefits of reading:

  • Boosting Empathy – Reading allows us to see new worlds from new perspectives that we’d often never get to experience in our everyday lives. What’s it like to be a hero? What’s it like to live during a certain historical time period? What’s it like to live in a fictional world with demons and dragons? One study published in the journal Science found that reading fiction plays a key role in children’s development of “theory of mind” – the recognition that other people have different thoughts and feelings than you (which is an important aspect of empathy and emotional intelligence). Another interesting study published in PLoS ONE found that this boost in empathy persists for several days after reading fiction, especially if the reader feels “emotionally transported” into that world.
  • Improving Verbal Abilities – Reading can also help us to expand our vocabulary and improve our verbal abilities and communication skills. One study published in the scientific journal Reading and Writing shows that the more people read fiction – including mainstream novels and often derided “pulp fiction” – the better their language skills are likely to be. While it’s true that people with higher verbal abilities probably enjoy reading more, practice always leads to improvement. The more you read new books, the more likely you are to expose yourself to new words you hadn’t learned before.
  • Changing Beliefs and Moral Attitudes – Books can also shape our beliefs and “map of reality,” in the same way as TV shows and movies can influence how we see and interpret the world. Two people can have a very different philosophy about life depending on what information has shaped their perspective. Parents often like to choose books for their kids that promote moral messages. In one study published in Psychological Science, it was found that when children’s stories promote honesty in an effective way (such as in the story “George Washington and the Cherry Tree”), children showed a boost in honesty and truth-telling. Another study published in PLoS One discovered that reading a short fragment of an unpublished novel about the physical abuse of an animal made individuals more concerned about animal welfare. In general, books can influence our beliefs about a wide-range of topics, including morality, politics, religion, and philosophy.
  • Changing Brain Structure – Reading has also shown to create changes on a neurological level. In one study published in Brain Connectivity, researchers found that reading a chapter in a novel each day for nine days was associated with significant changes in two brain regions: the left temporal cortex (which is often associated with language processing and remembering verbal information), and the central sulcus (which is often associated with emotions and perspective-taking). More research needs to be done on the effects of reading on the brain, but it’s good to know that many of these changes are taking root on a biological level. These findings also corroborate with the other positive changes mentioned above, like verbal abilities and empathy.
  • Motivation and Inspiration – Books can also be a huge source of motivation and inspiration. Reading about a character overcoming challenges and succeeding at their goals can inspire us to pursue our own values and goals in life. For example, it’s been theorized that young readers of science fiction can build mental resiliency and find the strength to pursue scientific interests and hobbies. Reading can be especially helpful for certain individuals or groups that have a hard time finding role models in the real world to look up to. Even if a story takes place in a fictional universe, there are often many lessons that can be applied to one’s personal life, whether it be love, relationships, goals, or overcoming obstacles and prejudice.
  • Social Skills – Fictional books are a simulated “social environment,” where we can observe and learn from different social interactions and conversations between characters. We learn how to read different character’s motives and interests, and how those intersect with other characters. According to one interesting study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, it was found that while “bookworms” are sometimes stereotyped as being “socially awkward,” reading fiction was actually associated with greater social skills and abilities (but this was not found for reading non-fiction). Another study published in the Social Personality and Psychology Compass discovered that many readers connect the dots between how fictional characters relate to their real world lives and then use that knowledge to improve themselves.

More research still needs to be done on the benefits of reading, but so far it is very promising.

How to Make Reading Into a Daily Habit

I never considered myself a natural reader or “book lover” growing up. In school, I was always more of a science and math person rather than a literature person.

During my college years I started going to the library more often, but mostly to read non-fiction books and do my own research into science, philosophy, and self-improvement. Since then I’ve averaged about 5-7 books each year, which isn’t too bad. Many of them I eventually used as inspiration for articles on this site.

Over the past couple years I’ve turned reading into a consistent daily habit. Now it’s something I do because it’s just a part of who I am.

In my recap of 2020, I mention how reading was one of my biggest habit changes last year. I also expanded my tastes a bit by reading more historical biographies, which was a nice change of pace for me.

Thanks to the help of a habit tracker, I now have “Reading” on my daily to-do list.

Now it’s something that’s deeply ingrained into my everyday routine, even if I only get the chance to read one chapter per day (start small and be consistent: that’s all it takes to create momentum and progress).

Here’s a recap of my progress over the past year:

I’m currently on a 150 day reading streak…

Not coincidentally, my time spent playing video games and watching TV has also gone down this year. But that wasn’t a conscious goal on my part.

This year I’ve been upgrading my reading habits further and finally starting to read more fiction. I’m mostly focusing on old sci-fi classics, which have been a great entry point for me.

When it comes to choosing what books to read, the most important thing is to find material you genuinely enjoy and sparks your interest.

To be honest, before this year I can’t remember the last time I read a fiction book since high school. I’ve never even read a single chapter of a Harry Potter book, which was tremendously popular growing up – I still get judged for that fairly regularly (please spare me the hate mail, haha!)

On a whim earlier this year, I picked up my first fiction book in a long time: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, a sci-fi classic from the 1970s. After only reading a couple chapters I could already feel my brain activating in new ways and opening new pathways – I immediately went on Amazon and picked up 5 more sci-fi books.

Here’s a list of the sci-fi books I’ve read so far in 2021:

  • The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula Le Guin (1974)
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1942)
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

I definitely plan to expand my tastes further in the future. I’m going to start transitioning to more fantasy stuff later this year; for now, I’m really enjoying these sci-fi classics and I have a few more I want to knock out.

Every single book I’ve read so far this year has influenced me and changed my thinking in some way.

Anecdotally, I can confirm a lot of the research mentioned above. I definitely feel improvements in my vocabulary, communication skills, and social skills – and I’ve certainly discovered a lot of new sources for motivation and inspiration.

Reading has also helped me to focus more without always needing some digital device to keep my brain occupied. It forces me to use my imagination muscles, which so many of us take for granted as we get older.

When you read, you have to focus and paint a picture in your head of what’s happening in the novel. It’s a very active process compared to just sitting in front of a TV passively consuming images and sounds.

Overall I’m very grateful for my new reading habit and I encourage others to start reading more as well – the benefits may surprise you!

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Rubber Band Technique: How to Monitor Your Negative Thinking

rubber band technique

Want to stop your negative thinking in its tracks? Try the “rubber band technique” to be more mindful of your negative thoughts throughout the day.

Negative thinking can be so commonplace for people that we rarely notice it when it’s happening.

Instead, our days are often filled with negative, critical, and unhealthy thoughts that pass through our minds unquestioned and unchallenged. Negativity becomes our natural mode of being and we forget there is any other way to think.

If we want to change our mindset, we have to pay more attention to the daily workings of our minds.

A big part of this includes cultivating healthy mental habits such as reflecting on our strengths, identifying things to be grateful for, and reframing negative thoughts as they happen.

There are many tools and exercises available for gaining more power and control over your mental habits. One classic exercise is known as the “rubber band technique,” which combines the science of mindfulness and habit change to help you train your mind to be less negative and critical.

Here’s how to do it!

Rubber Band Technique

  • Find a rubber band or elastic band to wear on your wrist throughout the day.
  • When you catch yourself thinking an unwanted or negative thought, snap the rubber band on your wrist to ground yourself in the present moment.
  • Don’t snap so hard that you hurt yourself or leave a mark. The goal isn’t to “punish” yourself, but to bring the thought into focus. The snap is just a sensory trigger – think of it as splashing cold water on your face to wake yourself up – a mindful jolt.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Once you catch a negative thought, there are many different things you can do with it…
    • Accept the thought, then politely decline it. Think to yourself, “Thank you mind for this thought, but I don’t need it right now.”
    • Recognize the impermanence of the thought. Remind yourself, “this too shall pass.”
    • If it’s a sticky or powerful negative thought, consider reframing it. Ask yourself, “What’s another way I can think about this situation that’s more healthy or constructive?”

    • Instead of thinking: “This is the worst meal I’ve ever had.” → “I’m grateful I have something to eat.” or “John is a real jerk!” → “John’s in a bad mood today, hopefully he feels better soon.”

    • Write the negative thought down on a piece of paper, then destroy it or burn it later as a symbolic ritual.
    • Change your thinking with a mental game, such as the alphabet game where you go down the alphabet identifying one thing you are grateful for with each letter.

  • Just choose one strategy for now, but keep in mind you have many tools available to you.
  • Give yourself a mental pat on the back and continue your day.
  • The next time a negative or unwanted thought comes up, repeat the process.
  • If you have trouble reframing a negative thought, simply write it down and revisit it later.
  • Try to go one full day monitoring your negative thoughts.

The rubber band technique is simple in theory but difficult in practice.

Often the conscious act of being more aware of our negative thoughts can help disempower them.

But of course it’s difficult (if not impossible) to monitor your thoughts 24/7. The rubber band technique is just one way to become a tad more mindful of your everyday patterns.

When practicing this exercise, there will likely be many negative thoughts you miss or fail to recognize. That’s OK – the point isn’t to catch every single one.

Go easy on yourself – the goal is to be more aware, not to be too harsh or judgmental.

Any awareness is better than zero awareness.

After completing this exercise for a whole day (or even half a day), you’ll often be surprised by how much your mind tends to default to “negativity mode.”

You start to realize that you complain and nitpick about everyday things a lot more than is necessary. You begin to notice the exaggerated language you use – and how you often amplify negativity rather than downplaying negativity.

Many of us have negative habits that are ingrained into our way of thinking and we never question them or challenge them. We naturally look for things that are wrong with a situation rather than looking for things that are right.

The best way to stop these habits is to first become more aware of them. The rubber band technique is a great place to get started – find a day this week to try it out for yourself!

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Dealbreakers: What Are You Not Willing to Compromise On?


Identify your dealbreakers. What core values do you hold that you aren’t willing to compromise on no matter what?

What in your life isn’t negotiable? What can’t be bought with money, fame, or attention?

If you know the answer to that question, you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary problems and compromises in life.

Identifying your “dealbreakers” helps you make smarter choices in multiple areas in life, especially your relationships, work, and personal happiness.

For example, ask yourself:

  • “What is my #1 dealbreaker when it comes to relationships or dating?”
  • “What is my #1 dealbreaker when it comes to a job or career?”
  • “What is my #1 dealbreaker when it comes to my lifestyle or personal interests?”

Try to think of just one huge dealbreaker or “red flag” that you absolutely can’t compromise on – a clear sign that something isn’t for you

With relationships, maybe your dealbreaker is a history of cheating, or certain political or religious beliefs, or someone who doesn’t share the same vision of the future as you (like not wanting to get married or have kids).

With a job or career, maybe your dealbreaker is having to work in a corporate office setting, or spending too much time away from family, or working for a company you find unethical.

There are many other types of dealbreakers too such as certain lifestyle choices, personal habits, or where you want to live. No matter what choice you’re making in life, it’s important to consider where you draw the line.

You can filter out a lot of unnecessary options quicker if you know what you aren’t willing to compromise on.

When you have a clear idea of what you DO NOT want in your life, then you can cut off potential choices sooner rather than waiting for things to “work out,” especially when you know there is a fundamental incompatibility.

In fact, it’s often best to start your decision-making process with a dealbreaker. By doing this, you can screen out any unsuitable options and save yourself the maximal time and effort.

Dealbreakers can be used as a cognitive heuristic to save you from unnecessary over-thinking and cost/benefit analysis. When you know “X = Dealbreaker,” then you don’t have to entertain all the other factors going into a decision. It cuts right to the chase.

Knowing what you DON’T want is a good starting point toward knowing what you DO want.

If you’re creating an online dating profile, then it’s often best to mention your dealbreakers right away. That ultimately saves both you and potential matches from wasting their time – you’re doing everyone a favor when you’re honest about what you want.

The same goes for job searching, be upfront about what you’re looking for. This will save you from applying to jobs you know will make you miserable. It also means being honest about your dealbreakers during job interviews (which are just as much about finding out if you’re right for a job, as if a job is right for you).

Everyone’s dealbreakers will be different. Sometimes it means going against certain social norms and social pressures; but if they are real dealbreakers, then the rewards will outweigh the costs in the long-term.

You can technically break any social norm you want as long as it’s consistent with your values and you’re willing to pay the potential social costs.

I was lucky enough to recognize a dealbreaker very early in my life and I stuck to it ferociously.

Since I was 10-12, I knew I always wanted to work for myself. I still had various jobs throughout my life working for others (a golf course, pharmacy, music venue, and art gallery), but I knew my main career path was being self-employed. I craved the independence and flexibility.

At times, I had to settle for a lot less money and a lot less stability to follow my path. People would ask me, “So Steven, what are you doing for work now?” and I’d say I’m writing about psychology on my website. Then they’d reply, “Cool…so when are you getting a real job?” Ouch.

A part of me could’ve given up at anytime to be a normal person with a normal job. But over a decade later, I’m glad I didn’t. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made (so far) – and it’s because I knew what I really wanted.

There were costs and pain, but it was also “easy” because I knew there weren’t any other paths that were right for me – that concentrates your focus and energy. Long-term compromise on that core value simply wasn’t on the table. Not negotiable. Dealbreaker.

Of course, compromise is necessary in life – no one gets everything they want – the key is knowing what things you aren’t willing to give up.

Some things are easier to compromise on than others. Maybe someone you marry isn’t as attractive as you’d like them to be, or your job has some annoying coworkers, or your current home isn’t as big or nice as you wish.

Most people learn to be happy with these “imperfect” choices because they know there are more important things in life.

The ultimate question is: What’s most important to you?

One sign that something is a real dealbreaker is that you can’t even imagine yourself being able to live that way in the future.

Take a moment to “zoom out” and try to picture yourself in the future 5 or 10 years from now. What would it look like if you didn’t compromise on that value? What if you did?

If you want to build a better future for yourself, identifying your dealbreakers is a smart place to start.

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