What are you feeding yourself?: How to cultivate positive emotions

When we think about having a healthy diet, we often solely reflect on tangible food consumption. We frequently praise ourselves for eating “healthy” foods and punish ourselves with negative self talk for eating “unhealthy” foods. We get so consumed with the types of food affecting our physical bodies, that we often forget to reflect on what our mental and spiritual bodies are consuming. On a moment-to-moment basis we are metabolizing the positive and negative messages our brain is sending us. The way that we interpret and process these thoughts greatly affects our ability to cultivate and accept positive emotions.

“You should be happier.” “You can do better.” “ What’s wrong with you?” These self defeating thoughts can play in your mind throughout the day and lead you to feel dissatisfied, worried, and even worthless. Once you start feeling crummy about yourself, you may start to separate from others. This may be an intentional or subconscious internal process where you begin disconnecting from the potential of genuine connection due to a fear of people discovering your “true” self. Sooner than later, positive thoughts are disqualified and neutral thoughts are ignored, and you’ve created a breeding ground for negative thoughts to multiply and stew. This is a prime example of how a self-fulfilling prophesy starts! If not addressed appropriately, these thoughts start to create a veil of criticism that obstructs the logical brain’s ability to look past the prism of continuous judgment created by ingesting toxic thoughts.

So what now? It’s time to be nicer to yourself.

I know you may be wondering, how did I get to the point of forgetting how to be nice to myself? However, caring for one’s self is not second nature for most people. We may be really good at taking care of the people around us. Though, we’re often better at running ourselves dry and beating ourselves up than showing ourselves compassion and kindness. The first step in learning how to be nice to yourself involves understanding the power of words and the difference between good will versus good feelings.

Words have power. Period. The elementary school song, “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a flawed coping tool that sends a dangerous message to kids. Everything we hear is processed in our mind and thereby our bodies. It takes effort and skill to mindfully interpret loaded words in a way that assuage the possibly hurtful message they can carry. If you find yourself in a rut of speaking ugly to yourself, it’s time to purposefully start feeding yourself more wholesome messages. Just like trying to eat healthy, this is not necessarily an easy thing for people to do and it may even feel awkward. However, what makes self-compassion effective is practicing letting go of the expectation of feeling “good.” This is where the notion of “good will” come into play. The practice of lovingkindness affords us the opportunity to prime our brain to observe emotions from a gentler lens so that they can come and go, and you have a greater ability to notice the positive feelings. Practicing talking nicely to yourself, or in other words, practicing lovingkindess, does not directly lead us to feeling better; however, it makes it more likely that we will become aware of and open to experiencing positive feelings from a non-judgmental lens. It is through this lens that “feeling good” starts to become a byproduct of being present.

So, how do we practice lovingkindness? There are many ways to start being kinder to yourself, but I find that planting wholesome intentions for ourselves through lovingkindess meditations is a great start! You can modify the meditation to fit your specific needs, however, a common lovingkindess meditation includes repeating to yourself:

"May I be safe

May I be healthy

May I be happy

May I live with ease.”

Through this meditation you imbed positive intentions that you can return to throughout the day. Learning to mindfully experience good, bad, and neutral emotions while adopting the practice of a lovingkindess meditation helps you shift your attention from criticism to genuinely experiencing the world around you.We cannot necessarily control the thoughts that we produce, but we can decide which thoughts we endorse. Start practicing the lovingkindess meditation today and start to notice your inner world change.

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