How to move toward your goals, and away from your fears

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” — Nelson Mandela 

The photo accompanying this blog and the Nelson Mandela quote above didn’t come as a package, but I decided they worked well together.

Here’s my rationale: If you, like that white cat, let your fears guide you, you will most likely make bad choices — the equivalent of standing on a ledge, frozen in place.

Instead, you should be making clear, logical decisions that lead to fulfilling your hopes and goals. The cat, for instance, might have been wiser to have taken off in a direction away from the dogs, in search of a more pleasurable goal, such as catching a mouse!

We are biologically hard-wired to protect our survival. We instinctively look for threats.  Anything that we perceive as a threat  —  whether it’s to our physical, emotional or social survival — elicits the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-flight-or-freeze response.

We have what’s called a “negativity bias” — the notion that negative things have a greater effect on us psychologically than do positive. We feel emotions such as irritation, fear, panic or shame much more easily than  feelings such as gratitude, compassion or happiness.

We are more likely to remember the one thing that went wrong in a day, rather than the many that went right, or the single biting comment someone uttered, rather than the many compliments they paid.

And because we feel the need to protect ourselves first (and process emotions later), we are more likely to act out of negative emotions than positive ones.

But with conscious effort, we can shift our emotions. 

According to the HeartMath Institute, when you have a negative, or energy-depleting, emotion, such as fear, anger or being overwhelmed,  you need to stop and shift to a more positive, or energy-renewing feeling, such as appreciation, compassion or care, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest-and-digest response.

By shifting in the moment to more positive feelings, you can think more clearly, logically and creatively, and be in a much better position to decide what you next want to do.

This stop, shift and decide strategy is one of many tools that the institute and other experts offer to help make the transition.

Still, that’s not to say that we should ignore or repress our feelings. Emotions which we may refer to as negative actually have a positive place in our lives. Anger may move us to act against social injustices. Fear may move us away from dangerous situations. Loneliness might prompt us to seek out new friendships.

So when you have a negative feeling, you have to process and learn from it. Be aware of the emotion, allow yourself to feel it,  accept it, bring compassion to it and then let it go so you can move on.

Processing our emotions helps us to become more emotionally resilient. And emotional resilience leads to a better  sense of well-being. With that sense, we are much more on the path to acting on our hopes, rather than our fears.

What techniques do you use to help you shift your emotions from negative to positive? Please share them below.

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