Pixar’s movie, Inside Out, is all about understanding emotion and focuses on five key emotions. I know that you know there are way more than five emotions, but with less than two hours, I don’t think they had enough time to explore more than five.
One thing you may not know is that there are more negative emotions to experience than positive ones and the movie reflects that. The story features four negative emotions— fear, disgust, anger and sadness. Joy is the only positive emotion which is the main character’s lead feeling as a child.
Negative vs. Positive
Why are there more negative emotions than positive? It’s a result of how the brain is wired. Remember, you have a lizard part of your brain and it’s main purpose is to keep you alive so it will err on the side of caution. It knows that the grumpier you are, the more focused you will be. And being more focused can mean the difference between life and death.
Of course, most of us are fortunate enough not to need the fight-or-flight mechanism in full gear since we’re not being chased by mountain lions or dinosaurs. But your brain doesn’t know that. It finds other ways to keep you on high alert by going into survival mode when something life threatening happens like ordering your favorite pepperoni pizza and getting sausage delivered instead. That’s real “end of the world” stuff going on there.
You see, overreacting isn’t all your fault—it’s your brain trying to do a job that’s outdated in context of modern life. It’s like having a caveman as an air traffic controller. Yikes!
Why Do We Have Feelings?
Honestly I don’t really know, but they sure do make life interesting. Some say that your emotions are your guidance system which helps you navigate through life experiences. Emotions tell you in a non-linear (a.k.a. not always logical) way what you like and what you don’t like—whether you are in alignment with your values or out of alignment with your values.
The problem is that if you’re not “in touch” with your emotions, you won’t know how to operate the navigation system. (However, it’s really fun to tell other people how to operate their navigation system, right?)
Identifying The Current Of Your Emotions
The good news is that while there are seemingly endless emotions to experience, they only have a positive or negative current which is extremely helpful to know. While emotions are complex, classifying them as positive or negative is pretty simple.
By nature, your brain may want to stay in the negative current, but your job—if you choose to accept it—is to operate in the positive current. The way you do that is by consciously putting your attention, energy and focus on things that are more positive than negative.
This seems simple, but is a huge challenge when you know that 70% of the thoughts people think are negative which is reflected in news programs, TV shows, daily personal conversations and even Pixar movies.
Are You Aware Of The Power Of Awareness?
Increasing awareness around what you are feeling helps to break the automatic thoughts generated by the lizard brain. This way you can chose what you really want to experience and assign the meaning you want to have in your life rather than just be a victim of circumstances.
The chart above displays ten emotions along the top with a rating system from one to five along the left hand side. One equaling “never” and five equaling “most of the time.” You can print out this chart and plot where your emotional current is trending.
If your line curves down, then you are putting your attention on things that create a negative current. This causes you to have negative thoughts and lead to negative emotions.
Just because everyone else is trending down doesn’t mean that you have to.
Make your line curve up. Force it if you have to! Put your focus onto things that create a positive current. Things that cause you to think good thoughts and lead to good feelings. They don’t have to be big things. Usually it’s the little things you feel grateful for that make the biggest difference.
I know it seems like it should be natural to be positive. But it’s not natural. The people that make it look easy to be positive have practiced thinking, seeing and experiencing the world in a positive way.
The great thing is that when you put your focus on things that make you feel better about life, eventually the current shifts and things start looking up.
Be your own force of nature and do whatever it takes to make that line move in the right direction. Why not? The only thing you have to lose is feeling bad.