Australian researchers have found that mindfulness does indeed turn negative emotions into positive ones. The key, they say, is consciousness.
Research by Mark Moriarty Drake and co. at Australia’s Charles Darwin University have just finished an eye-opening study. They found that mindfulness (consciously focusing on how we are thinking and feeling) can transform negative emotions into positive ones.
This confirms the Buddhist view of consciousness, which states that when we become conscious of our emotions we gain control over them. It’s a life lesson I myself learned a few years ago.
While living abroad in Canada I went through a painful breakup that left me emotionally scarred. The breakup was entirely my fault. I made a bad mistake. I left my girlfriend for another woman.
I dwelled on my mistake for months, tearing into myself with self criticism, focusing on the negative.
I was being neurotic. which is precisely the mental state that Mark Moriarty Drake and his colleagues recently studied.
Neuroticism is one of the “five basic factors of personality”. These are factors that shape our personality and our psychological well being (you can read more about this on Very Well).
The five basic factors of personality are:
Neuroticism is a “a trait characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness.”
I can confirm that.
When I made the mistake of leaving my girlfriend I suffered all sorts of pains. There were the emotional pains, like anxiety and self criticism. And there were the physiological pains. I had pains in my chest and became ill from worrying so much that I would never get back with my girlfriend.
Those were all traits similar to those suffered by neurotics.
It was once thought that people with high degree of neuroticism couldn’t change. But scientists are now learning that there are paths to change, and that one way to change is through mindfulness.
Drake and colleagues investigated how research affects levels of non-specific psychological distress, such as generalised anxiety (and anyone who suffers from that will like our guide Using Mindfulness To Cure Anxiety).
People with high levels of non-specific psychological distress experience emotional suffering and physiological disorders that cannot be labeled as any one singular health problem.
People with high levels of neuroticism struggle to handle challenging events and can react to setbacks in violent ways. This, I’m glad to say, is something I did not experience (but then, I’ve always been a peace lover, to the extent of repeatedly telling my mother off for swatting flies). People with genuine neuroticism, however, are prone to violent reactions to negative events.
How does mindfulness stop us dwelling on the negatives?
The researchers discovered that mindfulness makes us less reactive and more able to handle negatives. With mindfulness, we use consciousness to transform that negative energy into a more positive, productive energy.
When we practice mindfulness, we accept thoughts and feelings and focus on living in the present moment. When we do this, we don’t judge our feelings but accept them. This removes us from the negativity and enables us to look at it objectively, in a calm manner. The result is that we are freed from the negative energy and we reconnect with the positive, with the present moment.
A couple of months after my breakup I started practicing mindfulness. In fact I used very many different meditation techniques. Those techniques helped me to observe my mind in a clear, conscious and objective way. The result was that I was actually able to see what was happening in my own mind, and once I could see what was happening, I was able to control what was happening.
As the famous Buddhist quote says, “You are what observes, not what you observe”.
With mindfulness we observe the mind, and this gives us control over our emotions.
When I was going through my breakup, I kept thinking that I was worthless, that I was a bad person. And because I was consumed by these thoughts and emotions, they took over. But when I practiced mindfulness, I stepped back away from my emotions and was able to say “that’s just a thought / emotion. It isn’t me.”
When we practice mindfulness we step back, outside of our emotions, so that we can see clearly. This makes us calmer and gentler both on ourselves and on others.
Some people are naturally more mindful than others, says Drake. But mindfulness can also be learned. When the researchers gave participants mindfulness exercises they observed a decrease in reactivity and an increase in calmness.
This research proves that we are not stuck as the person we were born as. We are able to change. And mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools for change. That’s how I was personally able to change. And the science proves it works.
The researchers suggest that anyone who is highly neurotic or prone to self criticism start practicing mindfulness right away. Mindfulness will promote inner calm and self acceptance, turning negative energy into positive.
How To Increase Mindfulness And Control An Emotional Crisis
1: Label your emotions
One of the easiest ways to become mindful of emotions is to label them. How are you feeling right at this very moment? If you had to define that emotion in one word, what word would it be?
When we label our emotions we become consciously aware of them. This moves us out of the emotion and into conscious awareness. The result is inner peace and calmness.
2: Learn the actual technique of mindfulness meditation
Many people think they know what mindfulness is it. They’re surprised to find that mindfulness isn’t what they thought.
There are two types of mindfulness. The first is general mindfulness. This is simply being consciously aware.
The second type of mindfulness is the actual Buddhist technique called mindfulness meditation. This is a traditional meditation technique that has to be learned properly.
3: Mindfulness the other way
As mentioned above, mindfulness also means being conscious and aware in a more general sense.
There are many ways to increase mindfulness:
- Shower with your eyes closed
- Try tai chi
- Eat a meal slowly and consciously
I recommend reading this guide to the best mindful habits.
To learn more about using mindfulness for negative emotions, I highly recommend the excellent book The Mindful Way Through Depression, which is widely regarded as the best book on the subject.
4. Try a mindfulness tracker
If you get stressed, angry, or upset when things go wrong, a mindfulness tracker can help.
Mindfulness trackers work with your Android or iPhone to monitor your stress levels and remind you to practice conscious breathing right when you need to.
I personally recommend the Spire Mindfulness And Activity Tracker.
Mindfulness is the best way of producing inner peace and stopping reactivity. Try the tips above today.
With mindfulness we gain control of the mind. We stop being the observed, and become the observer. This can make a world of difference in times of personal crisis. It’s like we’re stepping out of the frantic tides of emotions, and sitting calmly on the shore to observe what’s happening.
With mindfulness I found my happiness once again. I reconnected with good me. I fought hard to become the person I needed to be and to beat depression. And I succeeded. I became stronger, the type of guy my girlfriend deserved.
We got back together a month later. We’ve now been together for nine years.