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December 9, 2014

Do Negative Emotions Like Guilt, Remorse and Self-Disgust Motivate Us?

I’m so excited to share with you ladies a recent interview I did with positive psychology researchjer and super smart (and humble!) NY Times bestselling author Shawn Achor (below!) on the utility of positive thinking on behavior change (i.e. being able to actually do the things you know you need to do).

BUT FIRST, I want to discuss negative self-talk …

Guilt. Shame. Remorse. Self-digust. Mental berating.

We have all felt these negative emotions before, and dare I say, that sometimes we actually find utility in them?

When I was deeply in the all-or-nothing dieting cycle, I clung to these emotions because it felt like without them, I was somehow condoning the behaviors that produced them.

For example, after a weekend of non-stop overindulgence and binging, I’d wake up Monday morning with all kinds of mental beat-downs ready to go because it felt like the only way to motivate myself to do better this week. Remorse and self-disgust felt like the only rational motivator because the alternative — self-compassion, giving myself the benefit of the doubt, gratitude for my journey, acknowledging my humanity, whatever — seemed like saying that what just happened was okay.

And so another week of deprive-then-binge would ensue.

The interesting thing? The emotions I was clinging to because I felt like they were serving me WERE ACTUALLY KEEPING ME IN THE YO-YO CYCLE. On one hand I needed them because the alternative felt like an impossibility, but at the same time, the outcome (all-or-nothing approach) remained the same. Every week, I would still binge come Friday.

So, in case you missed that … to recap: the exact operating system I was reluctant to give up was keeping me in a behavior pattern that I wanted to change.

Hmm, what’s that saying about insanity again … ? ;)


So how do you make this mental switch?

Well, I’ve written on the journey from yo-yo dieter to automated eater many times, like here and here. And while it’s not necessarily easy and does require a lot of practice, when you take out all the mental aerobics and justifications and rationalizations about why you need your negative self-talk, you see that at the end of the day, the switch is simply about making a choice.

Speaking to yourself kindly is a choice.

Using positive reinforcement is a choice.

Affirming all the ways in which you are killing it is a choice.

Showing gratitude for your journey is a choice.

Finding a bright spot in the situation — finding the lesson — is a choice.

Perceiving the ups and downs in your journey as normal and human and even helpful … is a choice.

Happiness is a choice.

And that last phrase, particularly, is something that speaks to me. Because choosing misery, while enticing, is a really poor long-term motivational strategy (The Biggest Loser, anyone?). And lucky for us, this fact has also been proven by science :)

The field of positive psychology has been growing over the last 10 years — and studies that investigate outcomes and behavior change as a result of choosing positivity are increasing in number.

The result?

Optimism and positive affirmation work much better as long-term sustainable motivators for behavior change.

If we are talking outcomes — happiness in the moment, joy in the journey, continual striving to reach a greater potential, self-love, and yes, even a slimmer waistline — the key is positive reinforcement. Not negative, or what positive psychology researcher and NY Times-bestselling author Shawn Achor calls “defensive pessimism.”

I’m fascinated by this concept, but it’s also cognitively confusing: the utility of misery?

Well, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Shawn all about this and so much more in the audio interview at the bottom of this article.

In this 27-min podcast, Shawn discusses:

  • The definition of “happiness” and why it’s not all about sunshine and rainbows every second (bye-bye Pollyanna!)
  • The secret that happy people know that those who are still struggling have yet to uncover and practice
  • Shawn’s top 3 tools to inoculate yourself from the negativity of others
  • Situations in which negative emotions can help us, and how to navigate them
  • Why dissatisfaction might be useful and how to harness it to change behavior positively
  • “Defensive Pessimism” and why long-term negative motivation acts more like a Band-aid
  • Why happiness really is a choice — albeit a hard one at times — and ways to cultivate yours
  • What he’s personal excited about and where the field of positive psychology is headed

Click here to listen or right-click the link to download for later.

Once you listen, head over to the JillFit Facebook page and tell me the ONE takeaway from the interview that resonated with you the most! I’d love to hear your story!

Enjoy! Xo, Jill


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