UpSpiral, DownSpiral?…

Or Somewhere In Between?

There are times when we are aware that “this or that” caused the emotions we feel. And very often we are sure that “someone” else caused us to feel like we feel.

While we are the cause of our emotions, it is just as true that long existing emotional patterns are hard to control. Memories that are implicit, or prior to our actually remembering, cause deep-seated emotional reactions.

However, the answer to managing emotions may be much easier than we expected. Instead of undoing negative emotions and their patterns, we are going to focus here only on building positive emotions.

We do not ignore negative emotions, but we just don’t choose to live there.

Here what we do choose is to reverse the cause and effect of positive emotions.

We treat positive emotions as though they are the rewards or the outcomes of living in some sort of way.

Something will make us grateful, an event will give us joy, a relationship will give us love, a goal will give us hope, and a pill will give us some peace.

Positive emotions are treated as though they are the results of things on the outside, happening to us in a certain kind of way, and when the stars line up, or our problems get solved, or people line up in a certain way, then the result will be our joy or our gratitude.

Positive emotions are often results oriented, and we get to have them when something happens on the outside of us that creates that response in us.

What underlies all of this is that you have to have a reason to feel positive emotions, and that reason is almost always on the outside of us.

Outside events can be very significant and some are very negatively impacting. That’s true, some are, but all of them are not.

And even for those that are, you will learn that managing your emotional responses and building up a reservoir will make you much more capable of handling outside events.

The key to being able to do this really lies in where you spend the majority of your time– in an UpSpiral or a DownSpiral, or waffling back and forth in between the two.

Learning to live in an UpSpiral of positivity greatly enhances your ability to experience positivity, and positive emotions greatly increase the probability that you will play less to outside events as the “cause” of your feelings. Life in the UpSpiral also gives you the fullest access to your strengths.

In an UpSpiral, there is a much greater probability that you will feel the positive emotions that you choose to feel.

© Dr. William K. Larkin


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Sheila

    I am, of course, new to this work and the central idea of living in the Upspiral, or, Downspiral. So, I have been keenly observing my emotional states and where I am at, over these last couple of weeks.

    I have not reached the higher levels of the upspiral as yet, most days I am about 62 and then interestingly, though, I noticed today that my Upspiral was a bit higher, a 65…….but out of the blue, for absolutely no reason, I flashed back on a negative interaction that had happened a few months ago, with an acquaintance of mine.

    The memory was completely unbidden and I went from peaceful to angry in a nano second……as I was rolling around in the depths of the downspiral, with my quite justifiable “dislike” of this irksome individual, who had been really just sooooo rude.……I suddenly thought, why on earth am I here? Stop it. This is not where you want to be.

    And, I did, stop, for about 30 seconds and then I was back there again, thinking about it……I had to tell myself to stop it, at least 6 or 7 times. My mind so wanted to go there. For whatever reason, I was a little bit addicted to hanging onto that “mad” feeling… sad, but, true.

    I eventually got myself out of it, but wondered why had I even gone there in the first place on this beautiful sunny day, when I did not have a care in the world? Is it that living in the upspiral is still not the natural state for me? So, that somehow I self-sabotage, feeling more familiar in grumpy land?…..Or, is it, that this is just how it is……these little pervasive thoughts just creep in for all of us, every day and it’s what you do with them, when they get there, that counts?

    It was so subtle, that if I had not been doing this work, I probably would not even have realised what was going on and for sure would have hung out with that mad feeling for way longer…..but because I had attention on it, I was able to regain my equilibrium and enjoy my sunny afternoon. Thank you.

  • Dwayne Paro

    This goes back to our first discussion on flourishing vs languishing. I believe we tend to languish in the negative more than flourish in the positive by nature which will in time put you in the DownSpiral. As we have learned being in the UpSpiral is a deliberate focus on positivity. In order for us to stay in the UpSpiral we must “manage” our emotions by being mindful of where we are at with them. The use of the Emotional Gym is an important tool to stay in the UpSpiral. The ability to pivot your mind to a positive state when needed is just as important as if you were running a company. If you find your company is in a DownSpiral financially you need to be a savvy owner that can find ways to turn that into an UpSpiral by managing the state of various aspects of your business. The best part of negative emotions is they are that indicator when you are entering the DownSpiral. Without those emotions or denying those emotions exist you could go deeply into the DownSpiral for an extended period of time. This is all part of the power we have over our feelings that is part of developing State of Mind Management. As we focus on our emotions and keeping int he UpSpiral what we want to change will change if that is what we are focused on. Over time as we get comfortable with managing our emotions we can become sloppy in how we do it and how well we actually manage them. Thru personal experience I’ve found that the less I try to over think or analyze my emotions the better off I am. I can really cause a negative result by analyzing my emotions. The Zeno Factor is an important concept in this aspect as if you focus on something you can change it, keeping in mind focusing is different than analyzing or over thinking. The later fall into the Heraclitus Effect which is having a focus on what’s not working. I found the optimism test to be very useful in seeing better where my focus is and just how much I need to shift it to have a more positive mindset. The concepts of permanence and pervasiveness are great indicators of how well you are focusing on the positive. If you are letting negative emotions/situations linger within you (permanence) for any length of time that is not healthy. As well if you have a tendency to apply a negative emotion/situation to all or more aspects of your life (pervasiveness) then you are limiting your optimism. I’ve believe these two factors are key indicators for those that have a significant amount of learned helplessness. They are more than likely not letting go of those negative aspects or are applying them to all situations. I’m very excited to have been exposed to the 4 R’s tool (ReLabel, ReAttribute, ReFocus, ReValue) for situations where I am applying negative emotion to situations where it has no relevance or based on past experiences. The Hands exercise and Certitude exercises are great tools to have in your back pocket for those situations where you really need to regain focus and beat back the negative emotions that may be starting. This all is complemented by the use of our strengths. Focusing on using our strengths is key to be positive and not focusing on our weaknesses. Understanding that for every strength there is a corresponding weakness is sufficient to dealing with weaknesses. In order know your strengths both the VIA and Strengths finder tests are important to take. Being able to blend the strengths identified in each test gives you a very complementary approach to utilizing those strengths as each test has a slightly different way to categorize them. Being in the UpSpiral is a great way to know you are leveraging your strengths. Being in the DownSpiral makes it very hard to focus on your strengths. You can spot whether someone is using their strengths when you have a conversation based on their voice reflection and energy level. Using the Simply Elegant Solution is a great tool to break out of the DownSpiral. This combines the use of the Emotional Gym and strengths. The cape concept is a great way to identify how you are using your strengths. The red cape is an indication you are using your strengths to fix problems and the green cape is an indication you are using your strengths for personal growth and development. We should always be aware of how we project our negative and positive emotions as they are highlighting an internal issue we have. Using Byron Katies tool of Judge your neighbor is a great exercise to identify where you are doing this and what it means to you. This allows us to change the one thing we have control over, ourselves.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    Intellectually I totally get that I choose how I feel at any given moment in any given situation. But sometimes I feel a little inhuman when I totally manage my emotions. Without the nuances and definition, I’m really just kind of flat lining it. I remember when one of my study buddies began to date one of our graduate psychology professors. She was always “fine.” She may have been in an up spiral, but she didn’t feel authentic to me.

    So, how are we real and up? I think of it as a positive slant. I do find Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s theory of Broaden and Build to be sound. When you stay predominately in a positive space, you will build a reserve that you can draw on when challenged, to bounce back to become positive again.

    Focusing on being grateful is a big help. It’s like exercising and eating healthy – you bounce back from illness quicker. The same is true from sliding into a temporary negative space. In the South we call it back sliding. You sin a little, see the error of your ways, and get back up on the righteous path – or the Upspiral. Are they the same? Interesting question, huh? Take the narrow mindedness out of the Sunday School messages and they may serve us well….

    Intellectually we know to encourage having an internal locus of control. Having one, knowing that we have one, exercising our internal locus of control, can be a challenge at times, but can become our norm. And a happy one! Yahoo, yay!

    • Echo Macdonald

      Two references to the Sunday School messages come back to me from Paul’s writings: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “I have learned to be content in all situations, whether in need or not..” Considering the stonings, beatings, shipwrecks and otherwise challenging situations in which Paul found himself, he learned to be content, to find a positive outlook despite the situation. He must have discovered the power of positive thinking despite his life’s circumstances. I know in my head that I may not be able to control all of life’s experiences, whether good or bad, and that it is in my control to choose how I will react to them. How I choose to react, the internal construct I apply to the situation, largely determines the outcome of my experience. Selecting positivity does “broaden and build” on my ability to constructively solve my problems. I am learning to build my “positivity muscles” on a daily basis. And I do notice, as I record my daily scores, a genuine upward trend in the values I’m writing down. Anyone else noticing similar results?

  • Laura M Sparks

    I love the fact that we are not supposed to be changing or denying our negative emotions. Instead, we are to be aware of them but not focus on them. Our goal is to focus and live in the positive emotions. Here’s my question: So, if we are supposed to rely on ourselves to get to an emotion, without any outside influence, then aren’t the words themselves a way to connect to an outside event that happened to us at one point? How else would we know what joy means and feels unless we associated the word and feeling with something that happened? How do we learn anything unless we experienced it internally, as well as, externally? Thanks!

    • Echo Macdonald

      I think I understand where you are coming from, Laura. We need a past experience of joy or love or gratitude or peace to remind us of the feeling of those emotions. I enjoy watercolor painting. When I am inspired to paint a particular picture I try to surround myself with “reference material” – pictures of things I want to include in the painting or a particular object like flowers that “speak” to me of what it is about that object that I want to convey in the painting, like a visual vocabulary. I like to play soft classical music or meditation music to set the mood. I think remembering events or images that cemented the feelings on which we are focusing helps us to immediacy of the emotion. Eventually, we will need the visual reminder less and less. How often when we “play the tape” of our negative emotions do we rehearse the events that led to them? We are learning to substitute that pathway with positive images. We are learning to speak a new language; vocabulary words are always the hardest to learn.

  • Eddy Macdonald

    The victim concept keeps coming up to me the more of this work we do. When we rely on external stimuli to dictate how we feel, in a sense, we are victims, even it is often a “victim” of positive circumstances. Thankful that I am not what I do, and my thoughts and emotions don’t have to be dictated by what happens. The sentence, “something will make us grateful, an event will give us joy, a relationship will give us love, a goal will give us hope, and a pill will give us some peace”, really jumped out at me. I’d never really thought about it this way, but it is true that I am grateful FOR something. I am happy because SOMETHING happened. I am savoring love because of SOMEONE. I feel hopeful because of SOMETHING in the future. I rely on being in quiet or beautiful or restful place, taking a good nap, or drinking a good beer for experiencing peace.

    When you talk about reversing emotional cause and effect, are you saying that as we create these emotions internally apart from circumstances, we will gravitate more towards and attract more of these good things that reinforce the positive emotions?

  • Kathy Lee

    Living in the UpSpiral takes a lot of work and discipline for me; realizing the power to choose to apply the exercises of pulsing gratitude, joy, peace, love, the certitude practice, the prayer hands – it all helps and I’m still a long way from where I want to land. It’s dawning on me that i have always had this power to choose; I just wasn’t aware that choosing what I focus on, what thoughts I want to dwell on, what ideas and feelings I want to live in – all of this is a personal choice. One of my strengths is responsibility; this should be a good one to have since I now can step into an area where I have not realized I could be responsible for and that is being responsible for how I feel. In one sense it is very liberating to know I can choose my feelings; on the other hand, I now feel bad when I feel unhappy or upset. I’d like to be more kind and gentle with myself as I’m learning this new habit of cultivating a positive mind. The journey is an important one for my own personal development. And if I can master this at some level, perhaps I can help others along the way.

  • kit

    I find the analogy between building our mental or emotional ‘body’, and physical body building, inescapably clear. To explain emotional pulsing, I use a description of bicep curls. Everybody I’ve talked to relates to intentionally isolating a muscle; and understands you can’t suddenly have great ‘guns’ by doing one set of one hundred curls, especially if your body is unfamiliar with the movement. I ask my students to consider the comparison between where the motorcycle goes when the rider focuses on lines on the road (instead of the destination ahead), and, what the mind does when it’s focused on avoiding the negative rather than achieving or seeking the positive. When I tell my friends the uplifting facts of the brain’s life long neuroplasticity, the Zeno affect, and Schwartz’s work on OCD, I’ve seen the embers of hope burn more brightly in people like a veteran friend of mine who lives in the DownSpiral, suffering from permanent nerve damage, PTSD, and cyclical depression. In my own life, decoupling my emotions from my thoughts have had a dramatic stabilizing impact. I liken it to a strong elastic tether to my UpSpiral set point. Recent highly impactful circumstances ‘out there’ knocked me into a temporary visit to the DownSpiral. My tether ‘stretched’ to accommodate, then I almost felt it ‘snap’ me back into my UpSpiral set point. Making our focus, and, actionable plans around seeking and expanding our present moment positivity and strengths building, instead of focusing on avoiding a negative, is like opening a door to a room full of treasures and tools crafted specifically for us.

    • Echo Macdonald

      I really liked your application of the “emotional elastic tether” that has worked to limit your visits to the downspiral. To me, that reflects a strengthening of neural circuits in your brain in the direction of positivity through the Emotional Gym. You are practicing your Neural Biceps Curls with precision and regularity and growing fine “muscles” that allow you to carry the weights and burdens more effectively. Choosing to apply limits; taking responsibility for MOE. Sharing those concepts with your friends and clients from a body building perspective must be a powerful way to impact their lives physically, mentally and emotionally. Nice work!

  • Kalah Vaughan

    I have been digging the concept of pulling your desired feelings from within instead of waiting for outside events to create them. The examples given in the blog about treating positive emotions as if they were rewards for living are spot on. I would go to a place like Disney World to create Joy or look at my niece to create love.

    I must say I am still guilty of using these memories to get in the pulse of the emotional gym. But I feel like that is okay. Like I said many of times, I am just a human and part of learning and growing is awareness, using techniques and moving forward. So as I used to use positive emotions as rewards, I can now begin to use the feelings that have grown stronger over the last few weeks. So now I will begin to realize that I shall give myself the rewards of positive feelings just for being here on this planet. I am a walking miracle it is about time I start to feel I like it.

    • Echo Macdonald

      I understand how you feel about “giving” yourself the rewards of positive feelings. It’s like giving yourself permission to “wake up” to the real YOU. The act of applying the statements of “Praying Hands” to ourselves is a powerful and liberating experience. We give ourselves permission to mentally and emotionally honor, love and express gratitude to ourselves in a sort of “inside out” way. It seems to have strengthened my ability to direct positive emotions into myself and at the same time, seems to have enhanced my ability to direct those thoughts/emotions to others. We are all part of the larger positivity “family”. Maybe we can connect our positive thoughts to each other and collectively as a group?

  • Yvette Gauff

    “Positive emotions are treated as though they are the results of things on the outside, happening to us in a certain kind of way, and when the stars line up, or our problems get solved, or people line up in a certain way, then the result will be our joy or our gratitude.”

    Right hand raised. Guilty – that is/was me!

    I have always known I wasn’t the most jovial person. Rather serious. Not the most positive. Deemed to be born with a ‘melancholy’ temperament: ‘Wednesday’s child is full of woe…’ (my goodness, who told me that, and why did I remember it??!!). What I didn’t really know, but can now see, is how a pattern of negativity was created early, and I unknowingly helped cultivate it. Partially due to perspective.

    Perspective – how we see things and what we believe to be true (our story). I can see how poorly I was socialized, and how I contributed to my negative state of mind and Unhappiness. When you consistently see the glass as half empty rather than half full, when you are not grateful for what you have, when you focus on the negative rather than the positive, seeds of negativity are planted, and watered. One can expect a garden full of thorns,not beautiful flowers! Yuck! Ugly and painful! This is definitely downspiral
    and the results thereof.

    Only as I became an adult through my ‘spiritual’ experiences, was I told that joy was an attainable, ‘inward’ thing, stable, always present and enduring, and to be desired over happiness, as happiness was based upon the outward, and ‘happenstance’. I thought you either had joy or you didn’t. And as far as I knew, I didn’t. And, for some reason, the focus had been on the outward – temporal, changing ‘things’ and outcomes. So what happens when you can’t control some of the outward? As stated here, if I get my way – happy – if not – sad?! It’s like living life on a teeter totter, allowing someone else to control whether I am up or down. And by getting on it in the first place, I am choosing to allow that outcome.

    Choice – I didn’t realize how much control we have over our emotions. I thought things happened, they were as they were, and you responded accordingly. Mad? Ok? Happy? Ok? Afraid? I knew we could choose to or not to respond to something (and in my case it was normally an attempt to behave appropriately, put up a good ‘front’ – masking). For example, there is as saying, “Be angry, but sin not”. In other words, you can be pissed off, but be mindful of how you show it. What we are learning through the NeuroPositive Method™ work is an entirely higher level of management of one’s emotions. It is creating a new setpoint, with the Upspiral being the ‘gold’ standard. The more I am exposed to our material, the more cognizant I am that I can, through my choice, determine what my emotional response can be, through consistent, work like the exercises in the Emotional Gym, and I can, overtime, create a reservoir of positivity that can serve as my default. I am glad that despite my proclivity to the negative in my own life, I worked hard to instill the positive in my children; I wanted their life experience to be better than mine. Ironically, they are quick to credit me for their ‘I can do anything’, positive mindset. When they face opposition and challenges, they are faring far better than I at their age with their responses to life and its disappointments.

    Upspiral, downspiral or somewhere in between? My ‘default’ more often than not, has been to downspiral. Facing and addressing this truth is some of the most challenging work I
    have ever done. I have been an athlete for most of my life. In the same manner that I have worked my body to gain strength, compete at a higher level, and have overall better health, I
    see the neuroscience based work I am doing with my brain, equally if not more vital. And I take hope in saying that at times though it seems ‘that old habits die hard’, in a positive, more Upspiral way, I choose to believe that an old dog can learn new tricks, I can experience change for the good!

  • Yolanda Smith

    Emotion: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

    I have to start out this blog post with a question: if I am the cause of my emotions, then how do you explain when I wake up and immediately feel in a DownSpiral? How did I cause that?

    Taking into consideration that most people do go in between feeling good and not feeling good due to circumstances, events or people, I would say that the average person is somewhere in between most of the time.

    In my experience, pulling myself out of a Down spiral, especially when it’s very low, is one of the hardest things in life to do.  I now understand, that it is necessary to build a reservoir and stay the  UpSpiral on a more consistent basis, in order to overcome.

    Over the last several weeks, I have encountered several situations of friends and family members who are being challenged with battling mental illness. As we are learning more about living in the up spiral, I can’t help but wonder if living in this practice, could help deter the onset of the beginning stages of mental illness.

    It seems to me, that when it person continuously stays in a DownSpiral State of Mind over a long period of time, it can develop into some level of mental illness. I am witnessing people who were “mentally stable”, now battle with trying to have maintain mental stability.

    It speaks volumes to the importance of fighting back by making a conscious effort to stay in an UpSpiral. We’ve got to get the word out there, that there is hope & help available, if people are willing to do the work.

  • Echo Macdonald

    To say that Dr. Larkin’s statement about the perspective we have on self and our inclination to project our self image onto others was very convicting. In terms of the quantum physics concept of non-locality and the ability of the mind to project itself into and through space, projecting our image of our personhood onto another seems a bit like a search for our Peter Pan “shadow”. Our lack of security in our self-image may cause us to search for the completion of it in others. In some way it could almost be seen as parasitic in nature. Focusing on the “Upspiral” and our personal strengths should help to “fix” who we are in our mind and give us the freedom to move away from our dependence on others for validation of the value of our personhood.

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