The Gift That Really Keeps On Giving

For many, this time of year is filled with negative or unpleasant memories kept alive by the lack of needed insight and growth.  Stuck in unforgiveness, many people continue blaming others for their unhappiness during this season of the year. Whatever the cause, the thoughts of others celebrating with great cheer can bring up memories of loss and hurt.

Because this season is so filled with a whole range of emotions, it gives us an opportunity to look at how we can learn to develop positive “emotional muscle” and feel the positive emotions we want to feel “on call.”  Yes, especially at this time of year, even if you’re “nursing” past hurts, even resentments, you can learn to undo the pattern of “holding on” and learn to “let go” to feel better, to feel good this entire holiday season and beyond.

Positivity does not necessarily begin with positive thinking, although that is a helpful and important part.  Thinking is only a part of this.  We begin to develop what we call “neuropositivity” by beginning to exercise and develop positive emotional muscle. Let’s take a look at the concept of “emotional muscle.” 

On the negative side, it does not take much to realize that we are able to get to negative emotions in an instant.  We can go there in less than a second. We also know that we can stay there, nursing a negative emotion and obsessing over the negativity for a long time. We all know people who can intensify a negative emotion and make it bigger and bigger and bigger. We know they are over-reacting and that we do the same, but we don’t think much about it because we don’t realize the enormous cost of being so competent, capable, and agile with negative emotions. Building a reservoir of positive “emotional muscle” promises that you can get to positive emotions instantly (immediacy), you can stay there for a long time (duration), and you can increase the feeling at will (intensity).  As agile and skilled as we are at doing this with negative emotion is very often as limited as we are, to some extent, in doing it with positive emotion.  Most of the time we haven’t even considered growing positive emotion.

What you are building is a new ambient soundtrack in your life. You want the positive emotional setting to become your default setting – a place you just normally go to, rather than worry, fear or dread. You are also building psychological capital. You are building a kind of reservoir of positivity that will cause negative feelings to last a much shorter time. You will find, after a while, that you react less to negative things in your world and when they do occur, you have a buffer of time to adjust your usual automatic response to them. You are beginning to tell your brain to spend more time in positive emotion than in negative emotion. Your brain will resist you until neuropositivity has built new neuropathways that are more in charge than the old, negative ones.  This is the activity of what we call brain neuroplasticity.

This can sound like a simple denial of negative emotion.  We have been taught that you must “air” negative feelings, that they are dangerous if they are internalized and repressed. While it isn’t true that we have to air every negative feeling or thought, what is important is acknowledging them for whatever feedback or information they give. There is a difference between ignoring negative feelings and not staying in them longer than necessary and becoming stuck in them. If negative feelings are, in part, mechanisms of feedback, let them tell you what they have to tell you, and then use them as a cue to go to a positive emotion. You can’t solve a problem from a negative place, so get to a positive place and then deal with the negative situation.

How can all this really happen? Doesn’t it all still sound like a simple denial of negative thoughts and experiences? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In our Emotional Gym, your goal is to grow positive emotional states in three measures- develop the mastery to get to them instantly, gain duration and neurologically make them last, and gain the agility (and courage) to intensify them. That sounds pretty simple, and it is, over time. And that will be no small amount of time. Changing neuropathways in the brain takes time.  Just consider the time it’s taken for you to develop the ones that presently determine your emotions and behavior. 

On a scale of 1-10, if 1 is a little and 10 is a lot, try feeling a little bit of gratitude at 1, 2, or a 3.  Just feel a small amount to begin with.  One hundred little hits of gratitude a day is more valuable than a single, large, great hit in a week or a month.  Now, as if you were chanting, or better, pulsing with energy, feel the emotions of gratitude 25 times at a 1, 2, or 3.  Feel a little of the emotion, just touch it and feel it again.  You are pulsing “gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.”  If you are so far away from your feelings that you just can’t feel it, then think it; it will come to you and that’s a promise.

Next do the same things with each of the following emotions: joy, love, peace and hope.  You can choose any emotion and put them in any order. Usually one or two of the emotions are hard to feel at first. If you can’t feel the emotion, then just think it. What you think, with the intention of feeling it, will emerge as a feeling after a while, if that is your intention.

This holiday, give yourself the gift of “feeling good.” Begin to practice our Emotional Gym, and come to know what so many others already know and practice-that feeling good is a choice, a decision, and an intention which, once activated, just keeps on giving. The price for all is this might just be your ticket out of persistent, unforgiving negativity into the greater freedom of feeling better, feeling good, greater forgiveness for yourself first, and then for others. That’s a gift that just gives and gives.


1) Summarize the research which supports the effectiveness of the Emotional Gym. How does the practice of this coaching tool call up the brain’s neuroplasticity? Give us an example of how you’ve used this tool successfully with a client.
2) You have a client who persists in wanting to tell you his/her story of holiday “dread.” Using your knowledge of our ANI coaching model, where would you begin with this client? What would be your overall coaching plan for such a client? What specific tools would you plan to use?
3) How would you teach the concept and practice of the Emotional Gym to a new client or to a new audience? What would you emphasize and how would you explain its benefits? Give us your script.


1) What feelings are most prevalent for you during the holiday season? How do you celebrate the “good feelings” of this time of year? What strategies do you have for building duration and intensity of positive emotions?
2) We challenge you to try the practice of our Emotional Gym. How do you see its  power with negative past memories and experiences which may be an integral part of your experience of the holidays? Tell us what you envision as a result of trying this new tool. Post your experience on this blog.


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute