Many people know all too well the feeling of joy from something positive in their life being contaminated by the stress of feeling like it’s only a matter of time before the pendulum would swing the other way. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence. When driven people care about something and finally experience whatever they have been striving to achieve, they’re unable to savor the good times. However, taking yourself out of the moment to dread what might happen next won’t actually prepare you for disaster. In fact, research has shown that it’s the ability to experience positive emotions that improves our ability to cope with distress. Further, research has shown that experience positive emotions doesn’t set you up for disappointment, but rather increases your likelihood of achieving your work, health and relationship aspirations. Taitz (2019) offers some research-based techniques to help you quiet the nagging voices that suggest disappointment and enjoy the positivity:
⦁ Notice that worrying will only steal your current joy: In a 2009 study, researchers found that students who predicted getting a poor grade on an exam felt bad for days before receiving their results (Golub, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2009). And actually, their stressing didn’t diminish the disappointment they felt once they got their scores. This research highlights one of the main reasons people worry: on some level they assume it helps. Yet we need to accept that we can’t perfectly prepare for potential challenges.
⦁ Stop writing off hard work as “luck”: Although being humble has it’s many benefits, it doesn’t need to come at the expense of creating faith in yourself. You miss out on the power of self-efficacy when you play down your accomplishments and entirely write off victories to external factors like chance or timing. This also perpetuates the belief that something negative might happen soon. Instead of worrying that you aren’t good enough and your winning streak is about to expire, practice the combination of trusting yourself and acting conscientiously.
⦁ Remind yourself that a happy life is a balance life: It can be hard to remember that succeeding in one area of your life, like your career or romantic life, won’t lead to total fulfillment. It’s important to remember that you’re capable of gaining meaning from more than one aspect of your existence. To broaden your perspective, sketch a pie chart that includes the parts of your life that matter to you most, such as, friendships, health, work, relationships, hobbies, etc. Then invest some time into thinking about your aspirations in each domain. The more you engage in what matters most to you, the more empowered you might feel.
⦁ Focus on your values, not your goals: We often hear about setting your goals high. However, this then sets the trap of measuring your worth by your achievements. Instead, ask yourself, What virtues do I embody? How do I want to show up right now? What do I want my life to stand for? Speaking more towards your values rather than goals allows you to take charge of things that are under your control while also helping you achieve your ambitions. A study done at the University of Nevada, Reno actually found that the studies who considered both their values and goals improved their GPAs more than the students who just set goals (Chase, Houmanfar, Hayes, Ward, Vilardaga, & Follette, 2013).
⦁ Don’t believe everything you think: Try to see your thoughts with distance and perspective. Taitz (2019) offers a technique to help play with your thoughts. For example, you might turn an upsetting phrase like, “You’re not good enough,” into an upbeat rap song or repeat it as fast as it can until it loses meaning. These strategies are called cognitive diffusion and can work in any number of stressful situations to prevent you from taking unhelpful thoughts too seriously.
⦁ Act the opposite of your imposter urges: In order to actually change your negative emotions, you must first focus on changing how you behave. For example, if you are someone who struggles with self-doubt, imagine how you might act if you weren’t struggling with self-doubt. Would you leave the office earlier to get to a workout class? Stop responding to emails after 8pm? Rather than just imagining that life, try to actually live it.
Chase, J., Houmanfar, R., Hayes, S., Ward, T., Vilardaga, J., & Follette, V. (2013). Values are
not just goals: Online ACT-based values training adds to goal setting in improving undergraduate college student performance. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 2(3-4), 79-84.
Golub, S. A., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2009). Anticipating one’s troubles: The costs and
benefits of negative expectations. Emotion, 9(2), 277–281
Taitz, J. (2019, August 09). Always Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop? Here’s How to Quit
Worrying. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/08/smarter-living/always-waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop-heres-how-to-quit-worrying.html?fallback=0