What happened the last time you looked pensive, worried or anything other than smiling and happy?  Chances are your colleagues, friends or your spouse joined the chorus to tell you to “cheer up”. In some cases, they would follow up with the offer of creating a distraction – go to a movie go out drinking etc. This is a ‘normal’ response, but I pose a different problem at you. How many times have you decided not to make the negative feeling go away but actually decided to stay with it, and look at this ball of negativity and sadness and tease out the individual threads that make it up? 

Positivity has become the new Moral Correctness

Clearly, as a society, we place a lot of emphasis on being happy, and in case we are not happy — at least looking happy. It seems to be a deep-set belief that getting into a better mood is somehow pervasive and will actually make your problems go away. Maybe that is what you think to too – and maybe that’s the reason you are the first one to plan out the weekend. 

I have written earlier about how ‘feeling happy’ creates the Myth of Happiness and that in turn keeps us from being the most productive and takes aways the drive for the most motivated action. In this piece, we discuss how it is important to stay with negative emotions – not indefinitely —  but to understand them and find steps that you can take to go past them. You need to build the emotional discipline to stay with the negative emotions long enough and look at them hard enough till you can identify each individual one. That’s how paradoxically accepting our negative emotions can actually make ourselves happier in the long run. 

The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge

Seamus Heaney giving his Nobel Prize for poetry acceptance address

Going from Low Mood to being ‘Happy’

These are the following steps I have found worked for me, repeatedly, in the deeply negative situations and mindset I found myself in:

  1. Identify the overall event that is causing this low mood: The first step is to identify what is causing this low mood. Typically this is an impending event – it is an upcoming loan repayment or an upcoming performance review? 
  2. Identify what is this low mood made of: Low mood hides within it fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty, disappointment, confusion, resentment etc. These are individual distinct emotions with individual histories, and triggers. But they are deeply interconnected and often present themselves in one single feeling – the feeling of being low. Identifying each allows us to address them individually. For example, loan repayment is mostly stress & anxiety, it is not fear, sadness, anger, frustration, uncertainty, disappointment, confusion or resentment. 
  3. Identify where each comes from: I have found that instead of pushing aside negative feelings once you know where they come from — say stress or anger — you can ask yourself the second level question – stressed about what? If loan repayment is stressing you about – is it because you don’t have the money or because you fear your paycheck will be late, or because your last check bounced?
  4. Identify what you can do about it: Now you can ask yourself the next set of questions — what am I going to do about it? If the stress is coming from repaying a loan in say 20 days — the set of questions is — what options do I have in the short run including (a) who can I ask for help with money (b) what kind of customers can pay fast enough, etc. 
  5. Identifying action to address it: Once this ‘feeling’ of being ‘worried’ is replaced by knowing what emotion, and what trigger it has — it is simpler to identify a set of small steps you can take. For example, if your option includes asking for help – then you will make a list of 5, 10, 20 people you can call and present to them the problem they can help. This forces you to stop feeling low, and get up and take action. 

In my case, the breakthrough came when I realised that at the centre of my overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness was the feeling of being undermined and humiliated. From a gleaming glass office I had created for myself I spent months/ years summoned by police stations, criminal courts, tax authorities & banks. Instead of just feeling sad I started creating a distance between me and the situation. I started saying ‘I’m feeling humiliated because _____, I am frustrated because I want to leave here and go home”. This did two things – I laid to rest that unease about leaving because I had to accept I could not leave and go home. And it answered the important question about feeling undermined and humiliated — it would be legitimate for me to have felt humiliated if I had done any of the things I was accused of. Humiliation was not a legitimate feeling – anger was (see also about stages and dealing with grief). I have earlier spoken about becoming forgiving of owes own trespasses. Acceptance of my current state also allowed me to be forgiving of myself and allowed me to create a safe space within myself. 

For the most part, positive action is the antidote to negative feelings

Rakesh Shukla

Turning away from negative emotions is unhealthy because it undermines our ability to deal with reality. The constant distraction to feel happy presents a greater disconnect between our reality and how we wish it to be. This, in turn, gives us lower levels of resilience & wellbeing and higher levels of depression & anxiety. 

Action orientation is the best way of getting out of ‘feeling’ negative. Negative situations are a part of life, learn to stay with them, become mindful of them and creating small actions that will change your life’s outcomes is the principle approach that I have used. And remember to be an effective individual you absolutely must know deep down that even if things don’t go right you will still like yourself and respect yourself.  

Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA™ is a framework for developing unparalleled Mental & Physical toughness developed over Rakesh’s life. It has driven 2 comebacks.

Rakesh Shukla has slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel and others. At 43, over one year he lost everything. Alone & friendless he spent the next 5 years repaying over INR 20 crores of debt & taxes, building back his company and reputation. While creating & funding VOSD the world’s largest dog sanctuary & rescue.

Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was 7 yrs old, had had 2 heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this 5 year period, Rakesh was 88kg in weight and very unfit. Today at 48 yrs he can lift well over 100kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2000 push-ups or 250 pulls ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer or taken any supplements.