In my previous blog post, I summarized the skills required to master the third step of my Brain Education method, called Brain Refreshing. This step is all about gaining emotional intelligence, the ability to manage your emotions in a way that makes them an asset, not a liability.
I presented three basic skills that are needed: First, know your emotions and moods; second, clear negative emotions; third, develop positive emotional habits. These three seem simple enough, but what if negative emotions persist, no matter how hard we try to get past them? That certainly can be the case, especially when we are left feeling heartbroken by the process of life.
The persistence of some emotions is why you need an emotional intelligence toolbox, simple things you can do to help you regain emotional equilibrium. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an emotional reset button, something to help you see the situation anew when times get rough? When a website isn’t loading right, you can click on the “refresh” button to try again, and I think you can “refresh” your brain, too. The full Brain Education method provides lots of tools for this purpose, but here are four of the most simple and effective exercises:
1. Tell yourself, “My emotions are not me, but mine.”
This is one of most important realizations about the nature of life that I have ever received, something that came to me during my deep search for the meaning of my life. To gain true emotional maturity, you must be able to accept this statement; you must realize that your emotions are not who you really are. Your emotions are simply a byproduct of living within a physical body with all the limitations that come with life; they are not your True Self, your eternal and undamageable self.
Sometimes, we identify so deeply with our emotions that they become part of our identity. In the case of negative emotions like anger and sadness, if we hold on to them as part of who we are, we have accepted a victim’s identity that will make it harder for us to succeed.
To begin to separate out your emotions from your purest and most genuine identity, try using this statement, “My emotions are not me, but mine,” as a kind of mantra to bring yourself back to your center. When anger arises, for example, and you are in danger of lashing out in destructive ways, you can repeat this to yourself before you act. If you give that an honest try, I assure you that your emotional response will be more controlled and compassionate.
2. Focus on your breath
Most of us instinctively know that “taking a deep breath” is a good way to relax, so why not do so more deliberately? Many people today breathe very shallowly, often only into the neck. Retraining yourself to breathe as you did when you were a baby, all the way into the abdomen, is a great way to relax the entire body and to let go of worrisome emotions.
- Lie down on your back on a hard and warm surface.
- Squeeze your legs tightly together and then completely relax them. They will part naturally, about the width of one foot. Your angle of your feet should be about 30 to 45 degrees from the floor.
- Place your palms on your lower abdomen. Keep the elbows resting comfortably on the floor. If your elbows lift off the floor, allow the hands to slide down the sides of the abdomen until your elbows rest on the floor.
- Relax your body completely, especially the upper body, chest, and shoulders.
- Curl your tailbone gently up, letting the lower back touch the floor as much as possible. As your tailbone tucks in, imagine creating a bowl in your lower abdomen to collect energy, trying your best not to tense your legs to do so. You will automatically feel slight tension in your lower abdomen.
- Close your eyes and focus on the energy flow inside your body. Breathe deep down to the lower abdomen.
3. Smile!This might sound overly simplistic, but it works. Neuroscientists have found that smiling, even “fake” or “forced” smiling, stimulates chemicals associated with happiness and contentment in our brains. So, the next time it seems like there is absolutely nothing to smile about, smile anyway.
You don’t have to walk around with a fake smile on your face, but when you feel depressed or overwhelmed, sit and relax for a while, even if only for a couple of minutes. Breathe deeply and, as you exhale, turn up the corners of your mouth in a peaceful, contented smile. After a few breaths, you might find that you don’t have to force it at all as your brain begins to feel lighter and brighter.
4. Press Your Belly Button
Neuroscientists have discovered that our brain is not just in our heads; it is also in our heart and intestines. Neurons that make up the brain in our heads are also found in these places. The abdomen in particular has thousands of neuronal connections, and it’s now known to be an important part of our emotional processing.
The “brain” in your abdomen is connected to the brain in your head by a very important nerve called the vagus nerve. This nerve is responsible for helping our bodies return to a state of calm equilibrium after a period of stress. Also, hormones associated with happiness, such as serotonin and dopamine, are largely produced in the gut. I created a practice called Belly Button Healing to help people access the gut’s ability to relieve stress and to improve our moods.
You can do this standing up, sitting, or you can lie down for even greater relaxation. You can use just your hand or a tool such as the Belly Button Healing wand. All you have to do is press the belly button rhythmically while you breathe naturally and relax the body. Doing this for just five minutes, twice a day will make a huge difference in how healthy you feel.
On the Road to Mastery
Once you have learned the important art of emotional mastery, you will find that you have come a long way toward mastering life. You have come here with all the talents you need to become anything you want and to make this world a better place. The only possible thing that can stop you is your own emotions, which are only your reactions to the obstacles you face. With emotional maturity, your obstacles are just temporary setbacks, and that’s all they are. They cannot stop you unless you let them, and with a continuously positive attitude, they certainly won’t.