Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. We do that by building the elements of joy. Those are the positive emotions and inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life.
The element for this episode is equanimity. We've got a series going on here, so if you haven't heard episodes 48 through 51, I'd suggest heading back to those before this one. We're working through this process of an emotional storm and how we can get, through it with a little bit less suffering. Or a lot less suffering with the help of equanimity.
In this episode, we're walking out of our to assess what may be some damage after the storm, and we also wanna circle back to this practice of building that equanimity baseline to make a future storm less difficult.
Henry: Right. So we've been working with the anatomy of an emotional storm, and we have kind of dissected it into a few key parts. It starts with a surge of emotion when we get triggered by something, not a big deal yet, but it is the seed that will become a storm if we allow it to. Right on the heels of that, we start thinking. This is automatic. It's usually negative, and it just adds to the emotional instability that will give rise to a storm. Then the storyline enters, and this is the story of ourselves that we've been creating for years. It makes it personal and that's why we feel so mad or hurt, or scared. And then if we just can't help ourselves, we speak or act in ways that hurt ourselves or somebody else. So in each of these stages, there are opportunities to be more aware, to respond more wisely. So maybe we can disrupt the cycle or take some of the energy out of the storm.
Aimee: Yeah. I think what gets really hard at this point is that common feeling of total defeat or helplessness that can rise up. We may have missed all the signs and opportunities to buffer some of the storm, made the suffering even worse with our stories, and it just feels like there's nothing to do at this point.
The damage is too much or it's over, so we ignore it. Or even end relationships cuz trying to mend it seems pretty hard or there's not an external party, noted this in an earlier episode. All the damage that was done was to ourselves. So we don't give ourselves the apology or the time to really take note of what happened and how we can treat ourselves with more love next time.
Henry: Right. The, the point of all of this is so that we can grow our skills. So that we just don't get swept away so much by our emotions. Admittedly, this is hard to do. And I think this is really one of the most important times to practice self-compassion, which is another of our elements of joy. We did a whole series on that recently, and you can check it out in episodes 26 to 29. For me, this is really a long-term process. I've gotten a lot better at it than I used to be, I still have a way to go.
So one of the best things I can do is to try to learn from the times I don't do so well. You know, to, to play it back in my mind after the fact. Maybe clean up some of those lingering feelings or repair any damaged relationships, if need be. And, and really use whatever I can so that I can do it just a little more skillfully next time around. Now, for most of us, this stage is actually easier than trying to step aside during the storm itself. So even if we've been completely swept away by a strong emotion we can go back later and try to see what happened and where could we have done things differently.
Aimee: Yeah. Sometimes we need to go through these storms just epically, screw it up, to really understand what our tendencies are. At least for me, I find it very helpful to learn the hard way at times. And it's so important to move into this phase of assessment with self-compassion. As you noted, it's necessary if we really want to see all the pieces of the storm, what happened, our role in it, others roles in it, and without self-compassion, I think it's nearly impossible to have those hard conversations.
Or make authentic apologies, uh, or take action, do whatever we have to do to try and clean up and learn something. And on its face, I think that sounds odd. You know, we so often lean on shame or regret as if those are the only fuels to motivate us to fix a mess we've caused. But it's just not true. It's definitely our MO here at Joy Lab.
And it's how the science and behavior change and human flourishing work regret and guilt, sure can be helpful. Shame serves a purpose, but if we don't move out of those states with some self-compassion, then we'll stay there locked into fear mode, survival mode, just trying to protect ourselves. And I think also coming back to that idea that we often start our work after the storm.
We can get a really good bird's eye view. It's like where you can send up a drone and assess everything with a bit more objectivity,
Henry: Yeah, I like that image and I agree. It's just so important to get that distance, you know, that objectivity. I think the reason that we get swept away at all by these storms is because we're not aware of what's happening inside of ourselves.
And then, you know, we make it personal. We make it about us. If we're too close to it, we just can't see those things.
And when we get a bird's eye view, we, we can really see things differently.
Henry: So I'll, I'll share with you when I, when I think I really learned to do this, it might not be the best example because this for me, happened over a period of several years. So it was really more like a, a stretch, a long stretch of bad weather than a, quick, evolving storm.
But anyway, I was in my early forties and my father died very suddenly. I had never lost anyone close to me up until then, and it just really shook me. And then over the next three years before I could recover from any of these losses, there were three other additional people, also important to me who died. And some of those relationships were more complicated than others, as happens. And the combination of all of this just really sent me into a funk. It took me a few years to get out of. Now, during that time, for whatever reason, I naturally gravitated to the kind of practice that we're talking about now. So I spent a lot of time being quiet, reflecting on these relationships, feeling my emotions, and I processed it mostly by writing about it. I didn't realize it at the time, but much of what I wrote in my personal journals ended up becoming the heart of the books that I wrote a few years later.
So, you know, you can obviously tweak this and create your own process for this. I think the key elements are to give yourself some time and space when you won't be interrupted. Maybe start out by taking a few moments just to allow your mind to quiet down. And then spend some time you know, maybe remembering the events that led up to the storm, or you can reimagine the whole experience in as much detail as you possibly can. And then you could even tease it apart into the separate pieces that we've been talking about in this series.
Now, I think it's really good to use your imagination for this. Maybe even turn it into a, a kind of guided imagery if you want. You could even like see yourself, imagine yourself, going through this more skillfully than you actually did when it happened. I think you might create a better actual future for yourself by first creating a better picture of it in your mind.
Aimee: I love that guided imagery option. And you're channeling our practices from savoring Henry, right? You could remix this our savoring future practice that we talked about in episode 46. You could envision yourself moving through not just in a skillful way, but like actually savoring the experience even amidst a hailstorm.
And I, I think this can also be helpful to do with others. Like a trusted, loving friend or mental health practitioner or in group therapy or a support group. Just someone or a group of folks who you trust to help you assess, uh, who can help you see something that you might be missing maybe, and who can offer you some support, cuz some uncomfortable feelings might come up, some tough realizations.
I think it can also be really helpful to join up with a larger group who might be trying to do similar, or at least are participating in something that builds up your equanimity baseline. Like being with us here weekly at the podcast, uh, or joining the Joy Lab program. But it doesn't have to be something so obviously, you know, mental health focused either. Maybe it's a pickleball league or a writing group, a parenting club. Really anything that can support you in any of these phases of equanimity and riding through a storm.
Henry: I think the magic of this is that you don't have to wait until you can calm your mind really easily, or you become an expert meditator. When you simply learn to see more clearly what is true for you, not the story you've made up your about yourself, but a, a truer, more balanced view of yourself. And when you become able to step back a little bit and just witness what's happening, as it is happening, then I think that this emotional steadiness just comes up naturally. If you remove the obstacles to equanimity, like your unconscious thoughts or personal storyline, your baseline of everyday equanimity just rises up on its own.
Aimee: I like that. everyday equanimity. It reminds me that there are a million opportunities to practice this and build myself up. We talked about this in episode 48. Again, building our baseline up. I think it can also be helpful to assess the little everyday windstorms where your mood or energy gets drained and you feel like you could apply some equanimity pretty easily.
I'll give two quick examples that I worked on. One is road rage. And two is social gatherings where I would feel anxious or insecure and then turn up my extroversion in a way that just completely drained me after. So with road rage, the practice was pretty simple for me. If I felt the road rage rise, I'd take a breath, then no F-bombs, no name calling, no hand gestures.
Three more deep breaths. And that's it. And after working on this, it totally shifted my days when I was driving. One, I was not looking for people to road rage at, which is part of Ro road rage. Uh, and two, there's some great research on this, on how road rage lingers, uh, with us. It makes us more irritable for many hours after the experience.
You know, it's not just like this moment in time, it extends out. Uh, so this is a simple place to apply equanimity and I think many of us can resonate here. And with social gatherings, I decided that after assessing, business networking events just weren't for me at the time. Too stressful. I just stopped those actually. There's a good spot for do nothing. I did not need to do that at that time in my life. But for the stuff I did have to attend or wanted to attend, I started to do a five-minute meditation before the gatherings. Just a body awareness meditation, kind of like in episode 34 that we have for you.
And I just added some Stuart Smalley affirmations to it. Like, you are enough, you can do this. I just bolstered up my equanimity a bit and it helped. More and more each time. Now I can attend a networking event without feeling like an exhausted shell of myself at the end. Even though I still don't really want to attend them. I feel good that I can, maybe that will change in time.
Henry: Yeah, well, we've been talking about everyday equanimity. And I really like this as a transition to our next element, our next series, which we're starting next week, and that's going to be on building resilience. So we'll try to, you know, build on some of what we've been learning in these last few episodes and, and really take it to a broader level. How do we grow our resilience because we, we all need that. We're all gonna get knocked about a bit and we need to be able to face that as, as best as we possibly can.
Aimee: Getting back up again. It is the perfect transition. I love these two together, equanimity and resilience. I'll leave you with some inspiration from poet and author Bianca Bowers. A reminder to keep going even after you screw up. Um, keep going and growing your equanimity bit by bit.
Here's what she wrote:
" I sometimes marvel at how far I've come-- blissful, even, in the knowledge that I am slowly becoming a well-evolved human being-- only to have the illusion shattered by an episode of bad behavior that contradicts the new and reinforces the old. At these junctures of self-reflection, I ask the question, 'are all my years of hard work unraveling before my eyes, or am I just having an episode?' For the sake of personal growth and the pursuit of equanimity, I choose the latter and accept that on this journey of evolution, I may not encounter just one bad day, but a group of many."
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