Becoming aware of how we perceive and process instincts is critical to building the muscle of conscious mental shifts in relation to emotional and cognitive distress. A way to do this is by writing down attributes you experience when distressed. A feeling you get in your stomach, tension that quickly manifests in your neck and forehead, or a change in your breath are all examples. These types of instinctual responses can not only identify for us that we need to make a shift, but also aid us in categorizing what type of shift is needed. Is it sufficient to greet the instinctive reaction with opposition through release rather than opposition by force?

Imagine a large boulder is in front of you, it would be better to go around or perhaps go in the opposite direction rather than to try and move it. These solutions would be obvious to us if we were standing in front of a boulder that was somehow blocking our path. Often times with emotional and cognitive distress, we feel responsible to push the boulder or move it by strength. Often times we think we have to forcefully power through at 100% no matter what when sometimes it is enough to modify the internal or external demand.

Another example is learning to move to the next moment cognitively as a response to anxiety. By this I mean acknowledging life as commonly accepted in a linear chain of events and simply moving “forward” into the next moment, or second because that’s where the opportunity is. This means not blaming yourself for the anxious moment before or holding onto potential embarrassment or feeling that it caused, but instead simply focusing on the next second forward in life and time and understanding that it has already arrived, and taking the opportunity to be engaged in it. It does not mean that you necessarily go immediately from a state of panic into peaceful bliss, but each new second offers itself as a gradual stepping stone and shift forward and away from the previous moment of anxiousness. Every internal upset when consciously observed is an opportunity to self-assess and redirect.

When we become conscious of the visceral and cognitive moments of emotional shifts, it allows us to self-asses and bring consciousness back to the present like an elastic band. We then are able to make choices where we now feel empowered in our emotional management. Once we feel empowered, it is helpful to pair it with foundational support. Being empowered in your emotional management can be supported and further enabled by planning or “knowing where you’re going”, so to speak. It is difficult to expect that you will let go or attempt to shift and at the same time in that moment figure out how you will get to the next moment or desired emotional state successfully. Consider planning and taking time to decide; be informed and know where it is you want to go emotionally, when you want to shift, and how. This way, when the moment arrives, you will be better prepared for success. Below are three areas of practice to consider when planning conscious mental shifts, as well as a simple exercise. Be mindful and flexible that different needs, desires, circumstances or outcomes can require different types of shifts. Feel free to be malleable in your exploration and what individually works for you.

  1. Learning to pause and reflect while the thought or emotional pattern is occurring can be difficult. Often times we don’t recognize it until we have gone seemingly to the point of no return within our spiral of emotional distress. One thing that can be helpful is meeting yourself where you are. Start with the earliest point of distress that you can actively recognize and work your way gradually backward to awareness of the moment before and so on. After time you may begin to recognize commonalities in your physical being or thought patterns that can be helpful in building your foundational support for your emotional management.
  2. You may have to reassess your plan for the same emotional pattern several times. Be kind to yourself as a gentle reminder to go back to the process you want to strengthen without negative self talk. It’s also likely that your plan will evolve naturally with you without a lot of attention as you begin to strengthen your muscle to consciously shift.
  3. Noticing that you feel rushed or agitated at a time when it’s actually out of place like for instance on a day off or at dinner with friends, rather than preparing for a presentation or being on time for a meeting, can be a good place to start. In these moments you can begin to “loosen” up your cognitive pathways because now you are noticing when a trait or thought process has become toxic. There is a degree of depth and perception that becomes involved. In this way our thoughts are not seemingly only what our brain is receiving and processing in a victim like dynamic through signals or circumstances. When we are able to decipher when a thought process or emotional pattern has become toxic, we can also engage consciously with what seems to be dominating subconsciously or from an outside force which we can not control. This keen awareness and ability to pause and shift, or correct, with a gentle reminder, even at the start, should be recognized as an accomplishment in itself. This ability can be deepened over time without feeling the stress for perfection or constant engagement. As this awareness muscle begins to strengthen, you will more naturally begin to feel the ability to free yourself instantaneously from the potential bond of a toxic internal rhetoric, whether minute or large.

One Exercise to Try

One physical exercise I call the “10 second smile” can be applied first thing in the morning as a helpful way to set the tone for the day, or consciously applied right as you catch your mood or thought pattern starting to slip into a negative direction. This exercise can be helpful as a starting point for a successful emotional transition. Here’s how it goes:

It is very similar to how it sounds with a few boundaries. If you are near a mirror go and stand in front of it. If not, simply keep doing what you’re doing moving through the moment and smile really big for 10 full seconds and hold the muscle. If you feel your smile start to waiver, you should start again from 1. At times it can be extremely difficult, particularly if your situation or mood is not positive. If your surroundings make you uncomfortable, try to find a private place, or a place off to the side, if removing yourself is not possible. Using the research we know regarding the health benefits related to smiling ,along with the rigor of the applied practice of holding the large stretched-out muscles in the face to smile, along with the conscious choice to insert it when you feel a negative shift beginning to occur, can be effective. After you have been able to maintain the large stretched out teeth showing smile for 10 seconds, you are now physically dominating the flow of a conscious mental shift.

The benefits of applying the healthy practice of smiling in an applied way with a tangible exercise like this one can assist in grounding your efforts for a successful conscious mental shift if you want to try something beyond thought process or breathing.

Up Next: 5 Dynamic Emotional Perspectives

Founder of At Liberty,LLC /Creative Executive/Contributor at Thrive Global

Originally published at on May 24, 2017.

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