Battling Your Inner Demons

Learn how to balance negative and positive emotions so that you can beat self-doubt and be the hero in your own story.

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Photo: Daniel Cheung

If you’re a movie buff then you’ll be familiar with heroes battling their inner demons. Luke Skywalker battled the dark side of the force in Star Wars, Frodo had to overcome the weight of expectation in The Lord of the Rings and Neo struggled to accept his destiny in The Matrix, just to name a few.

Like the characters in these stories we often have feelings of self-doubt (even if we’re not charged with saving the universe!). It’s one of the reasons we find inspirational quotes and stories of overcoming adversity so uplifting. They remind us of what’s possible and provide a source of positive emotions to counteract the negativity in our world.

Negativity Bias

The problem is we’re hardwired to notice negativity. Instead of giving ourselves a pat on the back after achieving success we tend to focus on the things that didn’t go so well. This automatic response is linked to our evolution and served us well thousands of years ago when our negativity bias was critical for survival.

In modern society, our negative emotions can provide insight into what we find important and valuable. For instance, we may feel anger if we see or experience something that conflicts with our morals or values. The challenge is to balance more powerful and enduring negative emotions with positive emotions.

Photo: Joshua Sortino

We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.”

— Ernest Hemiingway, Leonard Cohen

Positive Emotions

In her book Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson focuses on 10 positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Fredrickson’s research suggests that having a positivity ratio of at least 3:1 can greatly enhance our mental wellbeing. In relationships, this ratio has been shown to be 5:1.

Photo: Jonatan Pie

Practices to Help You Thrive

1. Look for insights from your feelings

What is your inner critical voice telling you? Is your response based on values, experiences or memories? Our negative emotions can work for and against us so it’s important to recognise and understand our emotions.

2. Give your positivity a boost

Try getting outdoors and performing a random act of kindness or reflecting on the things you’re grateful for. This will boost your positivity and increase dopamine, a neurochemical produced in the brain that makes you feel good.

3. Trust yourself and get back in the arena

Break cycles of rumination with a healthy distraction or short mindfulness break. You may also need to reset your goals to make them more achievable. Consider setting daily goals to get yourself back on track.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever acheive greatly.”

— Robert F. Kennedy

Also from Positive Legacies:

Grit Defined

Cultivating Compassion for Self and Others

Sleep: The Foundation for Positive Change

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


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