Three Step Emotional Change Technique

Mental Sets & Moods

What I’d like to focus on today is the power of perspective. Let’s play a quick game; say “silk” fives times out loud, now spell “silk” out loud. I have a question, what do cow’s drink? If you answered “milk”, you’re wrong, cow’s drink water. This playful exercise sheds light on how easy it is to receive inaccurate information from our brains and get caught in a mental set. When we think that something is wrong with us, we will create experiences that reinforce that belief. While it is absolutely important for us to honor our feelings and moods, there is also value in recognizing how thinking different thoughts can effectively change our mood states. This technique is properly referred to as an Emotional Change Technique, it gives individuals an increased sense of control over their emotions, and in turn facilitates a sense of empowerment.

The following example takes a hypothetical BYEP participant, “Sam” and illustrates how to apply The Three Step Emotional Change Technique.

Sam, is a 13-year-old boy, who has a tendency to become suddenly stubborn, rigid, and disagreeable when interacting with mentors. Sam arrives to BYEP sullen, and antagonistic, it becomes quickly obvious that Sam is going to be difficult to talk with…

Before engaging in the three steps it is important to provide Sam with emotional validation. In this example, Psychologist, John Somers Flanagan plays the role of the mentor. Read how well he prepares Sam for the technique.

Mentor: I see you’re in a bad mood today. I have this . . . well, it’s kind of a magic trick and I thought maybe you’d be interested. Want to hear about it?

Sam: (shrugs)

Mentor: It’s a trick that helps people get themselves out of a bad mood if they want to. First, I need to tell you what I know about bad moods. Bad moods are weird because even though they don’t really feel good, lots of times people don’t want to get out of their bad mood and into a better mood. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you kind of want to stay in a bad mood; you don’t want anybody forcing you to change out of a bad mood.

Sam: (nods in agreement)

Mentor: And you know what, I’ve noticed when I’m in a bad mood, I really hate it when someone comes up to me and says: “Cheer up!” or “Smile!”

Sam: Yeah, I hate that too.

Mentor: And so you can be sure I’m not going to say that to you. In fact, sometimes the best thing  to do is just really be in that bad mood—be those bad feelings. Sometimes it feels great to get right into the middle of those feelings and be them.

Sam: Uh, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

Mentor: Well, to get in control of your own feelings, it’s important to admit they’re there, to get to know them better. So, the first step of this emotional change trick is to express your bad feelings. See, by getting them out and expressing them, you’re in control. If you don’t express your feelings, especially icky ones, you could get stuck in a bad mood even longer than you want.

As demonstrated above, preparation for the technique involves: validating how it feels to be in a bad mood (and acknowledging how bad it feels to hear “cheer up”), sharing information about bad moods and how people can resist changing their moods (or get stuck), and presenting hopeful information about how people can learn to change their moods. Once you’ve laid down an adequate foundation, you can begin teaching:

The 3-Step Emotional Change Trick.

Step 1: Feel the feeling

Help youth identify various emotional expression techniques they may be interested in exploring. Brainstorm with the participant as they create a list of strategies they would be willing to try. Some of these may include: scribbling on a note pad with a black marker, drawing an angry ugly picture, jumping up and down really hard, making angry faces in the mirror.

Step 2: Think a new thought (or engage in a new behavior)

The intention behind step two is to illustrate to participants that emotions are linked to thoughts. At this point you may ask, “what is the funniest thing that happened to you this week?” The content of what the participant considers funny may not seem particularly funny to you. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to be interested and entertained in order to build on the mood shift. Occasionally, participants won’t be able to generate alternative thoughts. In such cases, focus more explicitly on changing mood through changing behaviors. Get out a sheet of paper and mutually generate a list of actions that the participant already has positive feelings towards. Some of these may include: exercise, cooking, yoga, & reading.

Step 3: Spread the good mood

You may inquire, “did you know that moods are contagious? You can actually catch them from being around people who are in bad moods or good moods.” Teaching participants about contagious moods provides them with further general education about their emotional life and gives them the opportunity to have a positive effect on another person’s mood. Some of these may include: giving someone a compliment, cooking for others, sharing a quote on social media, or engaging in an act of service.

Step 4: Teach someone else the three steps

Although we’re sharing a three-step technique, we’ve now moved to Step 4. This is done intentionally with youth to make the point that whenever we’re working with or talking about emotions, surprising things can happen. Ask the participant you are working with if they would be willing to teach the three steps to another person. Teaching the technique can be an especially empowering for participants because they begin to view themselves as having increased control over their emotional states.

Speaking of moods, caught y’all in a happy one :)

Things to Note:

  • Sunday, March 31st: No Adventure

  • First week of April: Community Service with GVLT (dress for the outdoors)

  • Three weeks left of the winter season! Let your PM know if you plan on mentoring this summer!

We cannot thank you enough for the difference you’ve already made at BYEP. Take what you need, lets finish strong. Beeee-uuuup!