With the Undoing Effect against Stress

by Detlef Beeker
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My wife wanted to buy herself a new car, a Mini. She was very into it. This made her see only Minis in road traffic: "I didn't know," she told me in amazement, "that there are so many Minis!

What we focus our attention on will become more. If we have fears and are constantly occupied with them, they may become more. This also applies to stress. When we are stressed and our thoughts circle, the negative becomes more in our life.

"Energy follows attention."

Therefore it is so important that we strengthen the positive. This automatically relieves our stress. The more we engage with pleasant experiences, the more we realize how beautiful life actually is. This is what scientists call the Undoing Effect: Positive feelings alleviate negative feelings or completely eliminate them.

In a study, the participants were exposed to a stress situation: they had to give a speech spontaneously. The participants were divided into three groups: A cheerful video was shown to the first group. The second group had a sad one and the third group only saw the screen saver. It could be shown that the stress response of the first group was significantly reduced compared to the group that saw the screen saver. The stress of the second group was increased by the sad video..[1]

Positive emotions reduce or eliminate negative emotions. This is the undoing effect. We can use this very effectively to combat stress.

One of the simplest and at the same time most effective techniques to train positive emotions is the technique Three Good Things. It has proven to be extremely effective in scientific studies:

Three Good Things has proven to be a very successful intervention: Depressions decrease and happiness increases. Up to six months later, after the participants of a study applied this technique, the positive effects were still measurable..[2] Even for severely depressed probands, some of whom were unable to leave their beds, this technique was surprisingly effective. After only two weeks, 94 % improved significantly.[3]

How exactly do we practice Three Good Things? Here comes a detailed guide:

Three Good Things

Goal: Optimism Training

Technique: The positive daily review is about finding three events and writing them down. You can deepen the experiences by asking "why?" In Three Good Things there are three alternative variants: "Pleasant experiences", "Use of your strengths" and "Meaningful experiences". Choose one of these options:

1. Variant: Pleasant experience: Ask yourself: "What was pleasant today?" Or ask yourself: "What was wonderful today?". Find three pleasant experiences. Of course, you can write more at any time, but three things are enough. You can deepen the experience by asking: "Why was that pleasant?" Here are a few examples.

Question: "What was beautiful today?" Answer: "I played with my little son this morning". Question: "Why?" Answer: "It was so sweet to cuddle with him, he laughed so much and his sweet eyes...".

Question: "What was pleasant today?" Answer: "I rode my bike today. That was fun." Question: "Why?" Answer: "Actually I wanted to watch a TV series. But I got my act together after all. It was nice because it was a good feeling to move. I also drove through a beautiful forest, which was great."

The "why question" deepens the experience. You can answer the "why" question freely - you can't do anything wrong.

 

2. Variation: Use your strengths: Here you reflect on three occasions today where you have used your strengths. Ask yourself: "Where have I used my strengths today?" You can deepen this by asking "Why?" afterwards. Here are a few examples.

"Where have I used my strengths today?" Answer: "I played with my little son this morning". "Why?" Answer: "I am a loving father and can play well with the little one."

"Where have I put my strengths today?" Answer: "I rode my bike today. It was fun." Why?" Answer: "I'm disciplined and although I was tired, I still rode a bike."

3. Variant: meaningful experiences: At the end of the day you write down three meaningful experiences you had today. Ask yourself the question: "What was meaningful today?" And then: "Why?" Here are a few examples:

Question: "What was meaningful today?" Answer: "I played with my little son this morning". Question: "Why?" Answer: "My son gives meaning to my life."

Question: "What was meaningful today?" Answer: "Today the sunset was so beautiful." Question: "Why?" Answer: "It was a meaningful experience because it showed me how beautiful the world is and that there is more than everyday life."

How often? How long? Three Good Things is carried out daily in the evening, in writing. You can use it as long as it is right for you.

Tips & Tricks:

  • What's easiest for you? Happiness research follows the motto "Strengthen strengths and manage weaknesses". This means that you should choose the variant that is easiest for you. Personally, I like the "strength variant" of the Three Good Things best. The least I can do is to start with the "meaningfulness variant". What suits you best? You can vary at any time. That is, tonight you do the "Strength variant", tomorrow the "Pleasant variant".
  • Written: It has been shown that it is best to do Three Good Things in writing. If you just think about it, then it can easily happen that your thoughts digress: Suddenly you find yourself thinking about today's work, where something has gone wrong. That's why it's stronger when you do it in writing.
  • Positive feelings: It would be ideal if we could relive the feeling of the positive situation. I remember playing with my son. This automatically awakens the same feelings I had in the situation. If not, dive deeper into the experience: You can ask yourself what you saw, smelled, felt and maybe even tasted. The question "Why" also has a similar effect. But if you can't revive the feeling, it's okay. Sometimes the effects are subtle and hardly noticeable.
  • In addition, Three Good Things sharpens our perception of positive experiences. Through the Three Good Things we are calibrated to positive situations. Then we automatically perceive more of it. We will then also wonder: "I didn't even know that my life contains so many beautiful moments!"
  • Self-esteem: If you want to improve your self-esteem, you can use the "strength variant" very well. It shows you your strengths.

This technique is quickly done and has great effects. That's why it's best to start tonight.

"There's nothing good unless you do it!"

Have fun with it and many good feelings.

[1] Fredrickson/ Mancuso / Branigan / Tugade (2000)."The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions", Motivation and Emotion, 24(4), 237–258.

[2] Seligman / Stehen / Park / Peterson (2005): "Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions", American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421.

[3] Seligman (2011): Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment.

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