A few weeks I unintentionally came up with a simple tool that I’ve been using recently that has led to some powerful changes in my environment and relationships. It’s pretty simple but I’ve shared it with a few people who have found it very useful, so figured I’d share it more broadly.

About a month ago, I attended a group meditation at Main Street Meditation in Santa Monica. It was a very “simple” meditation where you count your breaths up to 21 and if you lose track or get distracted, you have to start from the beginning. We did it for about 10 minutes.

What was interesting was that while physiologically I felt calm and relaxed — I found my mind racing with different negative thoughts and experiences and I couldn’t count past 4 breaths before starting over again. I was finding that although I felt was in a “good” mood recently, I hadn’t really been opening up space to fully experience and reflect on the full range of emotions I was really experiencing.

(For context, I had been doing guided morning meditation that focused on setting positive intentions for the day, which I really enjoyed, but the more unguided meditation made me realize the importance of creating space for negative energy as well.)

In the moment, my initial reaction was to focus on blocking out the negative thoughts so I could “successfully” complete the meditation, but the experience was unsettling.

The next morning I decided to do the same unguided meditation instead of my normal guided meditation, but this time I decided to just observe and take note of the negative thoughts and emotions that came up rather than trying to shut them out.

After I finished the meditation, I decided to write down two lists — things that energized me and things that de-energized me. And for each item I brainstormed 2 or 3 things I could do to either further the positive energy or reduce the negative energy.

Your own list will be different but some positive examples for me include things like community, music, fitness, and travel. Negative examples include things like specific personal relationships I’m working through or procrastinating on tasks I’ve been avoiding.

I’ve slowly been working through the tasks in both lists over the past few weeks and I’ve already noticed significant positive improvements in my energy (and also identification of other sources of positive and negative emotions).

One of the most surprising things I’ve discovered is that when I’ve worked on minimizing things that personally de-energized me (for example, difficult conversations with a close friend), the energy didn’t “go away” but instead was transformed into positive energy (conservation of energy?) — both for me and the friend, something greater than the original negative energy.

If any of this resonates with you, I’d suggest giving it a shot and would love to hear how it worked (or didn’t work for you). I’d suggest doing it in the morning before you start your day, and it should take about 30 minutes:

  1. Do a silent meditation for 10 minutes. If you’re not experienced with meditation, just find somewhere comfortable to sit either on the floor with a cushion, or in a chair. Set a timer and close your eyes and just focus on counting your breaths (up to 21). Don’t try and guide your thoughts. If negative or positive thoughts come up, just observe them and be aware of them, and try and continue to focus on your breath. The goal is to open up space to observe your emotions, but not to be consumed by them.
  2. Take 10 minutes and write down a list of things that energize (positive energy) and a list of things that de-energize you (negative energy).
  3. Take 10 minutes, and for each one, write down 2 or 3 actions you can take to either increase the positive energy or decrease the negative energy.

And then review the list each day, work through the different actions, and check in on how you feel in a few weeks :). If you’re anything like me you have a lot of todo lists but I found that grouping it by intention or energy made it a lot more purposeful.

As I mentioned above, the most interesting learning through this whole experience was the importance of balancing both your positive and negative energy. Viewed the right way, neither is “right” or “wrong” and negative energy is often a healthy response / your body telling you that something is wrong. Meditation is one tool that can help you identify what’s causing particular types of emotions.

Often what’s unhealthy is when you only focus on one type of energy. Being consumed by negative energy can leave you feeling dejected or depressed or hopeless (I’ve been there). But I’ve also learned that just focusing on positive energy can also 1) blind you to your own or other’s suffering and 2) rob you of the opportunity to transform negative energy into more positive energy, both for you and everyone else in your life. So open up space for both positive and negative energy, because you’ll never be able to “eliminate” negative energy, only transform it.