“I’m noticing myself holding back on getting excited about this possibility.

How do I allow feelings like elation, joy, thrill, and excitement to come in?

How do I let my guard down and give myself permission to really feel into this thing, while knowing that it might not work out, and I might get disappointed?”

A client of mine shared this question with me this week.

She’s been single for many years and has recently realized that she longs for a romantic partnership. And she’s realized that she has held herself from emotions such as glee, passion, rapture and exuberance to protect herself from pain.

If you, too, dread that the other shoe might drop or hold yourself back from feeling too good, I want to share with you four steps that I offered my client.

1. Say hello to the Guard.

I invite you to imagine that there are two parts of yourself. The first is a compassionate, witnessing self—I’ll call this part you. This part is able to witness—with warmth and affection—the other part of you, the one that guards against delight. Perhaps you might call this second part the Guard or something like that.

Rather than trying to change anything, see if you can notice where the Guard lives in your body—where you feel its sensations or emotions. Or you might imagine the Guard in your mind’s eye with you sitting beside it.

Say hello. Perhaps place a hand where you feel it. Ask—What does it want you to know? Listen. Write down what it wants to tell you. What does it need? Write it down. Keep asking—Is there anything else you want me to know?—until it feels complete.

Then, thank the Guard for working hard to protect you, and if it’s a promise you can keep, let it know that you’ll be back to check in with it again.

And, then, get curious. Ask yourself: How else might I meet my needs for safety or the other needs my guard expressed? If the first answer is I don’t know, see if you can follow that up with curiosity and the question—What do I know about meeting my needs? Identify at least one next step toward meeting your needs and a plan to take this step.

2. Practice tracking body sensations in general.

To feel more of the pleasant sensations and emotions we want to feel, we often need to practice noticing our feelings more in general.

This is partially because sensations of delight and joy are often more subtle than many people expect. To amplify our pleasant feelings, we often need to first practice catching ourselves feeling them in the first place.

Moreover, the same receptors in the body that feel pain also feel pleasure. Many people cut themselves off from pleasant sensations by ignoring their bodies and escaping to the brain’s left hemisphere.

To be able to notice and amplify our pleasurable sensations, we need to practice bringing our attention down from our heads and into our bodies. One way is to do a daily body scan, bringing your attention from the top of your head, down to your feet, and back up like a searchlight looking for sensations.

As you go, see if you can find words for what you feel. The more nuanced we can be with how we describe our sensations and emotions, the easier it can become to perceive and relate with what we feel.

3. Take in just a teaspoon more.

People often overlook the pleasures of the present moment by expecting delight to be extreme.

But pleasure speaks in subtleties.

And, if you’ve been protecting yourself from the vulnerabilities of joy, it can be too much pressure to expect sudden ecstasy.

So if you want to experience more delight, instead of expecting yourself to feel some big, brash emotion…

…I encourage you to commit to a practice of catching yourself feeling pleasant sensations or emotions.

And then play with taking in just a teaspoon more.

See if you can enhance the sensation. Make it bigger. Stretch it to last longer. Use each of your available senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and/or smell.

For example, if you’re smelling something delicious, allow yourself to really smell it.

If you’re listening to music that brings you alive, allow yourself to really listen.

If you’re sitting in a comfy chair, allow your body to settle just a little bit more and really receive the support.

Then, imagine that your cells are little sponges absorbing the sensation, taking in just half a teaspoon more of goodness.

When you do this, you may immediately feel a sense of warmth and aliveness. Or you might not notice much at all.

Don’t pressure yourself to feel different than how you do. Just stay curious about what you feel.

4. Study delight in others.

We humans—with our brains rich in mirror neurons—learn through watching others. It can be hard to figure out how to experience delight on our own, but when we put on our investigator caps and look for delight in others, it can be easier to find.

So, where do you find others experiencing delight? You might look for stand-up comedy, watch cute cat videos, listen to music, reading novels, or commit to a shoy practice.

Coined by clinical psychologist Catherine Chambliss and her team, shoy is short for shared joy. It is the practice of bringing our full attention to someone else’s delight and sharing their delight with them.[1]

Of course, in a world with so much suffering and with a cultural tendency toward negativity bias, it can be initially hard to find delight. But when we commit to seeking out delight, we train our brain to detect it, and it becomes easier and easier to find.

And yes, we humans do have the capacity to hold the both-and. You can become a detective of delight and still bear witness to the world’s suffering.

I’d love to hear where you discover delight out there in the world. If you have a fun example, I hope you’ll share it with me!

May the guards find ease, and may the delight flow in.

[1] Brené Brown. Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. (New York, NY: Random House, 2021.)


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