How To Change the Emotion of Any Experience


imageThere is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” — William Shakespeare

What if you could change the effect any experience has on you?  What if you could change any feeling, emotion, or behavior for yourself in a matter of moments?

You can change your state.

It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you represent the experience internally, which influences how you respond.

You can change how you represent any experience, whether it’s memories of the past, your current experience, or scenarios in the future.

We’ve all had bad experiences.  Some of those experiences effect us in negative ways.  Maybe you have past experiences that hold you back, or limit you in some way.  Maybe they create fear, uncertainty, or doubt. Or, maybe they taunt you and replay in your head over and over, like a bad scene from a movie that won’t go away.

What if instead, you could be the director of your experiences?

In the book, Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins shares an approach you can use to instantly change your state, and use any experience to empower yourself in any situation.

Be the Director of Your Experiences

As the director, you can change the way you represent your experiences so they empower you.  Like a great movie director, you can change the focus.  You can zoom in, or zoom out.  You can dial the experience up, or tone it down.

By changing the way you represent your experiences, you can amplify the effect of positive experiences, and you can reduce the effect of negative experiences.

Robbins writes:

“Just as a movie director can change the effect his movie has on an audience, you can change the effect any experience in life has upon yourself.  A director can change the camera angle, the volume and type of music, the speed and amount of movement, the color and quality of the image, and thus create any state he wants in his audience.  You can direct your brain in the same way to generate any state or behavior that supports your highest goals or needs.”

The Jukebox Metaphor

You can think of your memories like a jukebox with a bunch of records.  You can reprogram your jukebox to play a better song, or play a song better.

Robbins writes:

“I see our neurological activity as more like a jukebox.  What really happens is that human beings keep having experiences that are being recorded.  We store them in the brain like records in a jukebox.  As with the records in a jukebox, our recordings can be played back at any time if the right stimulus in our environment is triggered, if the right button is pushed.

So we can choose to remember experiences or push buttons that play ‘songs’ of happiness and joy, or we can push buttons that create pain.  If your therapeutic plan involves hitting the button that creates pain time and again, you may be reinforcing the very negative state you wish to change.  I think you need to do something completely different.  Perhaps you could simply reprogram your jukebox so it plays a completely different song  You hit the same button, but instead of playing the sad song, it brings up an ecstatic one instead.  Or else you could rerecord over the disk — you could take the old memories and change them.”

The Three Major Modalities:  Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic

Some people are more visual, where they react to things they see.  Others are primarily auditory, where they react to things they hear.  Others are more kinesthetic, where they react to things they feel.

Robbins writes:

We structure our internal representations through our five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.  In other words, we experience the world in the form of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory, or olfactory sensations.  So whatever experiences we have stores in the mind are represented through these senses, primarily through the three major modalities – the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic messages.”

The Power of Submodalities

Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic are the big levers we can pull, but each of them has a set of knobs and switches we can dial up or down, and flip on or off.  These are the submodalities.  Submodalities are the tools we can use to make an experience more vivid, or fade away.

Robbins writes:

“If someone produces a result that we would like to model, we need to know more than the fact that he pictured something in his mind and said something to himself.  We need sharper tools to really access what’s going on in the mind.  That’s where submodalities come in.  They are like the precise amounts of ingredients required to create a result.  They’re the smallest and most precise building blocks that make up the structure of human experience.  To be able to understand and thus control a visual experience, we need to know more about it.  We need to know if it’s bright or dark, in black and white or in color, moving or stationary.  In the same way, we’d want to know if an auditory communication is loud or quiet, near or far, resonant or tinny.  We’d want to know if a kinesthetic experience is soft or hard, sharp or smooth, flexible or stiff.”

Step 1.  Picture It In Your Mind

The first step is to picture the experience in your mind.  Identify the “scene” from your mental movie that you want to change.  It can be a positive experience that you want to make even bigger and better, or it can be a negative experience that you want to reduce, shrink down to size, turn it into a funny scene, or eliminate entirely.

It’s hard to take a bad scene seriously when you over-write it with cartoon voices.

Robbins writes:

“There are two things we can change about our internal representations.  We can change what we represent — thus, for example, if we imagine the worst-possible scenario, we can change to picturing the best-possible scenario.”

Step 2.  Choose Whether to Associate or Disassociate

Choose whether to step into the scene and experience it, like it’s actually happening, or watch it like a movie.

Robbins writes:

“Another important distinction is whether an image is associated or disassociated .  An associated image is one you experience as if you were really there.  You see it through your own eyes, hear and feel what you would if you were actually at that time and pace in your own body.  A disassociated image is one you experience as if you were watching it from outside yourself.  If you see a disassociated image of yourself, it’s like watching a movie of yourself.”

If you want to associate with the experience, Robbins suggests the following:

“See what you saw through your eyes: the events, the images, colors, brightness, and so on.  Hear what you heard: the voices, sounds, and so on.  Feel what you felt: emotions, temperature, and so on.  Experience what that’s like.”

If you want to disassociate with the experience, Robbins suggests the following:

“Now step out of your body and feel yourself stepping away from the situation but from a place where you can still see yourself over there in the experience.  Imagine the experience as if you were watching yourself in a movie.”

Step 3.  Change How You Represent It

Edit submodalities until you feel empowered:  You can change visual submodalities such as whether it’s moving or still, color or black and white, big or small, bright or dull, the focus, the angle, the contrast, etc.  You can change the audio submodalities such as the volume, the cadence, the inflections, the tempo, the pauses, the timbre, etc.  Here’s what you can add any cartoon voices.  You can change the kinesthetic submodalities such as temperature, texture, vibration, pressure, duration, intensity, etc.

Robbins writes:

“Many of us have certain keys within our own mind that trigger our brain to respond in a particular way.  For example, some people find that picturing something as being very, very large motivates them greatly.  Other people find that the tone of voice they use when they talk to themselves about something makes a major difference in their motivation.  Almost all of us have certain key submodalities that trigger immediate responses within us.  Once we discover the different charge of our own mind and begin to represent things in a way that empowers rather than limits us.”

Submodalities at a Glance

Here are some submodalities for audio, visual, and kinesthetic modalities that you can play with according to Tony Robbins:

Category Submodalities
Visual Movie or still frame
Panorama or framed
Color or black and white
Size of picture
Self in or out of picture
Distance of picture from self
Distance of central picture from self
3-D quality
Intensity of color (or black and white)
Degree of contrast
Angle viewed from
Audio Volume
Kinesthetic Temperature
Steady vs. Intermittent

Exercise – Amplify a Positive Experience

You can make your positive experiences even bigger, brighter, and better.

Try it.

Robbins writes:

“I want you to think of a very pleasant memory.  It can be recent or distant.  Just close your eyes, rleax, and think of it.  Now take that image and make it brighter and brighter.  As the image brightens, be aware of how your state changes.  Next I want you to bring your mental picture closer to you.  Now stop and make it bigger.  What happens when you manipulate the image?  It changes the intensity of the experience doesn’t it?  For the vast majority of people, making an already pleasant memory bigger and brighter and closer creates an even more powerful image and more pleasant.  It increases the power and pleasure of the internal representation.  It puts you in a much more powerful and joyous state.”

Exercise – Weaken a Negative Experience

You can reduce the power that a negative experience holds over you.

Try it.

Robbins writes:

”Let’s try the same thing with a negative image.  I want you to think of something that upset you and caused you pain.  Now take that image and make it brighter.  Bring it closer to you.  Make it bigger.  What’s going on in your brain?  Most people find that their negative state has intensified.  The bad feelings they felt before are more powerful than ever.  Now put the image back where it was.  What happens if you make it smaller and dimmer and farther away?  Try it and note the difference in your feelings.  You’ll discover that the negative feelings have lost their power.”

While you might not be a Ron Howard, or Peter Jackson, or Steven Spielberg, you can certainly practice creating more empowering experiences, and be a more effective director of your mind.

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  1. “What if you could change the effect any experience has on you?”

    Then you would quite possibly be in deep trouble. You would have no reason to think that torture and abuse (of you or your children) was a bad thing. You would have no reason to prefer healthy food and delightful times with friends is better than poison and contention.

    • I might be stating the obvious, but if you depend on the effect an experience has on you to determine whether or not something is a bad thing … you’d be in deep trouble 😉

  2. That opening Shakespeare quote is one of my favorites! This is a detailed approach to taking charge and creating a shift in perception. I think many people want to, but don’t know how. Now they do.

    • Somehow I heard the quote early on and always thought it was good ol’ Buddha.

      I was surprised when I found out it was Shakespeare.

      It’s a quote that served me well. It reminded me to always look beyond the face value of judgments, to be more tolerant, more open, and embrace the idea of “to each his own.” It also reminded me to avoid projecting the way I think things “should be” and, first understand “what is.”

      I sure got a lot out of that little quote (and probably took it way out of context).

      Learning to be the director of our experiences is a tough skill to master, even with the recipe.

      You should see my cutting room floor.

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