The PRP method, or how to change an emotion you don’t like

What arouses an emotion is not the fact in itself, but the interpretation that we create from it

A bad memory, a mistake, a concern… everyone has emotions that they don’t like and that they want change. There’s a simple method that can help you to do this, one that goes by the acronym PRP.

Irenka Barud

PRP starts from this key idea: what arouses an emotion is not the fact in itself, but the interpretation we create from it. This explains why two people can react differently to the same event, such as failing an exam, heartbreak, or making a mistake on a project. One person could be dwelling on the thought endlessly, while another can consider it a learning experience and turn the page.

Therefore, if we are able to reinterpret an unpleasant experience, we can face it better and remember it in a healthier way. This is what the PRP method seeks to accomplish. Tal Ben-Shahar uses cognitive psychology in his book, Happier, to construct this theory. PRP stands for the three phases it consists of, which are Permit-Rebuild-Perspective.

Give yourself permission to accept what happened: This is the first step in the process. If you insist on denying something (“nothing is going on”) or blaming the world for what happens to you (“poor me”), then you will not be able to get out of that emotion. What will help you accept the emotion is not making any excuses and assuming you are in the wrong – or, as Ben-Shahar puts it, give yourself permission to be human. Sometimes the problem arises because of an inability to recognize an emotion. We can feel fear, sadness or anger and not know what to call it. For situations like this, it is useful to talk about it even if you cannot be precise. Or you can write about it or at least try to figure it out through asking yourself questions such as, what feelings does this generate for me?

If we are able to reinterpret an unpleasant experience, we can face it better and remember it in a healthier way

Rebuilding what was experienced: Once you have accepted what happened, you can rebuild, trying to give the experience a more positive interpretation. The goal is to stop considering it a problem, and instead think of it as a challenge where you have to try your best. At this point, it helps to start asking yourself questions like: what can I learn from all this? What benefits are there? It is also helpful to talk to someone who is a good influence, and not let you dwell on the bad things but instead help you think about the problem with a different, broader focus.

Get some perspective: The last step is to put the experience in perspective. A failure can seem dramatic, but once put in perspective it doesn’t mean so much. If you were to make a mistake while public speaking you can use the 10-10-10 rule to help accomplish this step. Force yourself to think about the impact this mistake will have on the next 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years of your life. When you train yourself to put things in perspective, you realize that the things that cause you damage are just a small part of it all and that you have other positive things to be thankful for.

In short, the PRP method can help to transform emotions if you are able to accept them, put them in a positive light, and use perspective to give the emotion appropriate weight. This way you can take a bad experience and turn it into a learning experience for the future.

English version by Debora Almeida.


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