The quality of our life is based on our emotional experience – how we feel is everything. Our feelings guide us in what to do making our behavioural choices for us. For example, we may feel angry so we shout, we may feel sad so we withdraw, we may feel frightened so we get defensive. The tie between how we feel and what we do is strong and most of the time we don’t even question our response to our emotions. However, there is enormous value in understanding exactly what our emotions are telling us to do and to create a more transparent relationship with our emotions so we can understand if our emotions are always guiding us in the right direction. Emotion control is fast becoming the most powerful way that we can make sure we reach our potential and create the life we want.
How emotions get in our way
The part of our brain that experiences emotions is deep in the core. When it's activated, it's literally impossible for us to use the 'clever part' our brain – the outer brain. Our decisions become more childlike and more protective, we pull into behaviours that require little thought and therefore are more likely to rely on well-worn habits or short cuts. We're likely to make more mistakes as we judge the situation based on these principles rather than really trying to understand what this specific situation needs from us. In essence, we're subject to being controlled by our emotions, and pulled off from our more clever self. It means that we may end up doing things we haven’t really thought through, we may say or not say things that we later regret.
Here are some strategies to help control your emotions:
- How in control are you of your emotions? – Do you feel that sometimes your feelings take over your choices? Do they pull you into behaviours that actually make things worse? For example, when you're feeling low, do you reach for the ice cream?! While that might help in the short-term, does it help you in the long-term – or is that you letting your feelings guide your choices. Take back control by focusing on your future self and make sure you're serving a good version of that future rather than allowing your feelings to pull you away from your goals.
- Learn more about yourself and your behaviours – By starting to keep a journal you can start to see patterns of your behaviour. You may find that there's a habit you have of being defensive or attacking, withdrawing or sulking, avoiding thing or people, blaming systems or people, taking too much on or pulling back from everything, saying ‘yes’ when you want to say 'no' or not speaking your truth in the moment – in case we make it less likely that someone may like us, avoiding decision-making or getting lost in decisions. While infrequent behaviours may not help you understand your habits, frequent behaviour patterns indicate your well-worn paths.
- Start to watch others and the way they show their emotions through their behaviours – Use this information to learn more about what you like or dislike as ways to manage emotions and see if you can start to ‘act as if’ you were that person when you have the opportunity to experience a difficult emotion.
- Can you reinterpret the feelings you have as something else? – For example, the feelings we get from excitement are not that different from those we get from fear, but reinterpreting, giving them another meaning might help you to work through what to do next in a way that's helpful.
- Develop a toolbox to drive deliberate change over your emotions – If you want to change your emotion from sadness to comfort, know what you can do to bring yourself comfort (e.g. grab a blanket, a hot drink and a nice book). If you want to change your emotion from lonely to connected, reach out to someone or go for a walk and practise greeting people you pass in the street or the coffee guy. If you want to lift your mood, practise changing your sensory experience (e.g. burn different essential oils, listen to different music styles, look at nature or pictures that create nostalgia or joy). Keep practising different things to gain more control over your experience.
- If difficult emotions are overwhelming, consider getting support – If you feel that the difficult feelings are disproportionate to what's happening, or you've found it difficult to focus on anything else, or if you've found that there's a persistence to these feelings that you can’t shift, it may be time to talk to your GP to find someone who's skilled and can talk this through with you. It may be that there are simple solutions that you can’t see because you are ‘in’ it, or options or tools you don’t know about that could be super helpful.
Your happiness and your high-performance relies on you controlling your emotions so they do not control you. Learning to welcome and tolerate even difficult emotions allows you to powerfully choose actions that'll lead you to your goals rather than further away from them.
Who is Dr Amy Silver?
Dr Amy is a psychologist, international speaker and author on the management of our emotions for high-performance. Her programs build courage within individuals and courageous conversations between people. Her new book, The loudest guest: how to control and change your relationship with fear is a manual for building more courage (see www.DrAmySilver.com for more information).
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