No one would argue against the idea that our emotions trip us up often in life. The reason they have such powerful sway over us is not immediately clear. We have been conditioned in the West to believe that our decisions are made by our rational mind, so when emotions seem to take hold of our behavior, we simply cannot understand why.
While many people assume that reason arises from deliberate, conscious thinking, the truth is, people are more likely to feel before they think. Consequently, your decision-making process is quick, emotional, and subconscious. As Dan Hill in his book “Emotionomics” has pointed out, emotions are more likely to drive reason than reason is to drive emotions. Your behavior can be said to be driven largely by emotions. The Limbic system, the brain’s emotional center that evolved with the first mammals, is credited with turning sensory perceptions into emotional and physical responses.
We Are First and Foremost Embodied Beings
The awareness of our emotions arises from our body, at least this is where we feel them most. We are, therefore, not just embrained but embodied beings living on this planet. According to Willis Overton from Temple University, embodiment implies that behavior arises from the embodied person actively engaged in the world. Thus, the kind of felt relationship to one’s body one has is a precondition for behaviors that result in effective living. This implies that our behaviors, and the way we live, are directly related to our awareness of and ability to manage what is happening within our bodies.
Interestingly, while most of us are taught ways to think at school, no one ever taught us how to effectively manage our emotions. No wonder then, that for most people, strong emotions that are defined both socially and personally as negative have a way of often rendering us incapable of dealing with life’s stressors.
4 Steps to Managing Your Emotions
The truth is, we can never eradicate emotions from our inner landscape. As noted earlier, not only do they influence the way we think, but without emotions, life would seem dull. It’s not that there is such a thing as a bad emotion because all emotions are helpful when used within their appropriate context. However, we often suffer from misplaced emotions that have become habitual, which tend to do nothing but damage us if we allow them to take root.
If you want to be able to manage emotions that you know are holding you back from succeeding in life, you neither want to bottle them up nor indulge in them.
Following are 4 proactive steps you can take to effectively manage emotions that tend to trip you up in life:
Firstly, you want to be able to name the emotion you are having. Is it anger, loneliness, fear, jealousy, or happiness? It can also be simply recognizing when emotions seem to be jumbled up, and no single emotion stands out on its own. By naming the emotion, you are simply acknowledging the emotion itself, rather than the context in which it arose. This makes step two easier to accomplish.
This is probably the hardest step. Identifying and naming an emotion is hard enough; accepting it is often even more difficult. Too often, our ego wants to justify the way we feel. It is in this justification that a narrative is created around the emotion we are feeling.
Seen from this perspective, it’s not so much that the emotion is causing us grief, but rather, the attachment to the story we generated around it. When you accept the emotion you are having, you are not suggesting it is either right or wrong, but rather, giving yourself the permission to have that emotion.
Here, you don’t want to apply any censorship or judgment to the emotion you are having. In other words, you recognize the emotion, and you accept it without attaching a story or a reason as to why you are feeling the way you are. It simply just is!
This is where embodiment comes in. You want to explore the emotion you are having. You know what it is, you acknowledged it, but in step three, you want to look deeper into how you know what emotion it is. What are the symptoms, the physical effects of the emotion you are having?
It is important here to be curious. You are not suggesting that either the emotion, or the subsequent symptoms, or physical effects are right or wrong; rather you are embracing the fullness of the experience you are having.
Now, take a step back from the emotion and its subsequent physical sensations and symptoms that it is creating. Simply continue with what you need to do in life. Don’t get entangled in a story about how you are feeling. Like all emotions, they are simply passing through you. Without identification to the emotion, you are able to continue with what needs to be done. In other words, allow emotions to take their course in your body and mind.
With enough practice, you will find that you are more able to short-circuit the power your emotions have over you. You are not disavowing them, you know they exist, but by not creating a story around them, or a reason for them being there — and seeing them simply as transient, you begin to realize, that just because you are feeling a certain way doesn’t define the outcome of the experience you are having.