Emotions are an integral part of day-to-day life, and it can easily seem like they have a mind of their own, pun intended. In fact, emotions are a result of our mind: what we think and believe about a particular situation (or person, or experience, etc.) directly influences what we feel about that situation. Recognizing the automated sequence of thoughts generating feelings generating actions (decisions, behaviors, etc.), is foundational to any emotion-tinkering you embark upon.
Emotional management and mastery is a long and beautiful process, but for today, I share 3 actions you can take now to begin reclaiming agency over your emotional experiences day to day and influencing them to support your goals.
1. Start with the desired outcome.
If we are seeking to adjust the outcome we’re currently experiencing, we must begin by identifying the outcome we desire. It’s easy to know what you don’t want, invest some time into understanding what outcome you would want instead.
For example, maybe you’re tired of feeling resistant to and pressured during meetings with your team (what you don’t want), and would prefer to feel like they’re a trusted source of support and that you look forward to these conversations (what you want instead).
Or maybe you want to stop feeling frustrated and stuck after difficult conversations with your partner (don’t want), and you’d love to feel a sense of compassion and forward movement in partnership with them instead (want instead).
Whatever outcome you’re looking to change, start with getting as clear as you can about the outcome you’re after.
2. Practice generating various emotions on demand.
Coming back to the foundational Truth that our thoughts determine our emotions determine our actions, practice intentionally thinking thoughts that would cause you to experience a specific emotion.
My suggestion is to start by thinking thoughts that cause you to feel happiness, pride, and gratitude. Write these thoughts out. It might be tempting to think about concepts that make you happy, proud, or grateful, try translating those concepts into sentences whose words you intentionally select.
For example: thinking about the concept of your new puppy, Milo, might make you feel happiness. It’s the overall idea of him that can generate emotion, but it doesn’t afford you as much opportunity to get in and manipulate the details of that idea to your benefit.
Build the next level of self-mastery move by translating the concept of Milo into a fully articulated sentence, such as “I love watching Milo play with his toys,” or “It’s so cute when Milo snuggles up to my feet on the bed at night!” You can practice doing this by askign yourself “What is it specifically about this concept that makes me happy?”
Intentional emotions are most powerfully generated with intentional thoughts.
Practice with several different emotions over the next few days. The more familiar you are with the skill of generating emotions at will, the more accessible this skill will be when you are faced with challenging situations.
3. Explore your thoughts and beliefs around the situation at hand.
This is where the first couple of steps on the longer journey toward belief-repatterning begins. When you consider the outcomes that you’re currently looking to transform, going back to the earlier examples of resistance to meetings with your team and unproductive conversations with your partner, consider what it is that you’re thinking about those situations in the first place.
In the first example, when you think about these team meetings, are you assuming your teammates are going to show up disengaged, unenthusiastic, etc.? Do you think of these meetings as “a waste of everyone’s time?”
In the second example, are you assuming you and your partner will be at opposition? Are you thinking of these conversations as conflicts to be won and lost, as an argument, as a “hard” conversation? Have you already played the conversation out in your mind ahead of time?
Keep an eye out for 2 key aspects of the situations you’re seeking to transform: how we are labeling or describing them (the narrative you’ve chosen), and expectation around future behaviors you are making about the people or a chain of events (assumptions).
Notice what narrative you’re using, and what assumptions you may be making, and come up with 2 other ways of thinking about the situation that would lead to the emotions you desire to feel instead. Be willing to examine them as objectively as possible, remember, the better you know yourself the more honestly you can grow going forward. This third step helps you to identify what thoughts you’re holding.
For example, if we assume that a conversation is going to be hard (thought), we may feel defensive or unsupported even before the conversation begins (emotion.) If we go into a conversation feeling like we need to defend ourselves and that the other party is an opponent, rather than a partner, our behaviors during the conversation will reflect this (action).
How we think about a situation determines how we feel about it. How we feel about a situation determines how we show up to it.