by: Steve Davis
Joe makes a comment and you suddenly feel a rush of energy. Your face flushes and your knuckles whiten as you begin squeezing the edge of the table for dear life. Some part of you knows that this feeling is not proportionate to Joe’s comment or intention, but something was triggered in you nonetheless, and you’re ready to bite his head off.
To be effective as a friend, spouse, significant other, co-worker, manager, leader, or whatever role you’re playing at the moment, learning to manage your feelings is a critical step toward living a happy, successful, and fulfilled life.
Managing your feelings doesn’t mean that you repress them. It means that you become aware of what’s going on inside of you, own your feelings as your own, heed the message that they have for you, and act responsibly.
What is emotional mastery? Emotions are often described as energy in motion. They become problems only when we judge them as wrong, bad, or inappropriate. When we let our emotions run us, we miss the message that they carry. When we stuff them down for fear of what they might cause us to do, they simply lie in wait to emerge with a vengeance later on. Emotional mastery is the ability to process our emotions so that we receive their message and use their energy for appropriate action.
Our emotions are a reflection of our beliefs about life events. For example, if you believe that you are your work and you suddenly lose your job, you are likely to feel an incredible amount of fear, as you perceive your very survival to be at stake. If you repress this fear, you’ll probably experience anger or rage and at some point, you will likely lash out at whoever s available.
If on the other hand, you are a person who views your job simply as one aspect of your life, and you know that your inherent value lies in your unique skills and qualities, then your feelings and response to losing your job will probably be a whole lot different. You may just view this loss as an opportunity to explore a whole new path for yourself.
The bottom line here is this: how you feel in any situation corresponds exactly with what you believe about yourself and the situation. Master your beliefs, and you’ll master your emotions.
Knowing that you can change how you feel simply by changing how you think about each experience is a powerful concept. If you feel upset about something, ask yourself, “How can I reinterpret this event in a such a way that I can feel good or at least OK about it?” If you have a bill you can’t pay for example, instead of getting upset, decide that this is an opportunity to redesign your financial life. Ask for help, develop a plan, and use your energy to get moving on it.
How you think about your emotions adds another layer. We often give ourselves a double whammy when we get upset about feeling upset. Here are some positive ways to interpret the purpose of our basic emotions, set down by Peter McWilliams in his book, “Do It.”
- Fear is the energy to do your best in a new situation.
- Guilt is the energy for personal change-it is anger directed toward ourselves, and anger is the energy for change.
- Unworthiness keeps us on track–just as we can have anything we want, we can’t have everything we want. So too, we are worthy of anything we want, but we may not be worthy of everything we want.
- Hurt feelings are a reminder of how much we care.
So how can you use this information in your life? I suggest that you examine any beliefs you hold around emotions and the situations that trigger them.
Begin to cultivate present moment awareness as your emotions arise. Just notice them and look at them, not as good or bad, but simply with curiosity, and with the question, what’s this energy for and how do I choose to use it?
Practice. Begin the practice of observing emotions when they arise and identify any judgments you might have about them.
Focus instead on listening to the message they hold for you. Then, act on this message by expressing the emotion in a positive fashion.