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4 Steps to Managing Your Emotional Life

4 Steps to Managing Your Emotional Life

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.

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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 incapacitated to life’s stresses.

4 Steps to Managing Your Emotions

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.

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Following are 4 proactive steps you can take to effectively manage emotions that tend to trip you up in life:

1. Recognize

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.

2. Accept

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.

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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!

3. Explore

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 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.

4. Observe

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.

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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.

More by this author

Rodney King

Embodied Performance Coach

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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