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GTD + Your Emotional Life

GTD + Your Emotional Life

It’s a theory of mine that the way you manage your emotions is critical to managing the rest of your life. If you are confused and/or distracted by something emotional – ie. not tangible and in your head – it will negatively affect your work and the people around you.

So why not apply GTD methods of organization to your feelings and everything icky? It may sound stupid to some of you, but I know people who would immediately benefit from this kind of thought process.

If we can manage our emotional relationships like we do business relationships, maybe we’d have less trouble. If we could organize all personal stuff like you do your work stuff, could we become emotionally productive?

gtd emotions

    To start off with, we’ll run through the GTD Workflow and how we can apply it to new and surfacing emotions.

    Emotional Workflow

    First things first. You’ve got to get it out of your head. The underlining principle for Getting Things Done is getting it out of your thoughts and into a tangible system. Somewhere that it’s not nagging in the back of your mind.

    The first main difference between your regular GTD Workflow and one for emotions, is that some emotions don’t even get to your inbox – which we’ll discuss in a minute. First of all, we’ll discuss whether or not the emotion should be acted on.

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    Is it actionable?

    This is tricky. Firstly let’s assume it is actionable immediately. Your feelings are hurt in public, so you react. If you don’t, it plagues you the rest of the day. That’s an item that should be actioned immediately. It could be done right away, and so should.

    What if you shouldn’t action it at all? It’s trash. Someone makes a snide remark, but what is the use in getting into it? You’re bigger than that, so you trash the remark. That immediate feeling of hurt, or anger, is dismissed because it serves no purpose.

    Inbox

    Now let’s get into those emotions that aren’t so easily dealt with.

    Although your head is essentially your inbox, we need to get things out of there. The first idea that comes to mind is a journal. Lots of people keep personal journals [not blogs] and jot down the random occurrences of each day. This is very healthy.

    To keep redundancy to a minimum we could maintain a focus in the journal of emotion-specific details. If something really bugged you about someone today, and it made you look at them differently, we can write about that. Just get it out there.

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    Having to write something intangible down gives it meaning and context. Something that seems so important in your head may look absurd after writing it down.

    But say we’re out and we’re not writing in a journal, and something happens. A handy thing would be to have a Hipster PDA or something to write in. Many of us following a GTD process will have something like this, so add another section for emotion-related stuff.

    This serves to get the emotion out of our head and in the open. Now it is something we can physically deal with.

    Reference

    If something comes up that you can’t deal with immediately, we can reference it. This goes back to the journal. Essentially a journal is an emotional reference. What may help, however, is some sort of organization. Instead of writing in the journal chronologically, day by day, we could separate our writing into sections.

    Something simple first: ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sections. Good, it’d be nice to look back on this section to help you out of a bad mood, or a confidence booster. Bad, this section may only exist for you to vent. Over time you’ll begin to notice patterns and petty grievances that you grow out of. If there’s a clear documentation of these things, it’s easier to make changes to decrease the negative in your life.

    We can organize our reference library into all kinds of sections. Family and friends, or social and personal. However, when we start organizing things into people, then I think we’re creating projects.

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    Projects

    People are continuous projects. Your relationship with your mother goes on. Our emotional relationship with her is an ongoing experience and so can’t be referenced, but worked on.

    If we had specific emotional goals to achieve within that relationship, then we can make plans to get things working. Your ToDo list for mum might include birthdays, favors and gifts. You do that anyway, mark dates in your calendar, why not do so in context to a goal in your relationship?

    Like people who don’t need systems to keep themselves organized and productive, you may not see any value in an emotional system. You may even find it crass, and un-human. This is true, it isn’t a very human thing to think of emotions so objectively.

    Prioritize

    The value in prioritizing and organizing your emotions, I think, is important to do, if only in some small manner.

    If you’re always caught up in the small problems and can’t get over certain hardships that shouldn’t hold you back, wouldn’t you want to form a habit of not falling into those traps again?

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    When a system is in place you become used to organizing things into what’s important and of value, and what really isn’t a priority.

    Now, I wouldn’t suggest a definitive process that will lead to emotional bliss. There are so many things that affect our lives that we couldn’t possibly pigeon-hole, or delegate times to deal with.

    However, we’re trying to organize our lives to be more productive in work so we have more time and energy in our lives. If we can do the same for emotions so we’re not continuously caught up in unimportant squabbles or regularly depressed over something we can’t change, then we can live the lives we want.

    Try this:

    • Get it out of your head. Write it down and see it objectively.
    • Organize to prioritize. If it’s important, it’s probably building on something like a relationship. Put that into a project and work on it. Anything less important is probably just worth archiving for reference. If you’re organizing that into more definable areas, all the better to help you out in the future.
    • Think about your emotions. Don’t let anything unnecessary affect the rest of your life negatively.

    Emotions define our lives and our relationships with others. Make them work for you and not against you.

    More by this author

    Craig Childs

    Craig is an editor and web developer who writes about happiness and motivation at Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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