Do you sometimes feel flooded or hooked by an emotion? Something happens and its immediate, it’s physical and it takes it over your body. Emotions like anger, frustration, resentment, impatience and anxiety.
Do you sometimes feel guilty about how you are feeling? Like you shouldn’t feel stressed, angry, worried and rushed as often as you do? Like there must be something wrong with you, with your life?
How do we feel better in our everyday lives? In a life where we are guaranteed of challenge, suffering and change?
We are sold the idea that we are what we do, what we have and what other people think of us. We are told that we will feel better by buying more stuff, achieving more ‘success’, joining a gym and reaching a certain number on the scales. But all of us know that this is total rubbish. No job, car, house, holiday, bank balance, marriage, baby or promotion ever give us lasting happiness. They are moments of pleasure yes, but the real lottery is when we can manage our internal world.
The secret to feeling better is in what it takes internally, in our thoughts, emotions and actions, to thrive.
I believe we have gotten 2 things wrong when it comes to emotions.
ONE: EMOTIONS HAPPEN TO ME…
No, they don’t!
Emotions are not determined by our circumstances or by the people in our lives.
We don’t feel appreciated because we were given a gift, we don’t feel happy because of the promotion, and we don’t feel stressed because of the kids and the never ending to-do-list.
We feel these emotions because of what we are thinking.
What we are thinking about what is happening to us, is more important than what is actually happening to us.
What determines our emotional agility, our ability to manage all emotion, is how we choose to see our circumstances, in how we choose to think. BOOM!
TWO: I SHOULD FEEL HAPPY ALL OF THE TIME…
I should feel happy all of the time and if I don’t there is something wrong with me.
I am sorry to break the news, but we will never stop feeling negative emotions. Life is about the contrast, we need to feel happiness and sorrow in order to know the difference.
I believe life is equal parts beauty and beast. The sad thing is that most of us, spend most of our time, in uncomfortable emotion.
The real question isn’t how do I feel happy all of the time? Rather, how do I develop emotional agility? How do I get better at thriving internally in a life that will always have challenge, change and suffering?
Here are 8 strategies that I teach to my clients and use in my everyday life that I believe help develop better emotional agility.
1: DON’T PUSH EMOTION AWAY
Don’t push emotion away. Take a good look at it. Take a good look at the beautiful mess that we all are!
We are told be happy, be grateful, don’t feel negative emotion. The result of this constant barrage of ‘be happy’ talk is that we push negative emotion away. Cut yourself a break. Just let it be and take a good look at it.
Negative emotion is a sign post, it is a flashing light in your life and when we take a good look we are able to see where we can take effective action. We become unstuck, more awake and present and we create space to choose how we respond.
2: EMOTIONS ARE NOT COMMANDS
You can handle any emotion. They are just feelings. They do not have to command an immediate response. See your emotions as feedback, as data and ask yourself who is in charge here? The emotion or me the human being capable of many emotions. Create a pause between the feeling and the response.
3: DROP THE JUDGEMENT
So often we judge ourselves for our emotions. We feel guilty for feeling unfulfilled or we feel shame for feeling angry at the kids. This judgement actually amplifies our negative emotion. You are not broken. There is nothing wrong with you. Negative emotion is normal. We are not meant to feel good all of the time.
4: FIND THE SPACE IN BETWEEN
That space between the circumstances of your life, the event or trigger and your response is where you will find the power to choose, the key to your growth. When we find the space in between we see that we can choose how we think, how we feel and how we respond and when we become more intentional about this we get better results and we feel better.
5: DON’T BUFFER AWAY YOUR EMOTIONS
Many of us fill that space in between with habits that don’t serve us. We do things to avoid negative emotion. We over eat, over drink, over shop, work, procrastinate, gamble, exercise, the list goes on. We turn to false pleasures to avoid having to deal with negative emotion. We think it will make us feel better but ultimately it increases it, then and adds guilt and shame on top. When we stop checking out we see our lives for what they truly are and we learn that we are able to manage all emotion and choose how we respond.
6: ALWAYS FIND THE INTERNAL CAUSE
Always find the internal cause of your emotion. Remember nothing outside of you us responsible for how you feel. Nothing. Ask yourself, what is internal cause of this feeling? It’s not the kids, your boss, your spouse, the traffic, the news! Ask yourself, what thought is creating this feeling?
7: BE CURIOUS
Be curious. Take a seat in the grandstand and have a good look at what is going on in that mind of yours. Notice the thought, notice the feeling, notice any stories you are telling yourself. When you do this you begin to see that you are not your mind. Your mind may be crazy at times, but it does not have to control you.
8: NAME IT, THEN CHALLENGE IT
What was the thought? (e.g. I am not good enough) What was the feeling? (e.g. fear and anxiety) What was the story? (e.g. I won’t ever get back into the workforce because I have been out for too long). Then be critical. Challenge your thinking. Is it steering you toward your goals, toward your values and priorities or away? Is this story true?
I believe the key to our wellbeing is how we manage our mind, our emotion and our time. What determines our feelings is how we choose to think. One person’s wonderful life, car, house, job, holiday can be another’s hell. How you decide to think determines how you feel. I am not saying you should or can feel happy all the time. When someone dies you want to feel sad, when your child is in pain you don’t want to feel happy. I am also not saying you should think happy thoughts and stay in an abusive relationship or toxic job. But I believe that you can choose to feel empowered, strong and clear and then decide to leave, or stay, and that feels so much better than blame and victimhood.
I encourage you to approach yourself with courage, curiosity and compassion, and to take a good long look. You will begin gain a deep understanding of what is going on in your mind and you will start to make decisions and act in ways that align with who you are at your core, with your values, with how you want to feel and with where you want to go in this life.