Do we live life as we want, or do we let life throw us around? When we face a situation we were not expecting, something we don’t particularly like, to what extent do we let it get to us?
We often operate under the assumption that we can’t control our emotions. We often hear things like, “I simply can’t help it, it’s how I feel about it.” This, however, is not completely true. Have you ever wondered why your long-time friend is struggling and complaining so much about a problem that is “not a big deal”? Chances are, your friend has thought the same thing about your “big problems” at some point, they are no big deal. And this is when we can see that most of our emotions are a product of our thoughts, and what we decide to react to. What we focus on.
We are genetically wired to react emotionally to events. We all need our instincts in order to survive during emergencies. If there is a dangerous wild animal running your way, you need a quick system that makes you run away before your brain even has time to process what’s going on. Your instincts kick-in, your heart is beating faster, you feel an adrenaline rush, and next thing you know it you are already running to save your life. This is a necessary system our body has in place to help us when we feel threatened, the problem is that this ’emergency system’ kicks in every time we feel attacked, even if it is not life threatening and it’s just something as simple as a criticism.
In a study discussed in the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything*, we are taught that subjects who demonstrated more self-control as a kid were more successful later in their lives. These kids were told to eat a delicious treat that was placed before them or if they wanted, they could wait for a while and then receive two treats. The kids were left on their own and observed to see what they did. All of the kids were observed that day, and they were followed as they grew up. It was then seen that the kids who were able to wait for the second treat when tested the first day, would later on go and, on average, score significantly better on the SAT and perform better in careers than their peers who didn’t wait for the second treat.
The most important part of this study, however, is that it shows HOW these kids were able to wait for the second treat. The main difference between the ones who were able to wait vs. the ones who ate the first treat was what they chose to focus on. The kids who waited for the second treat stopped looking at the treat, and instead started walking around the room and coming up with little games on their own to distract themselves. However, the other kids sat in front of the treat looking at it, or occasionally looked at it, until they were unable to wait any longer and gave in. We see that with a few small changes in the way they approached the problem, the kids who didn’t wait could have been able to.
To regain emotional control over your genetically wired responses, take the focus off your instinctive objective by carefully attending to distraction activities.
– Al Switzler Influencer*
The powerful take-home message we have from this article is that, although you may not have complete control about what you like or dislike at this moment, you do have control of what you think about. This we can apply it to other facets of our life! What can we do to be more in control of our emotions?
Focus on the right things! (This is something we discussed in the last post)
Take a deep breath that interrupts your flow of thought. When you are feeling trapped in your emotions, it’s because you are trapped in your THOUGHTS. Taking a deep breath will help you break your flow of thought and will make it harder for your current thoughts to keep burdening you. If, however, you are determined to think about the same things that keep you feeling sad, you are giving these thoughts power to beat you down again.
Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book A New Earth*:
“Discover inner space by creating gaps in the stream of thinking. Without those gaps, your thinking becomes repetitive, uninspired, devoid of any creative spark, which is how it still is for most people on the planet.”
If we are constantly being hunted by the same thoughts, we are probably not making enough efforts to detach ourselves from our thoughts or the feelings we have about them. We identify with our thoughts and our feelings and give them power over us. We can, however, choose to breath deeply and that way break loose from the chain of thoughts that is making our well-being and happiness spiral downwards.
I am not saying that we should ignore all of our problems in life, and not think about them ever. What I’m proposing here is that we can develop self-control, and that way you can wait until you are not emotionally responding to the problem so when you face it you can be rational about it an learn from it. Our emotions get in the way of the learning process, cause they are not meant to be used for learning. We can, once we are not emotionally charged, go back and observe our thoughts and evaluate what made us react the way we did. Look for the things in YOU that you could change to not fall in the same trap again.
As Robert Kiyosaki said in Rich Dad, Poor Dad* — “Just be an observer, not a reactor, to your emotions.”
* Note: I use some affiliate links in this post, marked with an asterisk. If you click through and purchase products I earn a small referral fee that helps pay the cost of this site.