Catastrophising: How you make a mountain out of a molehill!

The emotional mastery process involves scanning your surroundings, perceiving an event, experiencing an emotional reaction elicited by your perception, validating the emotion, “S.T.O.P.”ing the reaction, assessing the emotion and your perception, and choosing a response.

When you master your emotions, you are in touch with your feelings and you are using them as tools to improve your life and your relationships.

This is the way you want your life to go.

But, sometimes, it all goes south!

Catastrophising: you have either done it yourself or witnessed it taking place in others.

  • Something “bad” happens to you.  I put the word “bad” in quotes because it is a relative term which hinges on how you see and define the situation in which you find yourself.
  • This bad thing happens and you go into a downward spiral and act “as-if” your very life is ending.  Your friends look at you and say: “Whoa, it wasn’t that  bad!”

What might be going on that could explain this process?

Two examples…

Example #1: A “D” in organic chemistry.

When I was in college, a guy went to the top of the chemistry building and jumped off.

He survived the fall.

When asked why he did it, he noted that he got a “D” in organic chemistry and his life was over.

Huh? You say. How could a bad grade lead to attempted suicide? What is the connection?

Well, here was his (very egocentric) line of reasoning…

  • To him, the D meant he would not get into medical school.
  • If he couldn’t get into med school, he would never be a doctor.
  • If he could not be a doctor, he would not be able to support a family.
  • If he could not support a family, he would be a complete failure.
  • If he was going to end up a complete failure, he might as well kill himself as life would not be worth living.
  • If he might as well kill himself, why wait?

Is this logical?


Is it true?


Is it plausible?

Not necessarily.

While it is one way to look at his situation, this line of reasoning is both exclusionary and maladaptive.

This individual was catastrophising.

Example #2: A teenage girl is harassed on social media (cyberbullying) and tries to take her own life.

Again, at first glance, this behavior seems both extreme and illogical.

It is extreme.  It is not illogical.

Her reasoning goes something like this.

  • All the negative comments on Facebook (and other social media sites) are ruing my reputation.
  • With my reputation ruined, I won’t be able to make any friends.
  • If I can’t make any friends, my life will be ruined.
  • If my life is ruined, suicide makes sense.

While this is a general statement of the flow of thought and probably would not be exactly what a teenage girl would say, you get the idea.

There is a logical flow to her reasoning in that each statement follows from, and is based on, the previous thought.

She, however, is catastrophising in that her reasoning is exclusionary in that it rules out other, less extreme, ways of viewing her situation and it is maladaptive in that it only looks at the most extreme and negative outcomes possible.

There are many ways to view an event in which you find yourself.

Catastrophising involves focusing on the worst possible outcome, taking it as the only possible outcome, and repeating this process over and over.

The issue with castastrophising is that it eliminates all other possible outcomes.

While each of the above reasoning steps has some truth to it, and, if each point was absolutely true in that other alternatives did not exist, then suicide would make more sense.

This is not the case in the above two examples.

Let me give you a counter example which will provide some contrast.

Assisted Suicide..

While you may not agree with the idea of assisted suicide, it is legal in several states.

The assisted suicide laws allow an individual with a terminal illness to request that a medical doctor make available a lethal medication that the person can take and peacefully end their lives.there are alternatives.

The reasoning goes like this…

  • I have a terminal illness so my death is “imminent”.
  • If I live until I die naturally, I will suffer considerably.
  • I do not want to suffer.
  • I have considered all the alternatives, reasoned this process through, and have decided on the best course of action for me to take.
  • I am of sound mind and have been assessed as capable of making this decision on my own without any coercion.
  • I prefer to get my affairs in order, have my family with me, take control of my life and choose when my life will end.

While “suicide” is the end result, the reasoning here is very different from the two examples of catastrophising above.

Example #1:

Let’s assume that the D grade eliminates med school admission (It may not!) and that this person would not become an MD.

Not becoming an MD may be unfortunate but it is only one career possibility.

I should point out that while this story is true, it is NOT autobiographical.

In my own case, I originally intended to become an MD, got a D in biochemistry, was very disappointed, did not get into med school, did not attempt suicide, and, by accident, discovered psychology and went on to get a Ph.D..

That D in chemistry was the best thing that could have happened to me.

So, while the process of catastrophising is logical in that it involves reasoning and arrives at a logical conclusion, it is problematic because it involves a highly restricted tunnel vision which only “sees” the worst possible outcome eliminates any other possibilities, takes that outcome as “fact”, and arrives at the worst possible conclusion without questioning the validity of that conclusion.

The antidote to catastrophising is to get input from other people.  If you find yourself spiraling down a psychological rabbit hole, reach out to another person who can give you an objective opinion about your situation.

That may be all you need.

If you are seriously considering suicide, then you need professional help immediately.

The number for the toll free 24-hour suicide crisis line is 1-800-273-8255.  If  you need to, make the call!




Mastering Holiday Feelings 2018

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the US.  It is a Holiday where many of us get together with family, eat too much turkey and watch football on TV all day.

It used to be that Thanksgiving marked the transition to Christmas.  When I was growing up, you didn’t see Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving.  Well, as you are reading this, I can guarantee you’ve been exposed to Christmas (and even Santa Claus) in all the shopping malls, in ads on TV and through numerous catalogs you’ve received in the mail.

Whether this is a positive phenomenon or not is certainly debatable.  But, it isn’t my focus here.

I want to focus on Holiday feelings.

Hopefully, the feelings you experience are happy, joy, gratitude, and serenity as you reflect on being with family, getting and receiving good tidings (or gifts) and so forth.

But, it is entirely possible that the feelings you may experience are anxiety, guilt or anger.  These feelings can ruin your holiday spirit.  Anger, if directed at you by another or directed by you at someone else can possibly be dangerous.

Mastering your own and the emotions of others.

In  my first Amazon book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, I discuss the Emotions as Tools Model and address specific emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.

In my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I focus specifically on anger.

Both books are Amazon Best sellers.

To help you get the most out of your feelings this holiday, it is important to note that the function of all feelings is to both alert you to situations in your surroundings which require your attention and prepare you to take whatever action is necessary to deal with the situation facing you.

The “alert” you get from the feeling is the message of that emotion. The initial preparation is an automatic reaction your body does for (and to) you.

Mastering an emotion involves understanding the message of the feeling, assessing the nature of the situation in which you find yourself and the extent to which your reality matches the initial perception which elicited the emotion and choosing an effective response.


So, the message of feelings like happy and gratitude is that the surroundings you are experiencing are positive, maybe growth enhancing, and worthy of your attention and involvement.  The response you will choose to these feelings in engagement.


The message  of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat in the future that MAY hurt me in some way.

If you are worried about anything this holiday season, that’s anxiety.

  • Did you get the right gift?
  • Should you send a card to Aunt Suzie?
  • Will you spend the Holidays by yourself?

The way to master anxiety is to assess the perceived future threat and the potential of that possible future occurrence to do real damage to you.

If, as in most situations about which you are anxious, the event, should it actually take place, might be uncomfortable or mildly damaging, but it is most likely survivable.  If it is survivable (doesn’t kill you or cause irreparable harm), then you have at least two choices about how you adaptively respond to the anxiety.

If you can do something to mitigate or impact the future about which you are worrying, then use your anxiety as eustress to make a plan and take action.  In other words, do something about your situation.

If you can’t really impact the future but you know you can survive it, then you can choose to let the anxiety pass and take a wait and see approach.


The message of anger is that you are facing a threat that will do you harm and that you need take action to eliminate.  You are prepared to go to war.

  • Anger during the holidays can come up in a variety of situations.
  • The instructions to the XYZ you are trying to assemble are inaccurate or hard to follow.
  • Pieces are missing from the box.
  • You got the wrong item delivered and time is running out.
  • You have lined up for a parking space in a crowded lot and some other car sneaks in and steals it.
  • You’ve been standing in line and someone cuts in front of you.
  • You get up to the register and the clerk is (inconsiderate, slow, inexperienced).
  • You go to grab the last XYZ from the shelf and someone else snatches it.

You get the idea.

The threat is to your view of how things “should”be, how people “should” act, how companies “should” do their job, and so forth.  You are pissed and ready to take on, set right, or destroy, the offending person, company, or customer service rep.

The challenge is that your anger will usually be excessive, ineffective, or misdirected.  At worse, your anger may elicit an accident, a fight in the parking lot, or security asking you to leave the store.

The way you master your own anger is to look at the situation in which you find yourself and ask whether it is worth going to war over or can you take some action to rectify the situation such as calling a manager, being patient, taking a break before going back to your construction project and so forth.

If someone is angry at you, you master their emotion by understanding that they both perceive a threat and are ready to go to war and attempting to show that you are not a threat.  You do this by both apologizing, if appropriate or asking for clarification about what you might inadvertently done.

The goal here is to protect your own well being by not raising your blood pressure, getting the project completed, avoiding a fight, or getting escorted out of the store.

This is a quick overview of mastering emotions for the holidays and should give you enough information so that your emotions don’t control you.  My suggestion is that you take a few moments and think about how these feelings might impact you and how you can choose to respond to them in a way that preserves and enhances your 2018 holiday season.

Happy Turkey Day.

The Emotional Trap of Social Comparison

Do you ever compare yourself to another person?

More likely than not, the answer is yes.

I know this because we have all done it at one point or another.

While there can be adaptive, or benefical, outcomes from social comparison, it is far more likely that comparing yourself to another person will prove to be an emotional trap.

First, the upside..

If you use your comparison as a guide to help you improve yourself, than the emotions you will feel are excitement and anticipation. You will be excited about developing a new dream or discovering a new skill or outlook that you can emulate to improve yourself in some way and you will be looking forward with anticipation to a future in which you have made the changes you have discovered.

In this process, knowing what you want to achieve, accomplish, or become serves as motivation to go out and get the information you need, acquire new skill sets, make new connections or develop a new outlook.

Now, the downside.  Or, the trap…

You compare yourself unfavorably to another person and you feel inferior, inadequate, or worthless, you could become anxious or depressed.

The trap is that when you compare yourself to someone who is richer, more skillful, better looking (or whatever characteristic you choose), you will always come out feeling inadequate.

This is a false comparison.

I did not say that you were inadequate.  You feel inadequate.

Now, suppose you choose to compare yourself to someone who is less skillful, financially successful, etc.  You look great in comparison and may feel superior.  However, this, too, is a false comparison as it says nothing about your own skills, financial situation, physical characteristics, etc.

Social comparison can be a trap because it appears to give you relevant information about yourself but only leads to a false feeling of inadequacy or superiority.

In fact, you are neither inferior or superior.  You are only you.

Let me give you an example.

When I was a psychology intern, I compared myself both to other interns who seemed more adept at engaging the client and starting a healthy therapeutic alliance.  This was not a skill I was good at.  I also compared myself to one of the supervising psychologists who was very adept at reading the tone of a therapy group and who seemed to be able, with relative ease, to decide on the best intervention to move the group forward.

Neither of these comparisons were “fair” when I made them.

Based on my comparisons, I decided (wrongly, yes, but this was my interpretation at the time) that I was not very good at doing therapy.

It was only after I started my career and had to engage my clients in therapy that my confidence grew and my skill sets improved.

In fact, I was “surprised” one day when I intuitively orchestrated a very successful intervention.  I say I was surprised because, when I thought about it, I realized that what I had done was as good or better than the Supervisor I had earlier compared myself to.   It just took me some time to develop the necessary experience and skills.

The insidious nature of social comparison can lead to depression if the comparison involves a characteristic which is both very important to you and difficult to change.

The message of depression is that you see yourself as hopeless, helpless, worthless, or some combination of these three.

If the characteristic is sufficiently important and you do not measure up, you may perceive yourself as worthless.  If change is sufficiently difficult than your perception of yourself as helpless and hopeless may grow in strength.

Social Media, today, has been widely criticized because of the tendency of others to use it as a model for making comparisons.  Young people have attempted or commuted suicide because they do not see themselves as measuring up.

While they fail to see many issues, it never occurs to these adolescents that whether they measure up or not to the social media exemplar does not reflect on themselves and secondly, that the picture painted by the social media post may not even be accurate.

If you are feeling anxious, inadequate or that you do not measure up to your own, or society’s standards,  you might try to alleviate these feelings by choosing to compare yourself to someone who is not as well off as you or who is not your “equal” in whatever category you are using to measure.

You may say something like, “Well, I’m not doing so bad, look at _____.?” or “Well, I’m a better (xyz) than _____.”

The issue here is that, while this comparison may bring you some temporary relief, it does nothing to motivate you to change.  Over time, you will once again feel inadequate, inferior, or lacking.

The type of comparison is a trap because it creates a cycle of feeling inadequate, artificially pumping yourself up with a downward comparison, and feeling inadequate again.

A healthier approach would be to master your anxiety and objectively (either by yourself, if you can, or seeking input from others) look at the comparisons you are making and the standards you are implicitly accepting as your own.

  • Do these standards tell you something about yourself that both needs changing and that you can change?
  • Are the standards you are saying you need to live up to artificial, based on someone else’s distorted view of the world, or impossible to meet?

The answers to these questions will tell you whether your anxiety is informing you of actions you need to plan for and implement or whether their really is no impending threat about which you need to stress and you can choose to ignore the standards facing you as inappropriate, unrealistic, or unimportant.

I welcome your comments.

Announcing a new and improved Index!

To my Readers:

In order to make it easier for you to access the valuable information on this blog that is most relevant to you, I have revised the Index so that it now reflects specific topics.

These are the topic headings:

Using Emotions as Tools (including facts you didn’t know, your emotional toolkit, and more)

Anger (including anger mastery, you as a target of other’s anger, and more)

Other Emotions (fear, anxiety, empathy, regret, jealousy, regret, stress, and more)

Relationships and Emotions (conflict resolution, empathy, living in an emotional world, and more.)

Words and Emotions (you cannot not communicate, what vs why, atomic power of words, and more)

Here is HOW you can get to the article that interests you:

  • Go to the Index by clicking on the Index tab above.
  • Go the the Specific Topic.
  • Find the Article that addresses the information you want.
  • Note the Date of Publication.
  • Go to the Archives to the right of the page.
  • Click on the Date.
  • Scroll to the article.
  • Enjoy.

I write this blog for you.  Please let me know how I can improve it by sending me an email with “blog” in the subject line.

  • My email address is: TheEmotionsDoctor (at)
  • Please be assured that I do not collect or share email addresses and I will never spam you.

To your continued learning…..

The Emotions Doctor


Physical and Emotional “pain”—The same to the brain.

About a year ago, a column (Ask the Doctors) appeared in my local newspaper written by two medical doctors in which these doctors discussed a study conducted by Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D. at UCLA. Dr. Eisenberger discovered that the same parts of the brain which react to physical pain also react to emotional pain.

The two doctors concluded from a psycho-evolutionary perspective that “physical pain alerts us to injury (and) emotional pain warns us that we may be drifting too far from our fellow humans.  Both types of pain put us at grave risk (and) we need to take emotional pain just as seriously as we do physical pain. (Emphasis added.)”

I found this article fascinating as it is highly consistent with the Emotions as Tools Model I have written about in this blog and my two Amazon bestselling books.

Pain is a messenger that alerts us to a situation that needs our attention and prepares us to take specific action.

Examples of physical pain include:

You touch the hot handle on a pan, you feel pain, and you remove your hand.

You pick up an object, your back says “ouch”, and you stay away from lifting anything for a while.

If you don’t have pain sensors which give you this kind of feedback, you can find yourself in serious trouble.  I know of a person who was born with no nerves in his legs.  While this is not usually an issue for him as he gets around in his wheel chair, is an athlete, and is “normal” in every way, when he was a young man, some hot grease fell on his legs, he did not know it, and he sustained some nasty burns.

Emotions, in this context, are the same as the pain sensors in your body. And, it is the reason that you want to welcome your emotions eventhough they may sometimes may be experienced as painful or seem to force you to do things you later regret.

By the way, your emotions never force you to do anything.  All your behavior comes from the decisions you make.

The primary emotions (mad, sad, fear, and disgust) evolved as primitive threat detectors.  (The other two primary emotions of glad and surprise have different functions.)

The primitive emotional threat detectors work just like the security detectors (smoke, carbon monoxide, glass break, motion, etc) in your house which constantly scan your surroundings and when they detect a specific threat, they send out an alarm and give you the opportunity to take corrective action.

Each emotion looks for a specific threat.

  • Mad (anger) reacts to a threat you believe you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it and prepares you for battle.
  • Sad reacts to loss and prepares you to retreat and heal.
  • Fear detects a threat that will kill you and motivates you to escape.
  • Disgust detects a distasteful or nauseating situation and leads you to avoid the noxious stimuli.

But, unlike your home detectors, whose only function is to alert you so that you can take action to avoid a potentially life threatening situation, your emotions both alert you to a possible threat and prepare your body to take action.

It is through your body that you become aware of your emotions and the information they are communicating to you about how you perceive your surroundings.

If you get to know your body, you learn to distinguish the pain you need to listen to and heed immediately and the pain you can ignore and work through.

One example those of you who work out in the gym will be able to relate to is the “pain” you feel when you exercise. Your muscles “hurt” but you know the difference between muscle burn and muscle strain.

Burn is good, strain is not.

Years ago, I did something to my back and I was out of work for about 6 months.  I went to my physician, tried OTC pain meds, massage, acupuncture and chiropractic.  I was “confined” to the couch, nothing seemed to work and nothing could be found that was wrong.

When I came across a book suggesting that back pain  could be psychological, I decided the pain was “in my head”.  I then chose to master my pain.  This involved walking, mild exercise, and working through the pain.  The pain eventually went away and has never returned.

Now, I am not a physician and I am not saying you should do as I did.  This was my pain and my “intervention” worked for me. My point is that I learned that this particular pain, while it did hurt, could be ignored.

When it comes to your emotions, people do not know how to interpret, or adequately deal with their “pain”.  They tend to assume that the emotion controls them, and to give in to the emotion by taking an action they later regret.

They do not understand that they can master their emotions and use them as tools to improve their lives.

The Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC), a copy of which you can download by scrolling up to the Welcome Post above and which is specific to anger , presents a model that clearly shows you how to deal with all emotions.

Notice that once you identify (label) the message of the emotion (anger in this case),  you manage the emotion and S.T.O.P. the process.  This involves stopping the reaction (taking a breath),  taking a step back, observing, and practicing emotional intelligence. You then begin to master the emotion by assessing what is going on and choosing a response.

You begin to demystify and master your emotions when you think of them in the same way you think of physical pain. That your brain already does this is a bonus.

An analogy…

There is an electronic perimeter around the US which is constantly monitored.  If a plane, a missile or a flock of geese cross that perimeter, we know about it because an “Alert” is sounded. This alert is a message that must then assessed so that any needed action can be taken.

Do we scramble the jets, arm the nukes, or decide it’s a false alarm?

Pain sensors as messengers…

The pain sensors in your body are tools which give you information you have to assess and evaluate.  The pain message says “danger”.  You have to decide how you want to respond.

Emotions as messengers…

It is the same with your emotions.  They may signal danger or a misunderstanding.

  • In the case of anger, you have to decide  if you will seek more information, go to battle, or just ignore the “false alarm”.
  • In the case of fear, you need to escape and later think about what you can learn.
  • In the case of sadness, you need to find some time to recluse, recover and rebound.
  • In the case of disgust, you need to avoid and protect.

When asked, some people might say that they would like to get rid of their emotions because they are messy, do not feel good, and seem to cause bad behavior.  Yes, they can be messy and not feel good.  No, they do not cause behavior.

If you were to ask someone with chronic pain if they wished there was no such thing as pain, they might, understandably, want to eliminate pain.

But, physical pain and emotional pain protect us.  The goal is knowing how to interpret pain and how to master it.

I welcome your comments.


“Shoulds” are like a bad book cover. We might avoid “content” that could benefit us.

I have written two Amazon bestselling books.  While the cover of my first book is adequate, I went out of my way with my second cover because I learned that people DO judge a book by its cover.

The aphorism “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” is true.

The problem is that we all judge books, people, restaurants etc by their “covers”. And, sometimes, we miss out.

Let me give you one example.

Joshua Bell is a world class violin player.  People pay good money to hear him perform in concert halls all over the world.  A few years ago, in an experiment, Mr. Bell went to a NY subway station, took out his million dollar Stradivarius violin and played several very difficult violin compositions.  For the most part, he was ignored.  Folks did say that he was somewhat better than the average solicitor of pocket change but few recognized the quality of the performance which they were being given. The “cover” or setting in which Mr. Bell was playing clearly impacted how his audience responded to him.  His music was exceptional.  His reception was not.

Not all street musicians are Joshua Bell.  Sometimes, they are just street musicians trying to make a buck.  And, that’s okay.

“Shoulds” are like book covers, or first impressions.  They can be misleading and result in our not responding to an underlying important piece of information.

What are the “shoulds”?

A “should” is any statement or belief that you say to yourself (or, for that matter, that someone else says to you) that goes something like this: ” I should do XYZ.”, “I need to do XYZ.” or “You should (or should not) do XYZ”.

Examples include: You should have known what I meant., How dare you (question me, get angry)., I need to go on a diet. , I must be a better husband (parent, brother, father, employee)., I should exercise more., and so forth.

Other words that might be substituted for “should” include “have to”, “must”, “need to”, etc.

By the way, “How dare you” implies that you should not have done whatever it is that you dared to do.

“Shoulds” are problematic for several reasons:

  1. they imply an absolute which does not necessarily exist.
  2. they tend to elicit an oppositional reaction
  3. they do not address the issue that needs attention


Think about it for a minute.

When you tell yourself, or someone tells you, that you “should” do XYZ, the statement implies:

  • You really have no options other than XYZ
  • The behavior being addressed is the only correct, acceptable, or even viable action that makes any sense
  • You are wrong, misguided, exercising poor judgement or  crazy to have done or to consider doing (or not doing) XYZ.

Oppositional Reaction

When someone tells you that you should do XYZ, your first reaction (before you take the time to think about it) is to resist.

This is true in part because the should is perceived as a command and most of us do not like to be told what to do. A “should” tends to elicit comments such as: “No, I don’t”, or “Who gave you the right to make demands on me?” or “Try and make me.”

OK, I admit that the above comments seem somewhat immature but I am trying to capture the intent of the resistance to a “should”.  The exact words used to express this resistance are less important.

The critical issue here is that this resistance to a “should” happens whether the “should” is directed at you by someone else or is your own assertion directed at yourself.

How many times have you told yourself that you should do XYZ (let’s stipulate that XYZ is indeed something that is in your best interest to pursue like exercise or losing weight or reconciling with an estranged friend) and then resisted, procrastinated, avoided or made excuses for not doing XYZ?

Probably, lots of times.  I know I have.

Sometimes XYZ is something that we would benefit from.  This leads us to the third, and most important reason that “shoulds” can be insidious.

Avoiding the Issue

This is the most important reason for learning how to deal with “shoulds” because it may result in your not responding to an important situation which, if recognized, would be most beneficial to you.

A “should” implies that a critical issue such as weight, health (medical/dental), exercise, doing an important task which you’ve been avoiding, has been recognized, clearly summarized, is beyond question, and will be both prioritzed and completed.

In other words, the “should” is wrongly interpreted as a “marching order” that  you are compelled to carry out.  “Should” implies “Done”.

Except it doesn’t!

The real issue that needs to be addressed is the compulsive reason underlying your actions to avoid XYZ.  If XYZ is so important, and we are assuming it is, how do you justify not doing it?

Not all “shoulds” will lead us to actions that, when taken, prove to be beneficial.

Sometimes, “shoulds” are just unreasonable demands others direct toward us or unreasonable demands we make of ourselves due to a desire to fit in or meet some social or personal expectation.

The goal is to be able to tell the difference. We want to recognize our “Joshua Bells”.

The Antidote to “Shoulds”: Skip the demand and focus on the relevance of the task.

  • Ask yourself a question.

Ask yourself “Why is it in my best interest to do XYZ?”

This may sound silly but your brain is a question answering machine.  It will give you a bunch of reasons why XYZ is good for you.  By the way, if you’ve ever said to yourself, “How could I be so stupid (or similar)?”, you might want to reconsider your words. Do you really want your brain to inform you about how you are stupid?  I don’t think so.

  • Change your approach.

Toward you...

Instead of telling yourself you “should” do XYZ, remind yourself that doing XYZ will benefit you, is important to you, will pay dividends etc.

Instead of “I should exercise.” say “I choose to exercise.”

Toward someone else…

In response to someone else telling you that you should do XYZ, ask them “On what are you basing your comment that I should do XYZ?”  Maybe, you will learn something about XYZ that you didn’t know before and choose to do it.

In summary:

I can just about guarantee that there will be “shoulds” in your life going forward, both from others to you and from you to yourself.

You can’t avoid them.  And, you don’t have to.

You master your emotions as tools by validating them and assessing their message, and choosing your response.

It is the same with “shoulds”.  Accept them, question their message (the value to you of XYZ and choose your response.

I welcome  your comments.



Emotions and Logic…Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Reinforcing? Part 2: Mutually Inclusive So More Emotions

In this post, I am suggesting that you view your emotions and logic as mutually reinforcing and use them both to help you make better decisions and engage in behavior that is beneficial to you and those close to you.

An explanatory note:

I am not saying that these suggestions would have stopped a school shooter or the Las Vegas shooter as the action of these (and other folks in the news) were well planned and executed actions.  However, teaching cops and boyfriends/spouses and co-workers to master their emotions, could very possibly result in more appropriate behavior. And eliminate some of the negative myths that people use to judge their emotions.

Back to the post…

When you get into your car, you are aware that you need to manage the power of the car, be aware of your surroundings and other drivers, and compensate for outside factors such as weather, visibility, and momentum.  If you fail to consider these factors, you and your car may be “out of control”.

One example involves excessive speed (given your physical status, traffic, the road surface or the weather).  If you are going too fast, when you step on the brake, your car may be out of control and slam into the car in front of you.

  • Maybe, you are tired or impaired and you misjudge the required stopping distance.
  • Maybe, you are driving during the winter and fail to consider various road conditions. You may lose contact with the road (friction), your car becomes out of control and you slip and slide.
  •  Maybe, fog is restricting your vision more than you believe and you don’t see the car in front of you.

In all these cases, the information is available to you that, if you paid attention to, and heeded, the message this information (about yourself, driving conditions, etc) was providing, you would be both prepared and motivated to take corrective action which could have helped you avoid the accident.  Even in a multi-car pile up, some cars were able to avoid a collision.

While the analogy is not perfect, think of the car as an emotion.  It is very powerful and can be used very positively to speed you to the hospital for emergency care, very negatively as a weapon, or neutrally to drive you to the grocery store.

The feedback you get from your surroundings is information available to you as you decide how to manage and take advantage of the power in your car. This information is similar to the message of an emotion that you are experiencing.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she went into labor, I got anxious, and we rushed to the hospital in our car. While I was speeding, I was not reckless.  When I ran through a red light after briefly stopping, a cop pulled me over.  I stopped the car and informed the policeman that I was headed to the hospital (which was a few blocks away). I told him that he was welcome to follow me to the hospital and that, once my wife was safe, I would show him my licence and do whatever I was instructed to do.  He followed me to the hospital, checked my license and insurance, gave me an obligatory “lecture” about safe driving, and wished me luck for a successful birth.  He did not give me a ticket.

In this example, I was highly motivated to get to the hospital. My anxiety, manifested as eustress, led me to go as far over the “limit” as I could go and to ignore traffic signs if it was safe to do so. The car was my powerful vehicle. Road and traffic conditions and the policeman were bits of information I needed to take into consideration.

The emotional part of my brain (the Limbic System) pushed my behavior and the thinking, or logical, part of my brain (the cerebral cortex), analyzed my situation, considered all the available information including  both the need to get safely to the hospital as quickly as possible and to acknowledge the cop, and gave me the solution I needed to both validate my emotion and get my wife the care she needed.

Whether I did the right thing is certainly arguable and whether you agree with what I did is not the point. I give this example only to illustrate how emotions and logic can reinforce each other.

This is how emotions and logic should work together.

While you can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle above (the same cycle basically applies to most emotions),  here is a quick review of how emotions work.

  • You constantly, automatically and subconsciously scan your surroundings for  possible threats.
  • When a threat is perceived, a fast track signal is sent to the Limbic System which prepares you for fight or flight. This is your emotional reaction and is the message of the emotion.
  • Simultaneously, a slower signal goes to the Cerebral Cortex which allows you to validate and assess the nature of the threat.
  • If a threat exists, you have the opportunity to choose how you want to respond.
  • Emotional mastery involves matching your response to the actual nature of the perceived threat.

Emotional Mastery: Emotion and Logic Together

You master your emotion when you understand the message of the emotion, add a “break” between the emotional reaction and your response, use this physical and psychological break to calm yourself and logically assess the nature of the threat to determine the extent to which your reality matches the threat and the alert message your emotion is giving you. Logic can then inform you about your response options so you can make an effective choice.

Here is the message of some well known emotions:

  • Anger: There is a threat facing me that I can eliminate by attacking it.  I am ready for battle.
  • Anxiety: There may be a threat in the future that might hurt me. I am EITHER prepared to run away to avoid the threat while still consumed by it (anxiety as distress) OR take action to nullify the threat (anxiety as eustress).
  • Jealousy: There is a  threat to my relationship.  Another person may be trying to take the affection of my significant other away from me.
  • Guilt: I have done something wrong and violated my sense of right and wrong.

If you know the message of the emotion, you can logically assess your situation to see if you have correctly or incorrectly perceived what it going on.  You can get feedback from others.  Following this “assessment”, you can choose, and implement, your response.

This is how you validate your emotions and use their messages to inform you about your surroundings.  From this perspective, you want more emotions.  This is the same reasoning you use to put both a smoke detector and a Carbon Monoxide detector in your house. And, maybe, add a security system.

You deploy your logic to give you viable options to effective master your situation.

I welcome your comments.


Emotions and Logic…Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Reinforcing? Part 1: Mutually Exclusive So Less Emotion.

This is part 1 of a two part blog post on emotions…

We live in a world in which events like school shootings, a lone gunman firing an  automatic weapon into a crowd of people attending an outdoor concert, or a policemen beating up a person of interest or shooting and killing an unarmed individual pleading for his own safety strain our ability to understand what leads these people to act in this manner and beg for a reasonable explanation.

As these behaviors do not appear to be logical, the explanations often include some reference to mental illness and attempt to blame the behavior on emotions gone awry.

In other words, so the thinking goes, these people must be crazy to do what they did and they must be under the control of their emotions.

If they were “in their right minds”, they would control themselves and act more appropriately. The implication is that we need both more treatment for mental illness, and more  logic (less emotion) in our country.

Yes, having logical, in control, people making good decisions is both helpful and desirable. And, yes, we do need more to make mental health treatment more available in this country.

Is it possible that you can have logical, in control, people making, what most people consider very bad decisions and engaging in equally egregious behavior based on those decisions?

The answer is, “yes”.

The issue here is neither about mental health treatment or about emotions verses logic.

While I am in no way condoning the deplorable behavior listed above and it is possible that mental illness was a factor, I am questioning three primary assumptions that pop up every time some outrageous behavior appears in the news:

1. All human behavior is either logical or it is emotional.

If the behavior is logical, it is appropriate, controlled, and understandable.

If it is not logical, it must be emotional (erratic, driven, devoid of logic).

2. Any behavior that doesn’t seem logical to us must be the result of emotions gone awry.

If the behavior is illogical, it must be due to emotions which have hijacked the person and are causing the deplorable behavior.

3.  Out of control behaviors imply the presence of mental illness.

So, you are either behaviorally stable or mentally ill.

The implication is that we need more logic and less emotion.

If emotions led to insane, out of control people, we’d be crazy to want more emotions.

Indeed, nobody wants crazed automatons running around doing dumb destructive things. No argument there, we all want to avoid dumb destructive behavior.

But, bad decisions and the undesirable behavior that follows from these decisions do not necessarily prove the presence of mental illness.

And, the unfortunate spin-off from demonizing emotions in the case of egregious behavior is that all emotions (when experienced and misunderstood) begin to be seen as “bad”, “undesirable”, “intrusive”, etc.

Let’s dive a little deeper….

While there may be a modicum of truth in each, statements 1, 2, and 3 are for the most part limited, misguided, incorrect and misleading.

  • Statement #1 is a false dichotomy.
  • Statement #2 implies that one’s emotions have become both autonomous and cancerous.
  • Statement #3 implies that anything we do not understand must be attributed to an underlying disease process.

So, if the issue is not the behavior on which we all agree, what is the issue that we need to discuss?

This is the critical question.

The answer is not the emotions, per se, although how we deal with our emotions is an important topic.

Rather, the critical issue we need to discuss is how we, as a culture, and you, as an individual, view emotions.  In other words, what do you think emotions are and how do believe they impact each of us?

If your picture of emotions is that they…

  • force an out of control road-rage crazed driver to shoot at another car, or
  • leave the out of control cop with no other alternative than to shoot or beat up a perpetrator, or
  • compel the out of control  spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to beat up their significant other, or
  • cause the out of control  co-worker  to get angry with  and demean you, as a female, when you point out their inappropriate behavior in the office,

then, yes, less emotion is needed.

But, what if your picture is inaccurate?

“Out of control” implies that feelings….

  • have taken over,
  • are totally controlling,
  • are forcing and compelling a certain behavior while eliminating alternatives, and
  • are causing the individual to engage in the clearly unacceptable behavior they’ve displayed.

Take another look at these words…

>taken over  >totally controlling  >forcing  >compelling    >causing

These words imply that the individual’s (male or female) emotions have transformed this person into a  robot.

In this picture, emotions and logic are mutually exclusive.

  • You are either an emotional time-bomb waiting to explode with no logical fail-safe mechanisms in place


  • You are an unemotional, logic-only Vulcan (think Spock in the TV series StarTrek) who has eliminated emotion from his life.

I am suggesting that emotions and logic are mutually reinforcing and when used together can lead to better decisions and more appropriate actions.

This is where we’ll begin in Part 2.



Getting to “Done”: Master Your Procrastination as a Strategic Tool

In an earlier post (Dealing with Procrastination as Anxiety 5/11/16), I noted that most of the procrastination literature tends to focus on two strategies:

  1. setting S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic) goals, breaking those goals down into smaller components, and
  2.  rewarding yourself when you complete those smaller chunks.

These are both very good strategies.

Procrastination as Anxiety

I suggested a three step process based on The Emotions as Tools Model and the idea that procrastination is basically fueled by the emotion of anxiety.

The three steps were:

  1. Accept and Validate Your Anxiety.
  2. Turn Anxiety into anticipation and excitement. (eustress)
  3. Let the excitement motivate you and move you past your procrastination.

These three steps remain relevant as long as you can identify the anxiety which underlies and perpetuates your procrastination.

Procrastination and factors other than anxiety: Mastering Procrastination

But, what if something else (either as a unique factor or in combination with anxiety) elicits your procrastination?

I’m suggesting that you approach procrastination as if it were an emotion. In all my posts, I talk of emotions as tools that provide you with information about how you perceive and interact with your surroundings.

Procrastination is a behavior not a feeling.  But, you can look at your behavior as a “messenger” and learn to master it.

Mastering your procrastination involves assessing what is going on with you and your choice to procrastinate and choosing a more adaptive response rather than the avoiding/delaying reaction which constitutes your procrastination.

The mastery process of dealing with your procrastination requires:

  • validating the procrastination
    • accepting instead of getting mad at yourself for procrastinating,
  • assessing the message of your behavior
    • what is leading you to avoid the important task and focus on the urgent task which is demanding your attention,
  • noticing what you are gaining by procrastinating
    • avoiding an uncomfortable task,
    • being forced to accept that you are not up to or sufficiently prepared for the task
    • accepting that you were not being assertive in making it clear that the task was not appropriate for you or in saying “no”,
    • denying your anger because the task was forced on you
    • etc
  • attending to what you are telling yourself to justify your procrastination,

Moving past your procrastination by making a choice.

Once you understand the message of the procrastination and what your procrastinating is doing for you, you can decide how you want to respond to and deal with your delaying/avoiding behavior.

Possibilities include:

  • Setting better goals
  • Taking a different approach to the task
  • Choosing not to complete the task

Make a plan and get to work.

I welcome your comments.


Understanding Feelings: Sunglasses, The Spotlight Effect, and Your World Model (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two part post on understanding feelings.

In my last post, I spoke about a conversation in which my emotionally neutral comment was met with an emotionally tinged reaction which was not expected, did not match the intent, tone or nature of my comment and seemed confusing.

I suggested that the response I received may have been impacted by the filters through which the person I was addressing was interpreting my comment.

These filters, like sunglasses, change how an event is perceived.

I should add here that I am using a conversation as a generic, or general, example of an interaction.  The same mismatch between what you do and how others react to you can involve any action on your part such as making a suggestion in a meeting, asking for a favor, asking someone out on a date, offering to help a friend, refusing a request, and so forth.

Let’s dive deeper.

Feelings and actions

Fact #1: Our actions (behavior) follow from and are directly related to what we feel about the situations in which we find ourselves.

Fact #2: Our feelings (emotions) come from our thoughts about how we perceive our surroundings.

There are 6 primary feelings (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) which have helped us survive as a species since we lived in caves, appear very early in infants and adults across all human cultures (and some subhuman species) and which function today just as they did millennia ago. With the exception of glad and surprise, all the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors.

All the threats Mr. and Mrs. Caveman faced were survival based.

The way the emotional “system” works is that you constantly scan your surroundings for threat.  When subconsciously perceived, threat activates the fight/flight reaction in your brain, generates and emotion, and prepares you to go to war or get the hell away.  This reaction was basically all our cave ancestors had available to them to stay alive in the face of a threat that would kill them.

Today, most of our threats are psychological, not survival based, and we have evolved a mechanism to evaluate threats.  When a threat is perceived,  a second message is sent to the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) which allows us to use the emotion as a tool and think about, assess, and validate the nature of the threat so that we can respond rather than react to the threat.

When feelings are viewed as problematic and as autonomously “forcing” us to take action, we do not assess the feelings (or the nature of the threat) and our feelings become part of the filters through which we view others.

Spotlight effect

FYI: Here is a YouTube segment on the SpotLight effect.

This is the tendency of a person, when emotional, to believe that they are the center of other’s attention and that the actions of others are both directed at and specifically involve the individual.

A classic study was done in which volunteers wore tee shirts with sayings  which could be seen as “provocative” (Barry Manilow ) by a group of others (college students participating in an experiment).

Note: At the time, Barry Manilow was not very popular among college students.

When asked if they were noticed, the volunteers believed that a majority of people in the study group noticed and their shirts.  Most of the college students, when asked, didn’t even notice the Barry Manilow shirts.

When we view the world through a set of filters, we tend to react as if everything that happens around us is all about us.  This is often an incorrect assumption. It is called the Spotlight Effect because we act as if there is a spotlight on us which illuminates and sets us apart.

Your World Model

Your model of the world is your set of filters through which you view the world.

Your model of the world consists of:

  • The stereotypes you use to measure other people.

One example is the following: Marie is doing that because she is a woman (not because she is Marie taking action in the moment).

  • The extent to which you tend to overgeneralize in how you interpret a situation as opposed to dealing with each interaction based on what is actually taking place.

An example is the following: All men are … (not Yes, Sam is a man but he is also an individual taking action in the moment). or The Boss always does XYZ as opposed to The Boss did XYZ in this situation.)

  • The extent to which your past impacts your present interactions.  Being in the present moment is called mindfulness.

An example is the following: Every time I’ve tried to stand up for myself, I’ve been criticized. I’ll just shut up because nothing will happen anyway. as opposed to Well, I’ll give it a shot this time,  maybe, it will turn out differently.

Actions follow from our feelings.  Our feelings come from our thoughts and our perceptions.  Thoughts both create and come from our filters. We don’t question our own thoughts, we accept them as reality.

We take action based on our perceived reality (our filters, the Spotlight Effect and our worldview).

When another person reacts to you in a way that seems contradictory, disproportionate, or inappropriate, you may be able gain an understanding of their actions by attempting to gain some insight into their model of the world.

This is also true when your reaction to another person results in consequences you do not want.

If the relationship with this person is important to you, then learning how to understand their world view may be worthwhile.

I welcome your comments.