In previous posts, I have talked about the Emotions as Tools Model which
- takes all the mystery out of the topic of feelings (Remember that the words emotion and feeling are interchangeable.),
- reminds you that you can learn how to use your feelings to improve your life and your relationships in the same way that you learn to use your computer or TV remote (gain knowledge about the tool and practice), and
- ultimately, gives you back control of your life.
I introduced the Emotions as Tools Model in my first book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings. If you haven’t already done so, you can download the first chapter of my book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of this page in the Welcome entry.
I also addressed using anger as a tool in last week’s post.
In this post, i would like to give you a quick way to remember and implement the Emotions as Tools Model: The 3M approach to feelings.
As you continue to learn more about the message of each emotion, how your body informs you about a feeling by the way you experience each feeling in your body (your physical correlates), and the thoughts which both inform you about how you perceive your surroundings and which elicit each emotion, you can break the emotional process into three steps, each of which begins with the letter M. The three steps involve Management, Mindfulness and Mastery.
The 3M approach works both for your own feelings and when you are interacting with the emotions of another person directed at you.
The ultimate goal is to master your emotion so that you can strategically apply it to any situation in which you find yourself.
I will talk about the first M in this post and the second and third M next week.
The first M ==> Management
The emotional cycle is always working and begins with the process by which we all unconsciously and continuously scan our surroundings for any threat. This process is hard-wired in our brains and is a primordial survival mechanism that allowed us to survive as a species when we lived in caves. Once a threat is perceived, the Amygdala (emotional center in the brain) sends a fast track message to the Thalamus to prepare the body to fight, flee, or freeze (the fight or flight response). At the same time, a slower message goes to the cerebral cortex (the executive part of the brain) which allows us to make a decision about the threat.
We become aware of an emotion in one (or both) of two ways.
One the one hand, we need to learn to identify how our bodies react emotionally. In my books, I call this one’s physical correlates. Secondly, we should learn to identify the thoughts which accompany and elicit each emotion.
As soon as you become aware of an emotion, you should begin to manage that emotion. The process of managing one’s emotion involves lowering your arousal level.
There are at least two reasons you want to do this.
The first is so that you can take a physical step back from the “threat”. This is the establishment of physical space.
The second reason is to give you some psychological distance between you and the “threat”. This psychological space gives you the opportunity to respond rather than react to the threat.
The Amygdala “assumes” that all perceived threats are genuine and will kill us. While this was true when we lived in caves or roamed the Savannah, it isn’t necessarily true now. Indeed, being stuck in rush hour traffic or being given the “one-finger salute” may be exasperating but is not fatal. While we have evolved as a species, the Amygdala has (at least in this aspect) not evolved. The Amygdala just reacts and prepares our bodies to take action. Our bodies being prepared for action is experienced as heightened arousal, muscle tension, and other physical correlates.
When you are energized and ready for action, you are more likely to react to the perceived threat. While this may be okay if the threat is genuine, if there is no threat, you may do something you might later regret. Lowering your arousal reduces the likelihood that you will react.
There are a variety of ways you can lower your arousal. You can take a deep breath. You can learn relaxation techniques. You can remind yourself to slow down. Taking a physical step backwards can act as a reminder to “take a breath”.
While the process of managing an emotion applies to all of the “threat detector” emotions, the field of “anger management” specifically has tended to focus on the process of management as a desired end result. Because I believe that one can go beyond managing one’s anger to mastering one’s anger (the third M), I tend to take issue with many anger management approaches. I talk about this in my second book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.
Once you have lowered your arousal, you can continue the process of emotional mastery by assessing the nature of the threat. In order to do this you must be “mindful”. Mindfulness is the second M.
I welcome your comments.