This is the second of three posts covering the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)
In my last post, I introduced the 4 steps of the EMC.
To review, here are the 4 steps.
- manage your own readiness
- understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
- choose and impliment an adaptive response
In learning how to master your emotions, it is important to know that emotions have two primary functions.
Two Primary Functions of Emotions
- They alert us to the presence of an emotionally significant event (ESE).
- They prepare our bodies to deal with the ESE.
In my last post, I addressed the first function of emotions when I spoke about learning to be aware that you were experiencing an emotion,
In this post, I will focus on Step #2 which looks at the process by which our emotions prepare us to take action to deal with a perceived threat.
Emotional Action Readiness and the EMC
As I mentioned in my last post, the emotional process is very quick and evolved to prepare our ancestors to face threats which would kill them. I call these survival based threats.
This preparation is the same for us today as it was for our ancestors.
Part of that preparation involves..
- an increase in heart rate,
- a narrowing of one’s focus so that attention could be directed to the threat and distractions could be minimized and
- a channeling of the blood flow to the large muscles in case our ancestors needed to escape flee from the threat.
Other changes also occur.
Nico Fridja described these physical changes as an emotional action readiness because our emotions prepare our bodies to respond to a variety of threats.
The body is prepped for action.
However, and this is critical,…
how we choose to unleash this action readiness depends on the specific threat and the specific emotion that threat elicits.
For our ancestors, every threat was survival based. Consequently, the emotion, and the action they were prepped to take, were always in sync.
In other words, the emotion always matched the threat.
For you and me, however, nearly all of the threats we face are psychological in nature.
Psychological threats involve our goals, our view of the world, our egos and so forth. And, while psychological threats are important, they are not fatal.
The challenge is that our brains do not, initially, distinguish between a survival based and a psychological threat.
All threats are treated as survival based.
The implications of responding to all threats as if they were survival threats include:
- We can’t assume that just because we feel like there is a threat that a threat exists.
- The very real possibility that we are incorrect in our initial assessment of the threat.
- We might engage in an action our emotions prep us for and do something that is inappropriate based on our initial misinterpretation of the threat.
- We need to learn to match our response to the situation.
- This requires a more flexible approach to our emotions.
This is where step #2 of the EMC comes in.
Step #2 of the EMC: Manage Your Readiness
It is important to point out that Step #2 advises you to manage your readiness.
To put this another way, step #2 involves lowering the energy level the emotion creates in your body.
Your emotions are designed to both focus your attention on and motivate you to take some action to deal with the perceived threat. By definition, then, your emotions generate, or energize, you to take significant directed effective action to nullify or eliminate the threat.
The specific action that is energized varies with the emotion.
- anger energizes you to go to war.
- sadness motivates you to withdraw so that you can heal
- anxiety, as a future based emotion, motivates to take effective action to prevent the perceived threat
The challenge in mastering your emotion is that, if you are overwhelmed by the readiness to take a specific action, you can’t focus your attention on assessing or understanding the emotion and the nature of the threat that emotion is highlighting.
So, you need to manage your readiness to act or your emotional energy level.
Let me give you an example.
As I am writing this, Russia has amassed an Army on the Border of Ukraine. The US and NATO are energized to take massive action should Russia invade Ukraine. Both sides are set to act. Should one country do something that may be misinterpreted as an “offensive” action, the whole situation will escalate out of control very fast.
An attempt is being made to diplomatically reduce the State of Readiness and the resultant threat level.
As applied to your emotions, there are two steps involved in this process.
First of all, as soon as you become aware that you are experiencing an emotion, you need to take a deep breath, or two, elicits a lowering of your emotional reactivity level.
An Effective Deep Breath (4-4-4)
An effective deep breath involves inhaling to a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, and exhaling to a count of four. Different writers may use a different count but keeping it consistent makes it easier to remember.
It Takes Practice
It is important to note that you will have to “practice” this process so that when you do experience an emotion, it will occur to you to take a deep breath. To practice this, whenever you experience an emotion (regardless of its intensity) take a deep breath. You will begin to associate a deep breath with emotional mastery.
A Physical Step Back
Secondly, if warranted, take a physical step back from the situation. This provides you with some physical distance between you and the emotional situation.
Manageing vs Mastering
Reducing, or managing, your emotional readiness is, in my opinion, the only part of the EMC where the idea of managing your emotions is appropriate.
The idea of managing an emotion implies controlling that emotion. While other writers may recommend controlling an emotion as in managing your anger (anger management courses), I speak about mastering your emotions.
There are three reasons for this..
1.The idea of managing an emotion implies that you have some kind of control over, or that you should seek to control, your emotions.
I believe that the idea of controlling your emotions is misleading because controlling an emotion, while possible in the short run, can’t be maintained unless you are professionally trained to do so (think Navy Seals).
2.Secondly, the idea of controlling an emotion implies that you can eliminate emotions you don’t like.
Eliminating an emotion is misleading both because you can’t do it and because you wouldn’t want to.
3.I believe that all emotions are tools that need to be mastered.
Mastery involves learning what the tool does and developing a specific skill set that enables you to get the most out of the tool and all it was designed to do.
I have seen, both in person and on videos, professionals accomplish tasks with tools, such as power saws, that I would never thought were possible. I can use my power saws to cut lumber in a variety of ways. But, I would never call myself either professional or creative with my saws. In other words, I am an amateur and have not really mastered my saws.
It is the same way with emotions.
I teach people how to master their emotions as tools and I do consider myself a professional when it comes to emotions.
No-one is perfect so stay with it.
However, while most of the time, I have mastered my emotions, to be honest, sometimes my emotions do get the best of me. For a while…..
That said, there is a place for managing the emotional process. And that place is Step #2 of the EMC.
A Final Note
The unconscious fast nature of the EMC is often assumed to mean that our emotions control us. This “control” is used as an excuse to justify inappropriate behavior. Spousal abusers, for example, will claim “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have (hit, abused, mistreated) you.”
This is an attempt to avoid responsibility for one’s actions.
The truth is that we all have a choice about how we respond to our emotions. (This is what Steps #2 and #4 are all about.)
Emotions prepare us for action. They never force us to do anything.
And, that takes us to the final two steps in the EMC which I will address in my next post.