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Most people have it backwards. They think they need to control their emotions to master their lives. The truth is that when you master your emotions, you gain control of your life. Here are some “facts” to help you master your emotions.
Two Important questions:
1. Do you, or someone you know, get angry and do things you later regret?
2. Do you, or someone you know, get anxious and avoid doing something you later wish you had done?
For many people, the answer to both of these questions is YES.
Because of how emotions work, it often feels like emotions such as anger and anxiety control us and cause us to act, or not to act, in ways we might later regret.
This can leave us with a sense that we are not in control of our lives.
The reality, however, is that we are in control of our lives and emotions help us maintain this control.
Here are 5 facts about emotions which will help you take back control of your life.
Fact #1: Emotions are Tools you can learn to master.
If you have ever purchased a new “smart” tool such as a computer, cell phone, TV, car, or sewing machine, you know that these “tools” often involve a learning curve. For example, if you want to get the most out of your new phone, you will need to acquire some new skills.
Mastering your new tools greatly enhance their usefulness.
Mastering your emotions as tools could make your life more meaningful, improve your relationships, and give you back control over situations in which you find yourself.
By the way, the words emotions and feelings are basically the same (unless you are a scientist doing a study or writing technical books) and the words can be used interchangeably.
Fact#2: Your emotions alert you to and prepare you to effectively interact with your surroundings.
Most people believe that their feelings both control and happen to them. While this is partially true, it is also misleading.
Indeed, there is a subconscious element of emotions which you do not control. However, there is also a conscious element which gives you a great deal of control.
Here is how the emotional process works.
The subconscious element:
All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat. This process is hard-wired in us and helped us survive as a species when our early ancestors lived in caves.
This subconscious element functions the same today as it did millennia ago.
When you perceive a threat (physical or psychological), your brain sends a message to the Thalamus which puts your body on alert. This is called fight or flight. It is your initial reaction to an emotional situation.
The conscious element:
At the same time, the thinking part of your brain gets a wake-up call to begin the process of thinking about the threat you have subconsciously noticed. This element of emotions allows you to assess your situation and empowers you to decide how you will react. This choice helps you improve both your own life and your relationships with others.
The process of assessing your situation and choosing a response is called emotional mastery.
You don’t control your initial reaction but you can learn to master your response to the perceived threat.
Fact #3: Each emotion informs you about how you perceive your surroundings. You can use this information to choose how you will respond to what happens to you.
Two examples of “information” and choice:
1) your gas gauge informs you about the fuel in your tank so you can decide whether you need to stop and fill up
2) a thermometer tells you how your body is reacting to an internal “disease” process so you can decide whether you need to consult a doctor. Your emotions tell you how you perceive what is happening to you and allow you to decide what you might need to do about it.
Each emotion communicates to you a different message based on your initial reaction to an event.
Here are the messages of the some basic emotions.
Anger: You perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.
Anger (or mad) prepares you for battle.
Sad: You are facing a loss which may require you to step back, wind down and come to grips with an altered future.
Sadness prepares you for reflection.
Glad: You are facing a situation which looks encouraging and which you want more of.
Glad (or happy) prepares you to engage and increase your level of involvement.
Fear: You are facing a situation which will kill you.
Fear prepares you to escape.
Disgust: You are facing a situation which “leaves a bad taste” in your mouth.
You are prepared to get away from this bad situation, person, or object.
Surprise: You are facing a situation which is different from what you expected. If the surprise is pleasant as in winning the office pool, you may want more of what is going on. If the surprise is unpleasant as in your car not starting, you might wish the incident had never taken place.
Anxiety: You are facing an uncertain future. Another word for anxiety is worry. Anxiety is not the same as fear although people use the words interchangeably.
Anxiety can lead to action or inaction.
The issue with anxiety is that the future MAY or MAY Not take place. If you act as if the future will definitely occur and will result in negative consequences, you may do nothing or avoid that about which you are worried. This is anxiety as distress. On the other hand, if you, like my students, use the energy of your anxiety to prepare yourself for your future, then you will take effective action to prevent the future about which you are worried. This is anxiety as eustress. These are the two sides of anxiety: same emotion, different interpretations and different responses.
Fact#4: Mastering your emotions gives you more control over your own life as well as increased influence in your interactions with others.
Definition of emotional mastery: You master an emotion when you understand its message, take a moment to assess the validity of the message as it reflects upon what is actually happening, and choose a response that adaptively deals with the situation you are facing
Mastery and self-control: When you use your emotions as tools, you are now in a position to effectively respond to your surroundings. You are in control of you and you can choose responses which improve your life by effectively moving you forward toward and motivating you regarding goals that you set.
Mastery and interpersonal influence: You can master the emotions of others and deescalate an interaction by observing emotions in others, understanding how they perceive what is going on (the message of the emotion) and choosing a response which validates (does not approve) their perception and helps them to reevaluate their interactions with you.
Fact#5: There are a ton of free resources to help you learn about and master your emotions.
This blog covers all aspects of emotions. To help you access over 100 posts by topic, I have included a tab in the top right hand corner of my homepage which will take you to a PDF of my posts by 5 topic areas: Using Emotions as Tools, Anger, Other Emotions, Relationships and Emotions, and Words and Emotion. You can also download the first two chapters of both of my Amazon Best Selling Books by scrolling up to the “welcome” post above.
About the author:
Ed Daube, Ph.D. is an Amazon best-selling author of two books: