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Steps #3 and #4 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)

This is the third and final post in this series covering the four steps of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC).

Step #1 called your attention to the importance of being aware of how your emotions manifest themselves physically in your body and reminded you that you needed to learn, or become aware of, how your emotions communicate with you.

Step #2 discussed the role of the emotional action readiness in preparing your body to take directed action against a perceived threat and cautioned that, while our emotions prepare us to face survival based threats, most of our threats, today, are psychological in nature. Consequently, we need to manage our action readiness and lower our energy level.

Your management efforts involve two steps both of which were discussed.  These steps were to take a deep breath and take a physical step back from the threat.

Finally, the discussion of Step #2 noted that managing the emotional process only occurs in Step #2 as emotional mastery is our goal and gave you the reasons for this.

In this post, I will discuss the final two steps of the EMC…

Step #3:  Understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself.

As I’ve discussed in several earlier posts, each emotion communicates a different message based on the nature of the “threat” that is perceived and the physical preparation needed to deal with that “threat”.

Emotional mastery involves understanding this message by reading your body (step #1) and using this information assess your situation.  Your assessment involves comparing the actual nature of the threat with your initial perception (as manifested in the message of the emotion).

Here are some examples of the messages of specific emotions:

  • Anger: The threat is real and you can eliminate it by throwing enough force at it.  Anger prepares you for war.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a future based emotion. There is a possible threat which could have severe negative consequences.  Anxiety prepares you to either freeze or take the necessary steps to prevent the threat from happening.
  • Sadness: Sadness informs you that you have sustained a significant loss. Sadness prepares you to withdraw, heal your wounds, and move on.
  • Fear: Fear is a here and now emotion which tells you that you are facing an eminent threat that will significantly harm you.  Fear prepares you to escape.
  • Joy: Joy, or happiness, informs you that you are facing a situation which brings you pleasure.  Joy prepares you to engage.
  • Here is a link to a post on Jealousy and envy.
  • Here is a link to a post on Guilt and Shame.

In comparing the actual situation with the perceived threat, you need to ask some important questions.  And, you need to remain open to the answers.

Some examples of questions to ask….

About the situation

  • What do I believe is going on here?
  • How would an independent observer view this situation?
  • Have I possibly misunderstood what was said/done?
  • Could I be missing something here?
  • If I am correct in my assessment of the threat, what is the real risk to me, if any, of this threat?

About Your Feelings

  • Does the intensity of my feelings match the situation?
  • Do I have several feelings I need to consider?
  • What are my options for expressing my feelings?
  • Are there “display” issues I need to consider?

About the Other Person

  • What interpretations or judgements am I making about the other person and what he/she is doing?
  • How does the other person perceive what is going on?
  • What is the other person trying to accomplish here?
  • Could his/her actions be the result of a lack of ability to express his/her needs in a more appropriate way?

About What You Can Do

  • What actions can I take to possibly defuse the threat?
  • What actions do I want to take?
  • What are the consequences of each option?
  • What result am I hoping for?
  • What if I do nothing?

Other Important Links

  • Here is a link to a post which discusses the advantages of asking “What” vs “Why“.
  • Here is a link to a post which discusses what questions to ask when you get angry. There are questions about the situation, your own anger, the other person’s anger and your response.

You may have to solicit input from both the other person in the interaction or a third party to get the information you need.

Once you are satisfied that your assessment is complete in that you have as close to an objective view of what is going on in your situation as you can get, you are ready to move on to Step #4.

Step #4: Choose and implement an adaptive response.

Based on your assessment of your situation, you can make a plan to adaptively deal with what is going on.

An adaptive response is one that improves your situation and, as much as possible, that of the other person you are dealing with.

Finally, you can implement your plan.

Note: I hope this series has been helpful to you.  If it has, please help me reach more people with this free resource by recommending and including links to this blog in your emails and social media.

Thanks.

Step #2 of The Emotional Mastery Cycle: Manage Your Emotional Readiness

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.

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own readiness
  3. understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  4. 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

  1. They alert us  to the presence of an emotionally significant event (ESE).
  2. 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.

For example…

  • 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.

 

 

 

How do you physically experience and manifest emotions? Step 1 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC).

This my 201st and first post of 2022.

Going into 2022, for your convenience, I have made it very easy for you to access all of my previous posts with 3 clicks.  

  1. Clicking on the INDEX tab above will give you a drop down menu of the categories under which my posts are listed.
  2. Clicking on the CATEGORY will give you a list of all the posts in that category.  
  3. You then can click on the specific TITLE and you will be redirected to the post you want.

It is that simple.

And, now, the Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)…

The main underlying message in all of my posts is that everyone can learn to master their emotions as strategic tools.

The process of mastering emotions is described by the emotional mastery cycle.

While it is a little more complicated in its entirety, the emotional mastery cycle (EMC) can be summarized in 4 steps.

In  the next  three posts, I will discuss the EMC in detail.

My goal is to provide you with the information you need to, at the very least, begin to master your emotions in 2022.

The 4 steps are:

  1. self-awareness
  2. manage your own readiness
  3. understand the message of each emotion and assess the match between your emotion and the situation in which you find yourself
  4. choose an adaptive response

Step 1 of the EMC: Self-awareness

Basically, all emotions start with your subconsciously scanning your surroundings.

When a threat is perceived, it is automatically labelled an “emotionally significant” event (ESE) because it represents an event that is important to you for some reason. Importance could involve a physical or psychological threat or a situation which commands your attention because it is interesting, engaging or unique.

It is important to note that you determine the criteria for labelling an  event as a threat.  You also need to know that you may, or may not, be immediately aware of those criteria.

Physical (or survival based) Threat

A  physical threat could involve an assault on your body, or a situation involving pending or existent damage to your physical possessions, financial well-being.  A physical threat is perceived as imperiling some aspect of your survival as an individual (or family). The threat may be actual or implied.

Psychological Threat

A psychological threat involves an actual or implied compromising of your values, your plans, your goals, your dreams, or your self-esteem/self-worth.

An ESE may be “real” in the sense that it is clearly identifiable by you or by an observer.

Or, it can be identifiable only by you.

The ESE may also be “real” only to you and exist only in your imagination.

The specific “status” of the ESE is irrelevant if the emotional part of your brain (your Amygdala) subconsciously recognizes and reacts to the an ESE and subconsciously elicits a  physical reaction in your body.

This subconscious process is very fast, is outside of your awareness and is the basis for people (incorrectly) believing that their emotions control them.

The emotional process evolved to allow our cave ancestors to quickly react to a threat, which for those cave dwellers, was a survival based threat which would kill them.

Our cave dwelling ancestors didn’t have to master their emotions. They only needed to recognize a threat and take effective action. The reason for this is that all of the threats our ancestors faced were survival based. They either nullified the threat or they died.

You and I, however, are in a different situation.  The threats we face today are usually psychological threats to our goals, our egos, our quality of life etc.

So, we need to master our emotions and this mastery process begins with self-awareness.

We need to learn to recognize, identify and label the physical reactions elicited by our subconscious.

In this post, I will help you navigate through Step 1 of the EMC.

Step 1 of the EMC: Self-awareness

In this post, I will help you begin to become aware of your physical reaction to an emotionally significant event.

Some people are keenly aware of their bodies.  Others, not so much.

The physical changes in your body that may indicate an emotion include:

  • the tightening of specific muscle groups,
  • a change in perceived temperature in your body (hot or cold),
  • an alteration in a “physical” system such as breathing,
  • stomach churning

There can also be behavioral changes which can seem to spontaneously occur in reaction to an ESE.  These changes include (but are not limited to):

  • rate of thinking (increasing or decreasing) or
  • a noticeable change in behavior that is not typical of you (there are examples below)

The goal is to become aware of any significant changes and be able to determine if there is a connection to a specific emotion.

Below are 4 exercises you can use to help you connect your physical reactions to specific emotions.

Exercises #1 is the most important so do that one first.  After you’ve spent some time with #1, you can move on to #2, #3 and #4.

Exercise #1: Your Body-Your Reaction: A checklist

Take a moment and focus your attention on your body.  Go through the checklist below and try to recall if this “body part” gives you any information that an emotion is trying to grab your attention.

A checklist..

Forehead

(tightening or a headache)

Eyes

(tears, tightening around the eyes)

Mouth

(“forced” smiling, tightening, dryness, clenched teeth)

Breathing

(any noticeable changes including speeding up, slowing down, shortness of breath or holding your breath)

Cheeks

(flushed, warm)

Neck

(muscles tightening)

Shoulders/back

(tightening)

Hands

(clenched, white knuckles, sweaty palms)

Changes in body temperature

(feeling cold, warm or hot)

Changes in energy level

(decrease or increase)

Changes in behavior

(actions that are not typical for you such as withdrawing from, clinging to, or becoming verbally or physically aggressive toward others, sleeping excessively, blaming others, self-harm, drug/alcohol abuse)

Other

(it’s your body so you name the physical changes)

Exercise #2:

Try to recall (as vividly as possible) a situation in which you felt a specific emotion such as “stressed” (anxiety), angry, happy, sad, frustrated, guilty, or surprised.  Imagine each emotion separately.  As you “relive” each event, you may find your body reacting as it does when those feelings are present. Note any physical sensations you experience during this exercise.

Exercise #3:

Ask a friend who both knows you well and who you trust if they have ever noticed how you react when you experience the above emotions.  Sometimes, others know us better than we know ourselves.

Exercise #4:

In real time as you experience an emotional event, try to connect the emotion, your body and the event.

Keep in mind that learning about your body involves new learning and takes both time and practice.

…….

Once, you become adept at knowing how your body informs you that you are facing an emotional situation, you are now in a position to master your emotions as tools and strategically deploy those emotions to improve your life and your relationships.

You are ready to move on to Step #2 of the Emotional Mastery Cycle which I will cover in my next post.

 

 

 

Happy 2022 to you and yours. And, if it feels right to you, help me reach more people in 2022.

This is my 200th blog post!

Thank you for supporting this blog by reading my posts and benefitting from the information.

In three days, you will enter a new year– 2022.

My hope for you is that you will have new opportunities to grow, return to a more “normal” life, enjoy gatherings with friends and family, and watch Covid become just like the flu.

As readers of this Blog, I hope that you continue to become more adept at improving your life and your relationships by mastering your emotions as tools.

And, as readers of this blog, I am requesting that you help me help others.

  • I do not monetize my blog in any way.
  • It is informational only.
  • In 2022, I would greatly appreciate if you would send a link to my blog to anyone who you believe would benefit from the information I provide.

Thanks, all the best, and Happy 2022.

Ed Daube, Ph.D.

The Emotions Doctor

Happy Holidays in 2021.

Last year, your Holiday Season may have been negatively impacted by Covid.

This year with vaccines, the Covid landscape has changed.

We’ve all seen on the news, or experienced, families anticipating upcoming visits with relatives or being surprised by unexpected visits by parents in the service or missed relatives.

With this in mind, I am repeating my post from last year with some updates because I believe it is as relevant , or more relevant, in 2021 than it was in 2020.

I hope it helps and whatever Holiday you celebrate this year (Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza), I hope it brings you and yours happiness and joy.

All the best,

Ed

Some basic concepts:

The emotion of Anticipation

Anticipation is the flip side of the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there may be a threat in the future that may “kill” me.  When we get anxious, we often act as if the possible threat is an actual threat and react by being unable to take any effective action.  This is anxiety as distress.  Anxiety as eustress takes the energy of the emotion and uses it to prepare for the possibility that the threat may occur.

The emotion of anticipation is also a future based emotion.  For anticipation, however, the message is that there is a possible event in the future that I want to experience.

Anticipation both sets up an expectation regarding and prepares you for something good.

The emotion of surprise.

Surprise, as an emotion, grabs your attention and focuses it on an event. The message of Surprise is that an unexpected event has occurred and you need to assess it to see if it is beneficial or detrimental.

The issue of perceptual sets: What you “see” is what you get but is not always what exits.

Did it ever occur to you that you might not see your surroundings as they actually are?

Huh, you say, what does that mean?

Well, the psychological fact is that, while you may see something, like a fast food restaurant, you may not notice it because it has little value to you unless you are hungry.

The concept of perceptual set says that your emotions and your expectations will impact how you interpret what you see.  In other words, you will “see” what you expect to see.

We see what we look for…..

A rather interesting experience was conducted several years ago in which groups of subjects were asked to watch a video of two teams playing basketball. One group was asked to count the number of times the red team dribbled the ball and the other group was asked to do the same thing with the blue team.

Each group did as they were instructed to do.

However, in the middle of the video, an actor dressed as a gorilla was shown dancing on the screen.

Each group was asked if they noticed the gorilla and a significant number of subjects indicated that no gorilla appeared on screen.

The subjects were so focussed on counting, they failed to notice the gorilla.

In previous posts, I’ve written about driving down a  street and not really seeing any of the fast food restaurants and driving down the same street when hungry and “seeing” all of the restaurants.

How does all this fit together and what does it have to do with the Holiday Season?.

Typically, the Holiday Season is upbeat and a time when we engage with others in a feel good way.  Yes, I know that there is downside to the Holidays as well including the stress we may experience having too much to do and too little time to do it, thinking about past Holidays and so forth.

Surprise

But, this Holiday Season, try setting yourself up to look for, and find, things that surprise you. This is strategically deploying the emotion of surprise so that it works for you.

You want to be surprised!

When surprised, you will be motivated to engage with the object/issue of your surprise.

You will see things about others and yourself you haven’t noticed before.

Here is what you are going for…

A gift to others...

The “gift” you give others will involve seeing them in a new light and, perhaps, improving your relationship with them.

Look for something new in a friend that you can compliment them about or something interesting that you haven’t really paid attention to before that you can engage with them about.

Look for something new in your kids or your spouse that is surprising to you because you haven’t really paid attention to it before.

A “gift” to yourself...

Look for something new about yourself that’s either always been there or that is something you’d like to do, build upon, or engage in as in “Wow, I never realized that about me!”

Anticipation

I don’t know about you but I suspect that you, like me, remember Christmas morning waking up experiencing the emotion of Anticipation of what might be under the tree when I went downstairs. I was all excited.  I didn’t know what I would find but I was anticipating that it would be good.

This is the emotion I want you to experience but I want you to expect that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you observe in and  learn about those who are close to you and yourself.

Again, I want to wish you and yours..

A Very Merry Christmas.

A Happy Chanukah

A Memorable Kwanza

 

Mastering and Strategically Deploying the Emotion of Frustration

Note: You can learn about all the emotions you experience by hitting the Index button above and clicking on any post that addresses your issues.

As I am writing this, we are entering the 2021 Holiday season.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and experienced a lot of gratitude.

The material for this post came to me as I was watching the news.

While certainly happy about getting together with families, people are facing  crowded stores, supply-chain  issues, differences in approaches to vaccinations, and other issues.

Taken together, I wondered what emotions people might be experiencing this holiday season.

Here is what I came up with.

Let’s explore a possible scenario…

You are trying working on a project or pursuing a specific goal and your progress slows down or stops.  

Your “project” could involve:

  • Trying to buy Holiday gifts
  • Trying to book seats on a plane to visit relatives
  • Trying to organize an “event” such as a wedding and keep everybody safe while balancing different viewpoints toward vacinations (a real example, by the way)

You are facing an…

OBSTACLE.

What emotions do you think (or know) you might be experiencing?

While frustration is an obvious emotion in the above scenario, and I will address this emotion in detail below, you could experience several different emotions depending on your interpretation of the obstacle and its impact on you  including:

  • anger (if you perceived the obstacle as a threat of some kind),
  • sadness (if you perceived the obstacle as signaling a need to end the project),
  • anxiety (if you perceived a possible future loss because of the obstacle),
  • guilt (if you perceive yourself as having done something wrong)
  • amusement (You just knew this would happen!)

In the Emotions as Tools Model, each emotion informs you about how you are perceiving what is happening in your situation.

This is the message of the emotion.

The emotional mastery cycle (EMC) enables you to both understand the emotion and choose how you want to strategically deploy that emotion to your benefit.

Some basic definitions:

  • Strategically Deploying an emotion

Strategically Deploying an emotion involves adaptively applying the energy of the emotion to the situation in which you find yourself so that what you do (your behavior)  improves, resolves, responds to, or, at the very least, does not exacerbate, that situation.

  • Emotional Mastery Cycle (EMC)

The EMC describes the process by which we experience, recognize, label, analyze and utilize our emotions as tools to improve our lives and our relationships.  You can download a PDF of the Anger Mastery Cycle  by clicking on the link provided.

The EMC can be summarized in 5 steps:

  1. Experience the emotion (physical and automatic)
  2. Take a deep breath and “step back” from the situation (create “safety”)
  3. Acknowledge the emotion and its message (cognitive)
  4. Question the validity of the emotion  (begin mastery)
  5. Choose and initiate a response (strategically deploy the emotion)

Frustration

The message of frustration is that your project has stopped and you are annoyed because an obstacle is impeding your progress on your project.

While many articles recommend a passive approach to frustration including distraction, relaxation, exercising, or doing yoga, the Emotions as Tools approach advocates actively validating the emotion and dealing with it strategically. The passive approach, while not always inappropriate, won’t work here because it ignores the feeling and moves away from the goal.

Once you have experienced and acknowledged your frustration, you are now in a position to use the energy of your frustration as motivation to question (and master) the emotion.

Two important questions you need to ask (and answer):

  1. What is the nature of the obstacle?
  2. If there is an obstacle, what can I do to eliminate or overcome that obstacle?

Strategically Deploying Frustration:

Question #1 serves to validate whether an actual obstacle to your forward progress actually exists.

Two major possibilities exist here.

  • There is an actual obstacle and you have identified it.
  • There is no actual obstacle and you have in some way misinterpreted what is going on.

The answer to question #2 is the basis for a plan of action which emanates from your frustration.  Your plan of action determines what you do with (or how you deploy) your frustration.

(Note: This is the essence of emotional mastery.)

Turn your Frustration into Determination

When you decide that you can (and will) overcome the obstacle,  the obstacle becomes a challenge and your frustration morphs into determination.

The debilitating emotion of frustration becomes the enabling emotion of determination and you begin to move forward.

You master the emotion when you….

  • recognize and validate it,
  • understand the information it provides about how you are perceiving your situation
  • choose how you want to respond to, adaptively deal with, and strategically apply the energy of the emotion to effectively change the situation which elicited your frustration in the first place.

Happy Holidays.

 

 

 

The Emotion of Gratitude, “Giving Thanks”, and Happy Thanksgiving.

In this post, I will address the emotion of gratitude.

There are two reasons for this..

  1. Next week, in the US, we will be celebrating the Holiday of Thanksgiving.
  2. While there are articles out there which address gratitude, you may not be all that familiar with this emotion.

For me growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday marked by eating too much good food. We knew of the Pilgrims and the origin story of the Holiday.

And, maybe, we even gave some verbal homage to what we might be thankful for.

We didn’t spend any time thinking about the emotion of gratitude.

But, then, in my family of origin, we didn’t spend much time talking about any emotions. That is another story.

With my kids, I would always ask them, during Thanksgiving, to mention something they were thankful for, which they did.

Probably just to humor me.

As I write this, the US is beginning to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Because we have safe and effective vaccines, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid are down and people are beginning to return to “normal” (however that is defined).

Yes, we are still dealing with folks who are avoiding the vaccines but that is another issue.

I am grateful that the vaccine is available.

I am grateful for a daughter-in-law who loves to FaceTime me so I can enjoy my two young grandchildren as they grow and develop and that I am healthy enough to interact with them when we get together.

Maybe you have reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving.  I hope so.

With that in mind, here is an updated and expanded reprint of a 11/19 post.

Thanksgiving, as a Holiday, is supposed to commemorate a feast that took place between  native Americans and the Pilgrims who landed in America.

Today, however, It is basically an enjoyable time off from work during which we get together with family, eat too much, and watch parades or football on TV.

In my house, as I’ve said, we attempted to emphasize the “giving thanks” part of the Holiday.

Most of us think of being “thankful” and being “grateful” as the same thing.

Well, while they are very similar, they are not the same.

Indeed, being “grateful” goes beyond being “thankful” and the emotion of “grateful”(gratitude) is both misunderstood and underutilized.

“What”, you say. “misunderstood and underutilized?”

Yes. On both counts.

First, let’s take a closer look at “thankful” vs “grateful”.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), “thankful”and “grateful”are the same with the exception of two significant words.

Thankful is defined as “conscious (emphasis added) of benefits received” while grateful is defined as “appreciative (emphasis added) of benefits received.”

Being “conscious” implies only an awareness while being “appreciative” implies an involvement with whatever it is that you are choosing to acknowledge and highlight.

Here is an example of the difference between these two.

You go into work and your colleague says to you, “Hey, there, how are you doing?”  In most instances, you say (often automatically) “Fine.” or “Good, and you?”

This interaction reflects ONLY an acknowledgement, or awareness, of the other person.

Now, in contrast, you meet up with an old buddy from your past and he asks you, “How are you doing?”  You most likely would begin to fill him in on what has happened to you since you last met.

This is involvement.

Imagine the surprised response you would get at work if you responded to “How are with you?” with an indepth explanation of your whole weekend, the argument you had with your spouse, and so forth.  This would be an example of confusing involvement with acknowledgement.

Misunderstood

Sure, you are very familiar with saying “Thank you” whenever appropriate and maybe even being “grateful” when someone does a favor for you.  But, in most cases, the emotion just sort of happens and you don’t really think about it.

Someone holds a door open for you and you say “Thanks.”  Sure, you appreciate the gesture but you aren’t really involved in the interaction.

And, in fact, why should you be involved?

This is a casual interaction in which someone has done something nice for you and you have acknowledged their actions.

That’s it. You go about your business and they about theirs.

But, think for a minute about being caught in a  downpour and having someone specifically notice you and the packages you are trying to keep dry, run toward the door, and hold it open so that you can run to get out of the storm.  In this case, you might be both thankful and grateful.

Holding the door is the same in both cases. Going out of one’s way to help you out, as in the second example, is a step beyond.

Unlike anger, anxiety, and sadness, gratitude, as an emotion, doesn’t get much attention. It is not problematic, is easily expressed, and often only becomes an issue when someone else, who we think should be grateful for something we’ve done for them, fails to express this emotion.

Hence, it is misunderstood.

Underutilized

Gratitude is most likely not expressed more because it just is not considered relevant.   People don’t usually avoid feeling gratitude.

The Benefits of “Gratitude….”

Did you know that, based on research, there are numerous benefits that come to the person who is grateful.

Keep reading…

According to an article posted on  positivepsychology.com, gratitude can:

  • help you make friends
  • improve your physical health
  • improve your psychological health
  • enhance empathy and reduce aggression
  • improve your sleep
  • enhance your self-esteem

Look, I have not verified these studies and I am not saying that they are all true or that you will experience any of these benefits.

I am, however, suggesting that  there is a real possibility that expressing gratitude or appreciation toward the good things that people do for you or the good things that either are bestowed upon you or that you have benefitted from could be in your best interest.  And, at the very least, will not harm you any way.

So, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.

So, how do you begin to do this?

To me, something you can do right now is to begin to be more mindful of the good things that you have experienced and your interactions with others.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to and being aware of what is happening to you in the moment. Being mindless is to react to what is going on out of habit.

In other words, take yourself off of “auto-pilot” in how you view your world and your relationships with others. Then, attempt to consciously think these events (such as others, or you, surviving Covid), how others interact with you and how you want to respond to them.

Let me give you an example of being on “auto-pilot”.  And, I am not suggesting that you eliminate “auto-pilot” because, when appropriate, being on “auto-pilot” enables you to multitask.

Adaptive auto-pilot:

When you shower in the morning and go through your hair-washing routine, have you ever found yourself wondering if you used the conditioner?  You did, of course, but it is as if you weren’t even there.  And, the interesting part is that on the level of consciousness, you weren’t there because you were thinking of something else.

Maladaptive auto-pilot:

The same thing happens when you can’t “remember” where you put your car keys.  Memory isn’t the issue, you were thinking about something else (You weren’t mindful) when you tossed your keys down.  So, the location never made it into memory in the first place and wasn’t available to you when you tried to access it.

So, regarding gratitude, stay in the moment.

When someone does something nice for you, consciously thank them and think about appreciating their interactions with you.

When you experience a “grand moment”, express your gratitude (to yourself) that you are alive to enjoy the beautiful sunset, or that your loved ones have survived Covid, or that you were in the right place at the right time to see your grandchild walk for the first time.

It will take some time to begin expressing gratitude as an ongoing part of your life and your interactions with others.

But, stay with it and it will happen.

If you are in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are not in the US, Happy Thanks-giving.

 

How to master your anger when someone lies to you.

Someone on Quora.com asked me:

How do I control my anger when someone lies to me? (emphasis added).

While my original response to this question prompted this post, my response below is more updated, more detailed and more adequately addresses the important issues.

Anger Myths and  Controlling Your Emotions

There are two operative myths regarding one’s emotions (or feeling) and the  concept of control.  Both myths have some truth to them.  They are myths because they don’t tell the whole story.

The first myth is that emotions such as anger (and others) control you.

The second myth is that it is important (even beneficial) that you control your emotions.  While the idea of controlling your emotions is probably more frequently applied to anger because of the inappropriate actions take while angry (and blame the emotion for those actions), people believe they should control any emotion that doesn’t feel “good” to them like anxiety, guilt, hurt, sadness.

Let me address both these myths in the context of the Anger Mastery Cycle (AMC).

Note: By the way, you can download a free PDF of the anger mastery cycle by clicking here  or on the tab above.

Myth #1: This myth is partly true.  It is a myth because it doesn’t take into consideration the entire AMC.

Your emotions don’t control you.  The perception of control happens because of the unconscious part of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  You are hard wired to constantly scan your surroundings for threat.  Humans have done this since we lived in caves. Our ancestors depended on their emotions to both alert them to and prepare them to deal with threats that would kill them.  This unconscious process still operates today as it did back then.  Because the process is fast and unconscious, people believe that their emotions control them.  And, at this early stage of the EMC, that is true.

The issue of control and emotions is a myth because it fails to consider that evolved humans (you and me) have developed the ability to assess our emotions and choose how we want to respond to them.  This gives us control of our situation and allows us to utilize our emotions as tools.

We don’t control our cell phones (an important tool). We learn how to. master it and make it work for us.  It is the same with all emotions (including anger). The ultimate goal in dealing with any feeling is to use the information your emotions, including anger, give you to improve your life and your relationships.  I discuss this below.

Myth #2: This myth is also partially true and it also fails to consider the whole anger mastery cycle.

The first part of the anger mastery cycle is anger management. This is the “control” issue that most people refer to when they say you should “control your anger”.

Yes, you need to lower your arousal and control your behavior to prevent yourself from reacting to the other person and possibly doing something you later regret. But, this is only a step to mastering your anger. You control your anger at this point by taking a deep breath, “forcing” yourself not to react to the person, and taking a second or two to assess the situation as described below and choosing how you want to respond.

Please note that while it is easy for me to tell you what you need to do and it is doable, it will take some practice on your part to put it into action.

Anger, lies and you.

Anger as a primary emotion is a primitive threat detector. I discuss anger as a primary emotion and a threat detector in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool . You can also access all of my posts on Anger by clicking on the Index  tab above and the anger category.  Access to all of my posts on anger is then one click away.

The message of anger is that you perceive the lie and, possibly the individual who lied to you, as a threat. This is where anger mastery comes in.

Mastering anger in the context of being lied to.

As I have said, anger is a tool. To master anger as a tool involves assessing the validity of the threat you have perceived.

Your anger informs you that you perceive the act of being lied to as a threat.

Well, there are several possibilities here:

  • There is no lie.  You have misunderstood what was said to you.
  • You are being lied to and that act is a threat to something that is important to you such as your goals, your trust, your values, your expectations and so forth.
  • You are being lied to but there really is no threat to you.  The lie is the problem of the lier.

Given multiple possibilities, you have to assess the nature of the threat.

Your first choice should be to clarify what you believe to be a lie.

You start here, by the way, because if there is no lie, you avoid later complications and, if there is a lie, you still have all of your options available to you.

You do this by asking for clarification of the issue.  This involves stating your own understanding of the “facts” and giving them an opportunity to clarify as needed.

Secondly, if convinced that a lie has been told, you need to decide what is it about this particular lie from this particular person that you perceive as a threat?

This is a critical question in addressing your question for this reason. You can’t decide how you want to respond to this person (another step in the anger mastery cycle) until you decide the nature of the threat.

For example, if the “liar” is your kid, the threat you perceive might involve issues of trust, insuring that your kid understands certain values or develops a moral compass and so forth. If this is the first time he (or she) lied to you, you might choose to approach it as a teaching moment. Or, suppose that your kid lied to protect another kid from being beaten up? Again, you might have initially perceived a threat to your sense of right and wrong when you found out about the “lie” but, once you understand the reason for lie, your response to your kid could change.

If the liar is your spouse, or significant other, and this is reflective of a pattern, the threat might be not only to your sense of right and wrong but to the very foundation of your relationship.

If the liar is a co-worker, again, you would need to assess the nature of the threat.

I think you get the idea.

Thirdly, you might decide, for whatever reason, that there is no threat, you would move down one fork of the anger mastery cycle which involves:

  • choosing to do nothing
  • letting the anger dissipate, and
  • moving on.

Finally, if you decide there is indeed a threat, you move down the other fork of the cycle, which involves:

  • deciding what action you need to take (noting that you are angry, disappointed, etc and assertively questioning the person, questioning what result the individual expected to achieve by lying, seeing a counselor or a lawyer, and so forth
  • making a plan, and
  • taking action on that plan.

In order to implement some of my suggestions you may need to assertively respond to the person who lied to you.  If you are not familiar with the concept of interpersonal assertion, I suggest you Google “interpersonal assertion” (or click on the link) for more information as this topic is beyond the scope of this post.

 

Can a person be intellectually strong, yet emotionally weak?

This is a question that I received via the website Quora.

I chose to reproduce the question here and add additional comments which were not included in my Quora response because I believe it addresses some important points.

It is an interesting question because it reflects a common misunderstanding about the relationship between one’s intellect, the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and one’s emotions, the emotional part of a your brain (the Amygdala).

The misunderstanding is the belief that emotions are subordinate to, or controlled by, the intellect.

As readers of this blog, you know that the intellect and the emotions are both critical to the process of learning to master your emotions as tools.

The emotional cycle…

First, a quick review of the emotional cycle..

All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat and when we perceive a threat, we automatically go into fight/flight/freeze mode.

The emotional process..

This is a primitive emotional process mediated through the Amygdala which humans have done since we lived on the Savannah. The process evolved to work quickly and without our having to think about it.  The purpose of this scanning and preparation process was to insure our survival as a species.

Note: The speed and automatic nature of this process is the basis for people to believe that their emotions control them.

This is a myth in that the automatic emotional process only prepares one for action. It does not determine what one does beyond fight/flight/freeze.

The intellectual process..

As our brains developed more capacity to think and analyze (mediated through the Cerebral Cortex), we developed the ability to analyze our situation and choose the best adaptive response to the situation.

Hense, the emotional cycle involves  an emotional reaction in which our emotions inform us through physical sensations in our bodies that a possible threat exists and prepare us for possible action and our intellect intervening to give us the opportunity to assess the situation and choose an adaptive reponse.

The intellect and the emotions are intimately  interrelated.

The original question…

So, let’s dig a little deeper into this question.

It contains at least 3 underlying assumptions..

  1. There is some level of cognitive ability that can be labelled as “intellectually strong”
  2. There is an implied dichotomy between one’s intellectual abilities (however these are defined) and one’s capacity to deal with emotions.  In other words, you are either emotional or you are intellectual.
  3. There is such a concept as “emotional weakness”.

Regarding the first assumption….

While we can measure a person’s intellect, and it is true that some people are more intelligent than others, the ability to master one’s emotions as tools does not require an exceptionally high intellectual ability. Consequently, as I see it, being “intellectually strong” is largely irrelevant in the context of dealing with one’s emotions.

Regarding the second assumption..

In the original Star Trek series, the character Mr. Spock, a Vulcan, prided himself on his ability to repress all of his emotions and make decisions solely on the basis of his intellectual ability to analyze the facts and make a decision.

Today, people still assume that they need to use their intellect to control their emotions.

Controlling one’s emotions both didn’t work out well for Spock when he had to deal with his human crew and doesn’t work today as emotions have a way of getting expressed unless we learn how to master the emotion by heeding its message and strategically using its energy to adaptively deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.

So, while you can force yourself not to outwardly express your emotions, the energy underlying your anger, sadness, or anxiety will express itself in some manner.  This could involve passive-aggressive acting-out, physical symptoms, or anything else in-between.

This is where emotional mastery comes in.  Mastery involves acknowledging the emotion and strategically deploying the energy of the emotion.

While you may choose not to outwardly express the emotion because you may expose yourself to too much risk, there is no control of or repressing the emotion.

Regarding the third assumption…

Unless one considers themself “weak” in their ability to get the most out of their cell phone, computer, table saw or TV remote (all of which are tools), I don’t believe there is such a “thing” as “emotional weakness”.

One is either capable of utilizing their tools and making them work as desired or they are not. In the latter case, they need to either read a manual or get some instruction.

It is the same with emotions because emotions are just tools!

So, given the above, because my questioner asked the question, his intellectual “strength” vis-a-vis his emotions, is more than up to the task.

The issue, then, becomes the extent to which one is able to master their  emotions.

Based on the nature of this question, I assumed that the person who asked it has some doubts about his relationship to his emotions.

Note: The questioner is a male.

My recommendations…

My recommendation to the questioner was that he consult the manual.

The information on this blog is the manual for emotions.

I also noted that the best way to access the information in the Blog was to click on the INDEX tab.

The Index gives him access (with one click) to all my posts by category, date and title.

I then suggested going to the Mastering Emotions as Tools section first, clicking on any title that grabbed his attention so that he could get his basic education about what emotions are, why we have them, and what emotional mastery involves.

He could then go to specific emotions such as anger and explore further.

You can do the same thing if these are issues that relate to you.

Is There Any Advantage to Having Feelings (Emotions)?

The short answer is…. Yes, there are several advantages!

Think about this for a moment…

Have you ever:

  • wished that you could eliminate a particular feeling (or emotion)?
  • felt controlled by your feelings (and wanted that feeling to go away)?
  • wondered if,  perhaps, it wouldn’t be better if all feelings (at least the ones that “feel” uncomfortable) would disappear.

The answer is most likely yes (to at least one).

By the way, while scientists distinguish between emotions and feelings, for the rest of us, they are basically the same.

In each of the above cases, there is an implied underlying assumption.

Wanting to “eliminate” some feelings assumes that there is no advantage to having those specific (or most) feelings.

This assumption that it would be best to eliminate some emotions is not at all uncommon and stems from the disadvantages of emotions..

Several (This isn’t a comprehensive list.) disadvantages of feelings include:

  • some feelings “hurt” (or are experienced as painful)
  • sometimes, based on a misperception, feelings can lead to inappropriate behavior
  • feelings happen very quickly so they are experienced as controlling us (This is a myth.).
  • there is a learning curve to mastering them

As all of the disadvantages can be overcome,  let’s focus on the advantages of feelings.

While this is also not a complete list, 5 advantages that come to mind are:

  1. Your emotions are your “window” on the world.
  2. Your emotions “protect” you.
  3. Your emotions allow you to gain control over your life
  4. Your emotions facilitate your interacting with others.
  5. Your emotions make life interesting and engaging..

Some important facts:

  • You can’t eliminate your feelings because they are “hard-wired” into your genetics.
  • While you can try to deny your feelings, ignore them, or project them onto others, they don’t go away.
  • There are some psychological disorders where the emotional circuits seem to be disconnected and severe trauma might impair some of these circuits but these disorders can lead to some very undesirable behaviors and I wouldn’t wish severe trauma on anyone.

So, you can’t eliminate feelings and the costs of disconnecting your emotional circuits far outweigh the benefits, so you might strongly consider learning how to master your emotions and make the most of the advantages they offer you.

Let’s discuss the advantages of feelings.

1.Your emotions are your “window” on the world.

The Emotions Cycle describes how your feelings “work”. This is the cliff-notes version.  I have discussed the emotions cycle in greater detail in other posts…

  • You unconsciously scan your surroundings for “threats”
  • when you perceive a threat, your brain automatically puts you on alert and prepares you to take action to eliminate or escape from the threat.
  • You become aware of the perceived threat and are given the opportunity to assess and evaluate the nature of the threat and to decide how you want to respond to the threat.

This is a link to a PDF of the Anger Mastery Cycle.  The “cycle” for other emotions is very similar.

When you take the time to assess the emotion, you become aware of how you are perceiving your world and your interactions with others.  This is the message of the emotion.

This message is your “window” into your world.

Or, to put it another way, your emotions give you access to the lens through which you are interpreting what you are experiencing.

For the more familiar emotions, the messages are..

Anger-you perceive a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Anger prepares you for war.

Anxiety– you perceive a future based threat that might, or might not, hurt you. Anxiety prepares you to either give up and freeze (distress), or buckle up and take the actions to prepare yourself for the threat should it occur (eustress).

Fear – you perceive a threat that will kill you. Fear prepares you to get the hell out of that situation. Fear is not the same as anxiety.

Sadness – you are aware that you have experienced a significant loss. Sadness prepares you to back off and heal.

2.Your emotions “protect” you.

You are driving in your car and you notice a “sign” (street sign, electronic bill board) that alerts you to take some action which protects you from an unwanted outcome.

Your emotions, as threat detectors, serve the same function as these warning signs and provide you with important information.

When we lived in caves, all the “threats” we faced were survival-based in that they would kill us if we did not detect them.  So, we evolved emotions to alert us to these threats.  While, today, we face psychological threats (not survival threats), the emotional early alert system hasn’t changed.

We subconsciously detect a threat, go on “red alert” and we are ready for action.

This is the protection  that emotions provide.

Our emotions also subconsciously prepare us to take action against the threat.

This action is linked to the perceived nature of the threat.

When we lived in caves, this subconscious process of detection, alert, and  preparation for action could mean the difference between life and death.

Today, the preparation for defensive (or aggressive offensive) action happens very quickly and, if not countered, is the basis for the “disadvantage” of believing your emotions control you noted above.

Fortunately, we have evolved a thinking brain which gives us an opportunity to counter the “red alert”.

3. Your emotions allow you to gain control over your life.

Once you become aware of an emotion and the message it communicates to you about how you are perceiving your surroundings, you can actively assess the nature of your situation and choose how you want to respond (rather than react) to what is going on.

The “control” you gain is in the choice you have regarding how you will mitigate the situation your emotions have alerted you to.

4. Your emotions facilitate your interacting with others.

In an episode of Star Trek, Mr. Spock, a Vulcan with suppressed emotions, becomes acting Captain of a crew stranded on an alien planet.  He makes all the logically correct decisions to protect his crew and gets all the wrong results because he “fails” to consider the feelings his crew were experiencing.

The emotions other people express toward you give you important information about them which you can use to adjust how you interact with them.

To put it another way, when you understand what feelings are and the messages they communicate, you now have an insider look at how the other people in your situation are perceiving what is happening between you and them and you can choose how you want to adaptively respond to them.

5. Your emotions make life interesting and engaging.

I have mentioned that many of our emotions are threat detectors which prepare you to engage for self-protection or “flee” for self-preservation.

The message of other emotions is that we need to proactively engage because it is “beneficial” to us in some way.

Think of the feelings of surprise, happy, excitement,  and gratitude.

These feelings add spice and color to your life and elicit your willing involvement in whatever is going on.

So, in summary, while there are some disadvantages to feelings, I believe the advantages far outweigh them.

And, by doing your research (check out the Index tab above) by reading some of the 150+ posts covering all aspects of emotions, you can acquire the information you need to overcome the disadvantages and begin mastering your emotions as adaptive tools.