“If I feel depressed I will sing. If I feel sad I will laugh. If I feel ill I will double my labor. If I feel fear I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent I will think of past success. If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.”
~ Og Mandino
In the same way that you are not your mind or your thoughts, you are also not your emotions. The key to managing our emotions is becoming aware of them, noticing them as soon as they arise. Using an analogy that a friend of mine gave me, consider your emotions to be like a fire in a forest, if you get too close to the fire you will get burnt, but if you don’t keep an eye on the fire, it could very quickly burn out of control.
What is important is the practice of mindfulness. When an emotion arises, put your attention on it. Don’t buy into the story surrounding the emotion, and definitely, don’t add fuel to the fire. Also, don’t just leave the emotion and story to develop on its own. If you can, keep an eye on your feelings, just stay aware of them; you will notice that they will not grow, and they will not become more intense. In this way, you can be certain that you won’t build the fire into a raging bonfire that needs the fire brigade to come and put it out.
When noticing the emotion, the following questions may help. How does it make your body feel? Hot, cold, agitated? Where is the feeling located in the body? Does it make you feel good or bad? Spend some time understanding your emotions. Notice what negative emotions arise regularly, and also notice what positive emotions you feel. We all tend to act quite habitually, so it is not surprising that the same emotions come up over and over again. As you understand your emotions better you will be better able to keep them under control.
Also, don’t judge or blame yourself for your emotions. We are all human, and emotions are part of our make-up. They usually come up for a reason. They need to be processed and released. They only become damaging when we let them take over, and we act out certain behaviours that cause damage to others or ourselves.
“ Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that say something needs to change.”
~ Gretchen Rubin
I’d like to talk a little bit about the negative emotions for a moment, in particular, envy. Now, I know you might be wondering why on earth do I want to talk about envy. It’s a horrible negative emotion, isn’t it, one we’re not supposed to have. And yet, a talk I saw by the renowned philosopher Alain de Botton got me thinking about envy and how it can be really useful. In his talk, which was about the media and it’s influence on our lives, Alain outlined how we are taught in our Judeo Christian society that envy is very bad and yet we all feel envy all the time. Alain suggests that we use our envy to help us and he mentions keeping an envy diary. In this diary, he recommends writing down every time you feel envious, note who made you envious, and why. Because “envy is like a scattered jigsaw of your future self, inside every envious attack is a clue as to who you should be, but have not yet become. Often the clues are a bit weird, and a bit misleading, so you have to filter through the fog, you have to analyse your envy, but it is a set of clues.
So don’t sit on your envy and pretend it doesn’t exist. Look at it and analyse it” (de Botton, 2014). In this way, you may find that what you are actually envious of is not the wealth and success of the other person but their courage, for example. So you discover that what you want to develop in yourself is increased levels of courage. After listening to this talk I started my own envy diary and it’s been very interesting and actually rather useful. First, you identify whom you envy in the world, and then what it is about them that you envy – look deeply, go past the first impressions. You start to see very clearly what’s important to you and what character traits of others you want to become part of your make-up. Try it out for yourself, it’s quite fun.
This blog is an excerpt from my book Simplify Your Life - you can find it on amazon.