Imagine you are just walking onto the stage of a large auditorium. The spotlight is shining bright on you, so you have trouble making out faces in the crowd which must easily be in the thousands. It is now your job to capture the attention of these people, and based on the initial reaction to your presence, it is going to be an uphill battle. Now walk up to the microphone.
Unless you’ve had considerable public speaking experience the situation you just visualized would probably terrify you. At the very least, you would probably feel an intense level of emotion either of stress, nervousness or fear. Even if you don’t consider the incredible discomfort that this situation would cause you, how do you think your emotional state would affect your performance? Chances are it would be less than optimal.
Now what would happen if you were able to change your emotional states like switches connected to a lightbulb. Immediately you could dissolve fear and replace enthusiasm. You could dismiss stress and frustration and center yourself. Imagine if you had perfect emotional mastery.
Emotions are fundamental to our experience of life. Although the above example is a little extreme, you can quickly understand how much an impact emotions have on not only your success but your quality of life. Clearly understanding emotions and gaining mastery over them is critical to your life.
This is the first installment in a six part series dedicated to the secrets of emotional mastery. I have spent the last highly growth oriented years of my life improving my ability to control my emotions. Through great volumes of research, creative brainstorming and painstaking experimentation I have been able to achieve an incredibly high level of emotional mastery. This series is dedicated to giving you the best of what I have learned.
Emotional Mastery (Series)
The first article will serve as an introduction to emotions and the concept of emotional mastery and the benefits of pursuing it. The next article, Body Signals, will focus on how you can use your body to make quick changes to your emotional state internally. Mental Patterns, will focus on how you can divert the flow of your own self-talk and combined with the skills learned in body Signals you will have the fundamentals of emotional control.
Energy and Emotions will focus on the concept of emotional energy as well as how emotions can be classified by their inherent energy levels. Understanding this will allow you to make easier shifts from negative to positive states. Persistent States is all about how to overcome a persistent negative state and how to continue a persistent positive one, perhaps the most important factor in quality of life. The final article, Putting it Into Practice, will outline how you can take all this information and start building your own emotional mastery.
What are Emotions?
In order to gain mastery over anything you must understand exactly what you are trying to master. Emotions are such a tricky issue because while we all immediately recognize what an emotion is, verbalizing and defining the experience can be difficult. Like trying to describe the color red without referencing other colors or red objects, each emotion is a fundamental experiential unit that is immediately recognized but very difficult to describe.
For the practical purposes of this article, I am going to take a step and define emotion. Emotions are simply categories of thoughts and thinking patterns that lead to certain behaviors and states of mind. In other words, emotions are a way of classifying types of thinking that tend to yield similar results.
So when you are experiencing the emotion of anger you experience , you tend to act more aggressively, you get louder and you grit your teeth. When experiencing the emotion of anger, or patterns of thought we can classify under anger, you also tend to travel towards certain thoughts. Namely, when you are feeling angry you tend to think more violently, you also tend to separate yourself from the object of your anger (me versus them mentality) and your thoughts become more and more anger oriented.
Emotions are like currents in the ocean. We can define a specific current by the general direction the water is flowing and what effects that flow has on the ocean and nearby land. But there is no physical barrier separating specific currents, so water that lies on the edge may not neatly fit into a specific pattern. Similarly, local winds and disturbances mean that the water never flows exactly the same way. Naming currents, like emotions, are to simplify a complex process down to similar patterns.
Emotions are rarely completely distinct but rather a complex variety of thought patterns which can be classified by the general behaviors and mental states they cause. Emotions also change your experience of reality and while this aspect of emotions is difficult to verbalize, this experience of reality is essentially the pattern and flow of thoughts you are having.
My definition of emotion is an experiential definition. That means I am defining anger as the experience of anger. Psychology takes the opposite approach by defining emotions by their biological and physiological effects. Since we are trying to improve our own emotional control and not conduct experiments with electrodes and heart monitors, I am going to stick with my definition for the purpose of our discussion.
Can Emotions Be Controlled?
This isn’t the place or time to debate the issue of free-will versus determinism, but the simple answer to the question is yes, emotions can be controlled. Just as you can change what you are thinking about you can change your emotional state. Unfortunately while minor shifts in thought are relatively easy, making a huge shift in emotional state can be incredibly difficult. Changing thoughts is like creating a ripple in the ocean and changing emotions is like shifting the current.
Despite the difficulty in changing your emotional state, there are many techniques and tools that can allow you to do just that. With sufficient practice in these tools you will be able to quickly adjust your state and behavior. Like many things in life, emotional control can be easy to learn but take a lifetime to master. This series even includes a final article which will go into depth discussing the ways you can start practicing and improving your emotional skills.
Why Study Emotional Mastery?
The benefits of emotional control are varied and critical, but I will highlight just a small portion of the benefits you can receive from practicing the skills I will identify:
Better Relationships – Relationships are controlled primarily from emotions. Better control over your emotions can make you more fun, exciting and funny to be around. Even more importantly, emotional control can ensure you don’t make mistakes when you are in a bad state. Whether you are trying to impress your boss, client or spouse, emotional mastery is crucial.
More Logic – The more emotional control you have the better you can operate rationally. Instead of making ludicrous decisions based on a feeling, you can make the most effective decision possible. Emotional control also improves your intuition in helping you separate your emotional state from your subconscious intelligence.
More Happiness – The number one reason to pursue this discipline is that it will make your life better. You will be able to tackle your fears instead of shying away from them. You can manage stress so it challenges you and doesn’t destroy. You can experience fulfillment, gratitude and peace in your life.
Emotional mastery has to be one of the most important skills you can learn in your life. Even better, practicing and honing your skills can be done all the time in your life. You don’t need to devote special times for emotional mastery, but you can practice these skills in real life.
Why is Controlling Emotions So Difficult?
If emotional mastery is such a powerful skill then why weren’t we automatically equipped with it as human beings? Shouldn’t evolution have provided us with the resources to control our emotions automatically so we don’t make the mistakes commonly associated with it? In response to these challenges, we have to look at the three barriers of emotional mastery:
Barrier One: Lost in Emotion
The major reason emotional mastery is so difficult isn’t that changing emotions is hard (it isn’t). The biggest problem is in remembering to change your state. Recognizing that you are in a bad state and you need to change it is the most difficult aspect in controlling your emotions. Generally the emotions of extreme intensity get you caught into a cycle of thought that leaves little room for an escape plan.
When you are incredibly stressed about something, it can often be minutes, hours or days before you consciously realize you are stressed about it. This ability to think about your own thinking is unique to humans but it often doesn’t kick in until the emotion has built considerable intensity. Getting lost in emotion is the primary difficult and it is my goal to help give you the map.
Barrier Two: Misunderstanding Perception
Worse, when you get caught in an emotion, you often don’t want to change your state. When you are feeling angry, the anger may be uncomfortable but a large part of you is resisting changing to a calm and peaceful state. These emotions are fueling themselves and it can be very difficult to alter that flow.
As paradoxical as it may seem, sometimes we just don’t want to feel good. There are many times when we want to revel in our miserable emotions with some sense of justification. I need to feel miserable because my girlfriend left me. I need to feel angry because someone stole my credit cards. I need to feel stressed because my boss is giving unreasonable deadlines. This sense of justification is a huge obstacle to getting the emotions you want.
In order to overcome this barrier you need to understand that at all times your emotions are your responsibility. Anger, pain and stress are often useful emotions in driving action, but remember that you are always the sole responsibility for your emotions, not other people, events or the past. Without this sense of responsibility, you can never obtain full emotional control.
Barrier Three: Emotions Serve a Purpose
Emotions are there for a reason. The reason we have emotions is because nature decided through evolution that the emotions we have are effective. Fear, anger, hate, love, lust and pain are all necessary to get us to take appropriate action. Most of the emotions you will experience are based on millions of years of mother natures design and fine-tuning, they aren’t random.
The problem is that you are outdated technology. You haven’t considerably evolved in the past several thousand years even though your environment has changed dramatically. Your genes are still in the Stone Age even though you live in the Internet Age. So even though your emotions were carefully crafted, much of them still expect you to be watching out for giant snakes and hunting mammoths.
Much of your emotions are still relevant. Feeling angry when you have been wronged motivates you to express that wrongdoing so it can be corrected. Feeling stressed forces you to recover your energy and continue forward. Fear of events that could be dangerous to your health is still incredibly valuable.
Really the key essence of emotional mastery is simply to make some small adjustments to compensate for where mother nature left off. Instead of rewriting your emotional programming, you are just going to get an update. The world has changed a lot in 40,000 years, so your software needs quite the patch.
In my next article I will discuss the importance that your physiology and body has on your emotions. The way you move your body and posture has tremendous impact on your internal feelings. By understanding and using your body properly you can immediately improve your emotional control. I hope you will accompany me on this six part journey into emotional mastery.