Emotions are pivotal to our experience of life. I would even argue that it is our emotions, our description of experience, is life itself. Emotional mastery, the ability to shift and sculpt the direction your experiences take you, is one of the most powerful skills in improving the quality of your life. A low amount of emotional control and even minor events can leave you depressed and desperate whereas, a high degree of mastery can literally transform your behavior, thoughts and experience of life.
This is the second part in a six part series dedicated to helping you achieve emotional mastery. In the first article, I discussed what emotions are and what the benefits of mastery are. In this article, I will discuss how your body can temporarily shift your emotions. This outside-in approach is the fastest and easiest way to get started in improving your ability to transform your feelings and it is the first step towards emotional mastery.
Emotional Mastery (Series)
Total control over your internal state of mind is an extremely lofty goal, but intermediate levels of emotional control still yield huge rewards. I am far from perfect in my own emotional control and I continue to practice and improve everyday. In looking back in the past I can see how much more emotional control, both in temporary situations and in the long-term, I possess than I did even a few short years ago. I also have noticed how well increases in emotional control correlate with a better experience of life.
An Outside-In Approach
Most people have no idea how big an impact the physiology or body posture, gestures and breathing rate has on the emotions they experience. Many incorrectly assume that your emotions are completely based on mental reactions to external events. So when you are feeling nervous and not excited when going to speak in public, that is because public speaking is scary not because of your physiology.
It has been scientifically shown that the physiology of your body influences your emotional state just as your emotional state influences your physiology. These two things are not on a one-way street. Just as feeling enthusiastic causes you to move faster, make more excited gestures and smile, doing all those things when you are feeling nervous or neutral can create the feeling of enthusiasm.
At first the idea of using your body to create emotions seems counter-intuitive. We have been led to believe that our emotions are natural reactions to stimulus from the world. Changing body posture or making different gestures shouldn’t influence our emotional state, that would be too easy, right?
To prove the effectiveness of this technique on temporary emotional control, I want you to do a little experiment with me. First I want you to slouch in your chair. Sit how you would sit if you were having a horrible, frustrating and stress filled day. You might want to lower your gaze and take really shallow breaths. Try frowning and move your face to how it would look if you were having such a day. How do you feel? Depending on how many bodily cues you matched up to the appropriate emotional response, you probably feel mildly to moderately worse.
Now I want you to immediately sit up in your chair and assuming their aren’t co-workers to overhear you, let out a huge belly laugh like you just heard the funniest joke in the world. Put a stupid grin on your face and get up and laugh. While you might feel a little stupid for doing this, you can probably distinguish a noticeable emotional change from when you were slouching.
Seeing that this technique does work, let’s look at finding out how you can start using this technique to manage your emotions in real life.
Find Gestures Associated With Emotion
To start getting better at using your physiology to give you the edge over your emotions you need to start becoming conscious of how your body reacts to an emotional state. You need to think back and see what kind of gestures, facial expressions and breathing rate accompany your different moods. If you aren’t aware of your physiology you can’t utilize it, so start there.
First of all, think about your current physiology. Don’t change it, just notice it. Are you sitting perfectly erect in your chair or are you slouched? Is your head upright with eyes focused or are they wandering lazily around the screen half-awake? How fast is your breathing rate, are you taking slow, shallow breaths, long and deep breaths or rapid and short breaths? Take a quick inventory of anything you can notice about the state of your physical body.
With the information of your physical state now organized, think about your emotional state. How would you classify your mood? What is the intensity? If you could describe it with a color, what would that color be? Is it vivid or dulled? Is it complex or basic? Describe your emotional state.
With both your physiological information and emotional state, look to see if there are any parallels. If you are feeling bored, do you happen to be slouched in your chair, breathing slowly? If you are feeling happy, are you sitting upright and moving with more energy? Look for connections between your current state and physiology.
This process of detecting your physical state and emotional state is something you need to do for all your emotional states, particular those of intensity. Think back to times you were angry, depressed, enthusiastic or nervous. Now think to how your body was positioned, moving and controlled in those moments. Often you will find a distinct pattern of physiology accompanies your strongest emotions.
Unlock a New Emotion
In order to shift your emotional state with physiology, the best way to start is to simply start changing your body in a way to match a completely different emotion. So when you are feeling neutral, try using the patterns you recognized you had when you felt enthusiastic. When you are depressed, use your body as if you were overjoyed.
The hardest part about using these skills is simply that your physiology is something you’re rarely consciously aware of. Most the time your body simply falls in line with your thinking patterns so you may slide into a pattern of emotions without even realizing it. With practice, however, using your body will become an automatic habit in creating new emotions within yourself.
Lock in an Emotion
One method to amplify the power of this technique is to lock in an emotion to a certain set of physical gestures or patterns. Tony Robbins refers to this technique as anchoring, but it is a relatively simple principle. By locking in emotions, you can specifically create an emotion you need, such as enthusiasm, with less effort.
The basic idea is to work yourself into a very peak state of emotion, through music, excitement or another tool. This peak emotional state creates a powerful neurological connection which can be attached to a gesture. Then whenever you use this gesture again, it can summon up the emotions that are connected with it. Because your physiology already forms a powerful connection with your emotions, strengthening an existing connection can make it even easier to utilize.
Enthusiasm and peacefulness are the two emotions I try to revert to most often. From my opinion these two emotions represent the most positive feelings, enthusiasm being the most positive high energy feeling and peacefulness being the most positive low energy feeling (more on energy and emotions later…). By locking these emotions in I can quickly shift my mood in that direction when I need it most.
Faults of the Outside-In Approach
This approach is far from perfect and despite it’s usefulness there are some definite flaws. If it were perfect, I could have just written a two part series instead of six, so you need to understand the cons that come with this technique. Keep in mind that using your physiology is still a fantastic method for emotional control, just know where to use it and when you may need to use other techniques.
Fault One – Temporary Solution
Using your physiology is almost useless on persistent emotions. All this approach can do is temporarily change your trajectory. If you have been persistently feeling worried, stressed or depressed, a quick body change won’t completely solve your problems. At most this technique will uproot your emotional state for a moment. Unless you take positive action in this temporarily changed mood, you will float back down to where you started.
Think of this technique like your personal quick and effective maneuvering thrusters in your emotional life. They won’t let you fly around far, but when you need to quickly change your trajectory, it will help. This approach works great in times of acute emotion where you need quick and easy change and longer techniques won’t do.
Fault Two – Bad Mental Patterns
Physiology and mental patterns work in unison, not separately. Changing your body can often kick start your mental patterns in a new direction, but if your thoughts continue to fly in a bad direction, physiology won’t do much good. So sometimes your physiology will work great and you can get into an enthusiastic, happy or peaceful state. Other times your own thinking will try to counteract any physiology changes.
Fault Three – Quick Fixes Aren’t Always The Best Answer
Steve Pavlina wrote an article on motivation awhile ago criticizing this technique of using physiology and locking in emotions as being a poor substitute for actually taking responsibility for your emotional state. What Steve’s basic argument was is that you should feel motivated because the task is intrinsically motivating, not that you have to continually force it.
In this case I completely agree with Steve and it brings up an important point about emotional control. Feeling good isn’t always the solution. Often times feeling pain can move you to take necessary action. Your body has pain for a reason, so completely ignoring it using fancy techniques are often just a band-aid over a bullet wound. I still believe this technique is incredibly valuable in short-term, quick emotional maneuvering, but it is no substitute for living consciously.
Recap of Physiology for Emotional Control
There are some amazing benefits of using your body to create emotional changes within yourself. If used appropriately, this technique can allow you to quickly gain a jolt of positive emotion when you need it and quickly cauterize a negative emotion from bleeding you to death. Whenever I have a situation that requires me to be in my emotional best, I use this technique to get the boost I need.
If you are stuck in a persistent state of negative emotions, or your internal self-talk keeps sabotaging your mood then it won’t matter how effective you are with this technique. Quick thrusters won’t overcome your main engine, the mind. But, due to the extreme ease of this technique and its overwhelming effectiveness in most cases of emotional control, physiology should always be the first tool you try.
In the next article in this series, I will write about how you can move beyond simple physiology techniques to rewriting your internal self-talk to further your emotional control. Although these methods require more practice and are more difficult to pull off, they can create more congruent emotional control, bringing you one step closer to emotional mastery.