Emotional mastery, both in the short and long term, is absolutely critical to your quality of life. Your ability to take the situations handed to you in life and decide how you will experience them ultimately influences your success, growth and ultimately, happiness. This is the fourth article in a six part series dedicated to that aim, emotional mastery.
Emotional Mastery (Series)
In the first article of this series, what emotions are and the difficulties in reaching control over them was discussed. The second article, Body Signals, identified physiology as being the fastest and easiest way to quickly regain emotional control in situations. Mental Patterns, described how your internal self-talk is pivotal in describing your emotional state, and by disrupting the patterns running in your head, you can escape out of a negative mood.
This article, Energy and Emotions, will go into the concept of emotional energy. Using this metaphor, it is easy to get a look at how emotional lows and highs can be handled. Emotional energy also provides the key concept for how greater emotional mastery can be steadily improved through training.
Also discussed in this article is the fact that each emotional state has it’s own energy value. By understanding the difference between high and low energy emotional states it is easier to make appropriate shifts from negative to positive states. Because this energy quality of emotion is rooted in your biology, understanding it is critical to mastery.
A very useful metaphor to use when discussing emotions is the concept of emotional energy. Consider this emotional energy to be like the fuel in a rocket ship. As the ship travels around this fuel is depleted, and unless recovered, the ship will eventually run out and be left adrift. By making frequent pit stops to refuel, you can ensure you have the power to escape an emotional black hole or a sideways glance from an unforseen comet.
You probably have experienced times in your life when your emotional energy was depleted. Perhaps you just had an incredibly stressful day where you simple broke down, unable to cope. You may have been in a situation that made you so nervous or fearful that you couldn’t take action. Although you may have felt a little guilty about overreacting to a situation afterwards, at the time you felt your emotions were controlling you. So how do you prevent such fuel shortages?
Find Your Recovery Zone
The key to being able to refuel is to identify areas of your life that balance your emotions. These recovery zones may differ depending on whether you are in a highly charged or under stimulated state, but they can often coincide. Simply identify situations where you can regain emotional composure.
These recovery zones don’t have to be relaxing. Relaxation can be an effective remedy to extremely charged emotional situations, but I often find they don’t help much in terms of emotional recovery. Recovery zones will differ from person to person, so I won’t tell you specifically what you should do, but here are some of my recovery zones:
Exercise – Exercising is one of my favorite emotional recovery zones. I can vary it from running with music to lifting weights with a friend. Exercise may not be relaxing but it does help whenever I am feeling drained on emotional energy.
Socialize – Although I find exercising to be most effective when recovering from too much high energy emotions, socializing helps me recover from too much low energy emotions. Feelings of boredom and just dull bad moods are often quickly helped by going and meeting other people.
Keep in mind that it isn’t just high energy emotions that require emotional recovery. Unlike physical exercise where more exercise is always more tiring, emotional energy has an equilibrium point. Too much stimulation (stress) will drain your energy reserves to the point of breakdown. Similarly, too little stimulation (boredom) will drain your energy where it can slide into negative moods or even depression.
Stress and Recovery
The concept of emotional energy has another useful advantage. Your capacity of energy can be expanded through cycles of stress and recovery. Just like a weightlifter trying to increase his strength, you can increase your emotional strength by taking on more and more draining challenges followed by recovery.
Although a fair bit of emotional mastery lies in technique (physiology, pattern interrupt, etc.) most of mastery lies in this one concept. The more you expose yourself to an emotion the better you are at handling it. The more you face fear, the greater your courage. You may still feel the fear but you can manage it. The more stress you face, the greater you can sustain it.
So it you want a greater emotional mastery in a certain area, you need to start practicing. Delivering speeches, introducing yourself to more people, making more sales calls, by repeated exposure to stress and followed up with recovery, you can have greater emotional control. If you completely avoid practice, all the physiology and pattern interrupts in the world can’t save you.
I recently experienced a situation where I felt out of practice. During this situation I tried a variety of emotional controlling techniques to regain my energy, but it simply wasn’t there. Instead of being enthusiastic and vibrant I was dull and somber. I tried physiology, pattern interrupts, focus and the rest. Nothing could overcome the fact that my energy was completely drained. Without fuel, it doesn’t matter how good the engines are.
If you choose to join a public speaking program like Toastmasters, you may try out some of these techniques to overcome your fear and nervousness. The fact is, however, that without the energy capacity to handle it, those techniques will only be mildly effective. As you practice and gain more energy to manage the emotions tied to public speaking, these techniques can keep you at your best, but without the practice they aren’t much use.
The key then to emotional mastery is simply to run towards situations that require it, not away. A meditative monk might be able to control his emotions inside a silent temple, but that’s cheating. Emotional mastery comes from contact with the real world in all it’s excitement, pain and stresses.
High VS Low Energy Emotions
Aside from the fuel metaphor of energy, each emotion itself has it’s own inherent level of energy. This is easy to intuitively understand. Low energy emotions like peacefulness, bliss or boredom are easy to separate from high energy emotions like enthusiasm, grief and rage. Instead of a simple linear scale of positive to negative values for emotion, you can also see the difference between high and low energy emotions.
Although each emotion’s energy quality can be felt internally, the best way to understand how much energy an emotion has is by how you behave. Feelings that make you want to take action very strongly are high energy, feelings that leave you apathetic and calm are very low energy. Most emotions lie somewhere between the two extremes.
Most very high energy emotions are considered negative such as rage, hatred, terror, frustration and extreme stress. A few notable exceptions of high energy emotions that feel good are enthusiasm and sexual desire. Very low energy emotions are also generally considered negative but they often lack the intensity to have formal descriptions. Boredom is probably the lowest energy emotion as it is characterized as the lack of feeling.
Both high and low energy emotions can drain your emotional fuel, but they do so in different ways. Too much high energy emotions, even positive ones, can leave you feeling exhausted and drained. Too much low energy emotions will likely leave you restless as you seek stimulation. This is why it is so hard to do work when you’re bored. Your body wants to go back to the emotional equilibrium point and work is usually too low intensity to suffice.
Biological Basis for Energy
This quality of energy in emotions has a biological basis. In psychology, it is known that your emotional state is derived from two factors: level of arousal and interpretation of that arousal. In studies where participants were unwittingly injected with drugs that created arousal (high energy) they could be led to feel any number of high energy emotions depending on what factors their body ascribed the arousal to. So if participants were shown sexual imagery, their body would interpret the increased arousal as lust. In other words, all the varieties of emotions we experience are simply your brain trying to explain why it is or isn’t in a state of arousal.
With this knowledge of the energy of an emotional state, it becomes easier to shift from a negative state to a positive one. Although going from a negative state to a positive state is difficult, it is even more difficult to go from a high to low energy (or vice versa) in a short period of time. By shifting to a positive emotion that is on the same energy level as the negative one you are experiencing, creating a change is much easier.
A perfect example of this is public speaking. When you are attempting to speak in public, nervousness and fear can easily result. These negative emotions have a relatively high energy state. What a lot of people try to do is to calm themselves down, going from a negative high-energy state to a positive low-energy form. This is almost impossible to do, however, and the nervousness shows through as a result.
If you try to go from nervousness to enthusiasm, however, the shift is much easier. Because the energy quality of the emotion is the same it is easier to make a shift. Although you may still feel nervous, masking that emotion temporarily with a feeling of enthusiasm can get you through your speech.
Energy is an critical aspect of emotions. Like a rocket, you must use your emotional fuel to steer yourself. Use too much without refueling and you will go adrift. But without regularly depleting your fuel, you cannot increase your capacity. Similarly, each emotion itself has an inherent energy level. By seeking an equilibrium intensity of emotion you can recover your energy.
In the next article, Persistent States, I will go over what is the hardest part in emotional mastery, being able to make permanent increases in your level of happiness whether that means continually raising your enjoyment of life or simple escaping depression. Long-term emotional control is where the concept of emotional mastery merges with life mastery.