Have you ever gotten mad over nothing? Often when you look back at that time from a more resourceful state your past anger may have seemed silly or even confusing. You may have struggled to understand what had kept you from escaping it, what was fueling this negative emotion. Yet while you were annoyed, the emotion often seemed as permanent to your mindset as your arm is to your body.
Does this just happen when you get angry? No. In almost every emotional state you can perceive, good or bad, it seems to grip you, impossible to remove and even more difficult to understand once it has passed. It is easy to get frustrated or depressed by a single event and let it consume your entire worldview. One person cuts you off in traffic and suddenly the entirety of humanity is filled with heartless jerks. Why does this happen?
Your mental patterns and emotions follow a path of least resistance. Like a river flowing, your state flows down the path that is carved into the landscape of your mind. Just as the water has no choice to go over the waterfall, your emotional states will slide down whatever pattern has been left for them to travel without conscious intervention.
A river is guided by the lowest point in the terrain. As the river flows, it erodes the ground, reinforcing it’s own path. Similarly, your mental patterns are reinforced with repetition. Controlling your emotions comes largely from conditioning a new pattern for your mind to follow. By carving out an alternative route in advance, you gain the ability to shift the flow of your emotions when you need it.
To guide your emotional river, you can use a visualization technique borrowed from NLP. Start by visualizing yourself when you are in a negative state. Take a look at what you see, hear and feel. Try to be as detailed as possible with this visualization, otherwise you may condition a new pattern but you won’t be able to find it when you need it.
From this visualization, imagine what you want to experience instead. If you are working on a fear, that might be a feeling of confidence and strength. If the feeling is depression, imagine enthusiasm and motivation.
Take an experience where you felt the emotion you want to condition. Once again, gather as many details for how you see, hear and feel this emotional state. The more details you capture correctly the better the likelihood that you will be able to fully capture that emotion when you need it.
From these two visualizations, create a little internal movie where you go from the negative state to the positive one. When you imagine yourself feeling nervous, blur that image towards your positive one until the feeling of strength and confidence overwhelms the first image. It may not even be an image, it could be something you hear or feel. Rehearse this transition repeatedly so that you can’t help but imagine the more powerful emotion when you try to visualize the first. The next time you are in an unresourceful state, you will remember your visualization and regain the ability to transition into a more powerful state.
Let’s say that you wanted to use this technique to make it waking up easier each morning. The first step would be to imagine what it is like to wake up when you feel lousy. Feel the way your body is sluggish and drained of energy. Feel the extra comfort the bed is providing you that leashes you to it’s surface. See the blurry vision of your room outside of eyes that haven’t adjusted to the light. Hear the painful blaring of your alarm clock.
With that visualization, the next step is to visualize what you would like to experience instead. Feel the urge to bounce out of your bed with motivation and enthusiasm. See what your room looks like when you are standing tall, prepared to start your day. Make your image vivid and get as many details as possible.
The final step is to rehearse the first image transforming into the second one. Imagine your groggy, tired self transforming into someone who is jumping out of bed, ready to start his or her day.
Take some time to try this with any particular times you are having difficulty with guiding your emotions. Clear out a new path for the river in your mind to flow and lead it to the motivation, enthusiasm and confidence you deserve.