It’s not the best idea to “control” your emotions all the time. We should devote some time to actually feel them and work through them. I cannot emphasise how important this is because this is where we learn from our experiences in life. You learn to become a better person in spite of, and indeed because of your difficult experiences.
But for me, I’ve learnt that emotions can often get really overwhelming. To the point that it doesn’t help me or my personal growth or my work or my life, in general.
A really common strategy I’ve read about is to allocate a certain period of time in your day to really feel what you’re going through – some kind of pain, frustration, anger, sadness, or whatever it is that makes you feel upset – and during the rest of the day, you tell yourself, “No, brain, I can’t think about this right now. You’re just going to have to wait till [insert scheduled time here].”
And that’s a really great approach.
But when I tried to put it in practise, I found that couldn’t actually divert my attention all that well. Sure, maybe the first few times I could. But then my brain overpowered me into thinking about…well, that.
So then I thought, how exactly can I compartmentalise my thoughts and emotions so that I can actually get some things done. And this list right here is what helped me…
Make yourself a list of priorities, if you already haven’t. Write them down.
The actionable point here is, make sure it’s not just in your head. Lay it all down in words, because you might like to refer to it now and then.
Figure out what it is that’s important to you.
Do you have kids?
Is money important to you?
Is your current job important?
Being good at a particular skill or hobby?
And no one gets to be Judgey Judy here. This is your list. It can be as superficial or materialistic or random or weird as you want.
But after you’re done with this list, ask yourself if the emotions that you’re currently feeling can help you achieve or maintain any of those priorities, at that particular moment.
Most often, the answer is a resounding no.
Sometimes, just the act of creating or reading your list of priorities often helps put things in perspective for me. My emotions let my brain have a little bit of a break before wanting to wash all over it in a little while again.
Well, at least I get some much-needed time to get some real things done.
2. The IF-THEN exercise
The explanation is literally in the title itself.
You’re basically telling your brain, “IF you think about this, THEN I’ll do this.”
The action following a “then” can be anything.
For example, if you’re going through a break-up, and thinking about somebody at that time is just futile (say, when you’re trying to work), your “then” action could be something as simple as texting or calling a friend to get a little bit of an escape. (You can pre-decide with this friend and ask them if they can help you out.)
Or another “then” action could just be getting up from your chair and stretching. Maybe have a minute-long walk indoors. Maybe read a page or two of your book. Getting a coffee. Anything.
In fact, your “then” action needn’t be an action either. It could just another thought.
“If” I start thinking about my ex, “then” I’ll start thinking about the book I’m writing.
Or the TV show I’m watching.
Or anything that has somewhat of a hold/influence over you. A couple of minutes of this, and I’m good to go.
3. Reminding myself of this quote on POSITIVE THINKING and just saying it aloud a few times.
Note – this particular one works for me, but in case it doesn’t for you, I encourage you to find a few words or lines that do.
“In the garden of my mind, I water the good thoughts and weed out the bad ones. I throw in Forgiveness and Empathy seeds by the handful if I want, and I take a lawnmower to that jealousy and resentment patch. I’m a pretty badass mind gardener.”
By the way, this is from the Knock Knock Affirmator Cards by Suzi Barrett which are all kinds of awesome, so if you don’t know about these yet – HIGHLY recommended!
BONUS: Re-framing your thoughts – CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) technique
While the first three points above are rather short-term fixes, the fourth one is a brilliant tool that therapists often teach their clients dealing with depression.
Our thoughts give rise to feelings (which do, in turn, give rise to more thoughts – but this isn’t like that whole chicken-egg-what-came-first conundrum. It does start with what you think). So re-framing a negative thought into a positive one actually has a productive effect on your emotions and your brain.
I would always advise anyone going through a fix to get professional help over self-help books or blogs, but here is just a brief low-down on this:
Step 0 – Identify the thought/thoughts that are causing you to feel the way you do (you don’t have to identify the emotion if that’s hard, just try to understand the trigger thought).
Step 1 – To change the way we feel, we must “re-frame” this thought. And in order to do that, we have to identify the distortion behind our thinking.
Step 2 – Realise – is this thought making me feel better or worse?
Step 3 – In order to feel better, you must identify the intent behind the thought. Really try to reach into the depths here and fish out what it is that’s behind this negative thought. Often, these thoughts can point us towards parts of our mind that need love and healing. These are the broken bits of our brain we must lovingly embrace (and try to ‘fix’) if we are to stop letting negative thoughts influence our state of mind. In order to figure out a positive intent behind the negative thought, talk to your inner voice and see what it hopes the outcome will be or how it wants to learn and grow from this situation or circumstance. Write this intent down.
Step 4 – Can you build upon this intent you’ve written down to arrive at a more constructive thought now? To make things easier, go ahead and read your negative thought first and then your intent.
Step 5 – Identify how this new thought makes you feel. Generally, it’s at least a little more positive than before.
Don’t worry if this isn’t easy to begin with. This is mental exercise – you get stronger with this over time. Just try to check in with yourself once in a while and do this exercise. Trust me, it’ll get easier. And if you need it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting professional help, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!