8 Words That Will Shift You To Success
How to Conquer Fleeting Feelings & Act Rationally
One question, one answer. An eight word shift to success through rationality.
“What am I feeling?”
“I accept I feel…”
These eight words have recently changed my life.
Someone close to me (“X”) has suffered from anxiety for years to the point of being medicated and committed. Instead of having fleeting feelings, they were emotionally anchored in a dismal swamp of despair.
Having learned meditation and participated in a variety of transformational, mindfulness, listening, and self improvement regimes, I thought I had a pretty good handle on my emotions.
The new challenge I faced was not about me, it was about another, and I didn’t have time to use any of the tools I normally might as the situation was critical.
What came out of my desperate need is so simple and so easy that I really didn’t believe that it was working at first. As time has passed, it has become so clear, and a tragedy was averted.
Now I am sharing this with everyone I know and am using it every day myself. I’ve included it in my Persuasion Masterclass and Momentum entrepreneurship Series, as it is much harder to be persuasive when we are under the influence of a potent emotion like fear.
It works so well and so quickly that I recently used it with a team I was on in an intense negotiation. With less than an hour of practice they were so good that it saved our backsides in the meeting.
Now, I already shared what to do in the title of this article, and once it makes sense it will be more effective. For that, there is some context and some neuroscience involved.
What’s First: The Emotional Response
The breakthrough concept is supported by recent research that shows how much faster our emotions are than our thoughts. In just 74 thousands of a second from perceiving something, your fear response can be activated.
Our emotional reactions happen up to five times faster than our rational thoughts. If you ever wondered why you did something crazy seemingly without thinking, it is pretty likely that you were under the influence of a powerful emotion that sprang up before you even had a chance to think.
There are good evolutionary reasons for this. When a bear lumbered angrily into a prehistoric camp, anyone who’s first reaction was to have a deep philosophical thought didn’t do too well. You are the descendant of the survivors who outran those tasty thinkers.
In today’s modern world, though, what was critical then is often a burden now. We are continually having our emotions triggered by things that occur as threats or other problems, Often finding ourselves unaware that we are under the influence of emotion we try to explain away our sudden feelings with rationalisations and stories.
What’s Next: The Excuses for Our Emotions
We end up telling stories to make sense of things instead of dealing with what we feel. We try to self medicate with excuses for our behaviour, with stories that put the blame elsewhere, with procrastination to feel temporarily better, or with anger to reassure ourselves of our power. Other times, we push down our emotions trying to suppress them, which is worse because we only have a finite amount of willpower and the more we suppress the louder the feelings tend to get.
Emotions are neither fully conscious, nor are they rational. They are built to be fast, not smart, and while they can alert us to dangers (even if they are right) they can interfere with our reason as they arrive before reason can.
Like any good and useful thing, too much is a hazard and no longer a benefit. A little fear or sorrow can be enjoyable, a touch of anger possibly more so. Too much though can be toxic. Even too much happiness can lead to euphoric and often tragic delusions. Trying to hold onto happiness is also counterproductive — you need to let go of it before it goes stale to let in new happiness.
Recent research has identified that there are four core emotions: Happy/Sad and Fear/Anger. Complex emotions would appear to be a mix of these basic emotions coupled with stories. Hate for instance is anger mixed with fear and laced with stories about the “other” (whatever the other de jour is.) The story of the emotion of hate needs an object to be hated and a hated person often becomes objectified.
“What Am I Feeling?”
While working with (“X”), the way I chose to deal with the situation was to get them to see that the way they felt was arriving for no real reason. At first I simply tried to get them to share how they were feeling, and every time they did we got lost in stories about why they were feeling the way they were.
It turned out to be very powerful to chase down the core emotion that was being felt. For instance, backing out of the complex “anxiety” and getting to the more basic “fear”.
Big progress came when asking the question in the simplest yet most direct way. Asking (“X”), “What are you feeling?”, got the most truthful answers. Further, when (“X”) started to ask themselves “What am I feeling?” they were able to take much more control and things got better still. The how they felt (anxious) was untangled into what they felt (fear).
Now that a basic emotion was identified, what to do with it? Conventional wisdom would have us look for a trigger and then reframe it, and that’s really hard to do. For instance, finding a trigger tends to reinforce the memory, and emotions are often irrational anyway. If you do find the trigger and its the “right” one, then reframing it is exhausting and mentally complex. Even forgiveness takes a lot of mental effort, which (“X”) was incapable of at the time.
In casting about for the right next step, I remembered research that demonstrated that acceptance is easier, faster, and nearly as effective as reframing — and accepting a simple emotion doesn’t require any investigation. It’s mentally much easier to accept what is actually being felt. So a simple assertive answer was born: “I accept I feel…”
“I Accept I Feel…”
One simple question, one simple answer, and oh wow, what an impact. The very first time (“X”) uttered the words “I accept I feel fear” was like a switch being flipped. Night and day. The fear that had been plaguing them just vanished from their face.
After a while the fear manifested again and this time the question and answer were done a couple of times before the full effect was seen. Since then, the most its taken is a few repeats and that is happening less often as long as the words are backed up by the real conscious choice to accept the emotion.
There has been a huge shift and not just a return to normal, but a positive upgrade in quality of life for (“X”) and for a growing number of people who have mastered and are spreading the eight word question and answer.
To build the eight words into a positive habit make a point of doing a small celebration (such as a fist pump or a little swagger) as soon as you accept the emotion this really assists in repeating it when it’s needed.
I have been sharing this with as many of my friends, family and associates as I can and I have been using this technique myself. Just today I was running and started to feel some pain and consequently fear, so I conversed with myself aloud, saying: “What am I feeling? Fear! I accept I feel fear.” Crazily, the pain also vanished with the fear!
After some experimentation I have found that it is best to say the words out loud or at least sub-vocalize them for it to work fully. Having that conversation in your head just leads nowhere. It’s also more effective shared with friends or family. It appears that the muscle activation from speaking (or sub-vocalizing) is assisting to connect the primitive brain to the cortex.
If you do not truly accept what you are actually feeling it doesn’t work well. Embarrassment often gets in the way of acceptance so recognise that all emotions are natural and evolved to be positive and while they can show up without a good reason there is no need to be embarrassed.
Generally it is only when our emotions get stuck by being tangled with story loops that they become toxic. The stories contain made up reasons for the emotions to explain them away for a time and often lead us in a circle that triggers the emotion again in a loop.
The core emotions by themselves all have positive purposes! They are there to alert us and they also communicate to others. Anger, for instance, can be very useful in emphatic communication albeit sparingly. Fear can be fun because… rollercoasters and sadness is a key part of what brings us all together in adversity. All emotions are vibrant parts of our lives. Accepting them can be a phenomenal access to personal power.
The Shift to Success
While recently working with a team in negotiations, it was vital that they sub-vocalized, and the power of dealing with their emotions first before making rational proposals was simply epic, literally millions were on the line. At no point were any of us tripped up into an irrational emotional outburst even though the situation was intense. The only emotions shared were deliberate and on strategy.
I was speaking to a young programmer who recently volunteered at CoderDojo, and they shared that they often held themselves back from opportunities because they were afraid and got into analysis paralysis. I noticed they were even anxious just sharing this with me, and so I shared the technique and the look of astonishment that followed the anxiety lifting was a great reward.
Fear of embarrassment holds so many people back in life and in business. If you deal with the fear there is a huge opportunity to break the chains of avoiding embarrassment. Pretty much every success in my life has come from putting myself out there risking embarrassment and the fear of embarrassment crippled me in my youth. Accepting the fear has a huge positive impact on all kinds of success.
This all may appear too simple to you, as it did to me at first, and do not underestimate the research and time that has gone into building up to this point where something like long term anxiety can be impacted with eight simple, yet very precise, words. Instead of thinking too hard about it, just give it a try and see if you can make what you are feeling fleeting!
So go on, ask yourself aloud: “What am I feeling?”
Then say it: “I accept I feel…”
Try it a few times, and if you like it then share it!
I suggest three powerful books:
- Thinking Fast Thinking Slow — On emotional intelligence.
- Just Listen — On Listening, which is crucial if you wish to assist others.
- Never Split the Difference — On negotiating from an emotionally neutral position.
- Emotions happen without thinking (Science Direct)
- The four core emotions (The Atlantic)
- How the brain is put together (McGill)
- 74 milliseconds or 74 thousands of a second is our emotional reaction time (Nature)
- Mental chronometry — visual response is 150 ms Error Correction 480ms and more is our rational reaction time. (Research Gate)
- Suppressing emotion depletes your ability to suppress emotion (Oxford Academic)
- Acceptance is easier than reframing (NCBI)
- Fight or flight (Abnormal Psychology)
- Fear response is not just the amygdala (Psychology Today)
- How fear works (Science)
- The stories we tell ourselves (Zen Habits)
- The History of fear culturally (The Age)
- Unlearning fears (Science News)
- Talking it out (Practice Business)
- What vs Why (The Cut)
- The power of acceptance (Huffington Post)
- People Who Talk To Themselves Aren’t Crazy, They’re Actually Geniuses (elite daily)