Emotions are a seemingly inescapable element of human experience. Many psychologists have theorized that there are basic emotions from which others are formed. The most popular models include Ekman’s six (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise) and Plutchiks eight which were grouped into four pairs of polar opposites (joy-sadness, anger-fear, trust-distrust,surprise-anticipation). A more recent study suggests there are 27 distinct emotions each bridged by a continuous gradient.
While we can spend hours debating how many emotions exist, I am always reminded of one fact — they are addictive. Both positive and negative emotions can be like a drug to us all. If left unchecked, these sensations can come to consume a person’s entire being, rendering that person at the mercy of momentary spikes in feeling. Controlling your emotional state is absolutely critical to your ability to be productive, make informed decisions, and perform at your best in all areas of life.
Being in complete control of yourself emotionally takes mental discipline and sacrifice. For those who are primarily in touch with their kinesthetic experience, managing emotions can be one of the most challenging aspects of life. As a person that has struggled with my feelings for years, I can attest that having a fool-proof method in your armory is a game-changer. With that said, I am going to share the technique I use to take control of my state at all times and free my mind from an incessant indulgence in the expansive emotional palette offered to us all.
You Alone Are Responsible For Your Emotional State
Responsibility is the most mature behavior any of us can develop. It fosters independence, hard-work, focus, and determination. If you commit to taking responsibility for your life, everything follows. Managing your emotions is no different. I spent far too many years avoiding this kind of commitment to myself, preferring instead to blame others and external situations for how I felt.
If you want to master your emotions, you must first accept that you control how you feel — nobody else. In other words, you have choice.
Some will critique this belief, often pointing to tragic events such as death causing emotional distress. The key here is to differentiate between feeling emotion, and allowing emotion to rule you. Yes can be a catalyst for a wealth of negative emotions, but this part of a necessary process — grieving. We have the choice to mourn as part of our own healing process, and subsequently a decision to accept and move on with our lives.
The Danger Of Not Taking Responsibility
Ask yourself an honest question — do you take responsibility for your emotional state? Do you accept control of how you feel or do you allow the actions of others (or events) to dictate your emotions?
Before I started taking ownership of my life, I was extremely immature and irresponsible. I would become stuck for hours in the same negative thought loops, and if I am honest, I found myself enjoying the indulgence. I would swim in the sea of negativity feeling sorry for myself while simultaneously blaming others for causing those feelings. Emotions such as jealousy, sadness, and anger, would run rife throughout my mind daily. They devoured my thoughts, yet I refused to be accountable, allowing them to expand and take on new life. I let my own immaturity to pursue secondary gain, and consequently, put my emotions in the driver’s seat.
Failure to take responsibility leaves us helpless, immobilized, and immature. Over time I have worked hard to be more internally focused and validated. I worry less about what I perceive other people to have done to me and concentrate on managing my own state. I know that I can choose to feel better and react differently.
A Simple Formula to Control Your Emotions
Everyone experiences negative and unproductive thoughts and most of us can recall ones that left us reeling, wondering which alternate universe or reality they originated from.
You can’t always control the crazy sh*t that comes into your head, but you can control how long that thought persists unchallenged, whether you permit it to take root, influence how you feel, and ultimately, dictate your actions.
Commit this formula to memory:
Thoughts → Feelings → Actions → Outcomes
Let me use a personal example to illustrate the process. First, identify an unhelpful emotional state you are experiencing and follow the path. It can be useful to write or verbalize a short paragraph explaining the situation from your current negative state.
Here’s my example:
I’m angry and frustrated because it has taken me ages to write this article, and I continually have writer’s block. I’m pretty sure this is because I forgot to take my extra-strong caffeine stimulant this morning. Taking those pills always gives me a mental boost — without them, I can’t focus or be productive. Writing this article is taking forever, and I’m spending more time debating whether to get another coffee.
Thoughts → I forgot my pills, I can’t work without them, I need a boost
Feeling → Anger/Frustration/Helplessness
Actions → None — Procrastination, thinking about buying coffee, not writing
Outcomes → No progress, no doing
Let’s observe how I can change my Outcome by changing my Thoughts.
Thoughts → I forgot my pills but no big deal. I can work without them, as I have done before 1000s of times! It’s embarrassing to honestly assert that I can’t function without a high dose caffeine shot. I am not a junkie, and I can be productive without stimulants! (Note: I also addressed a limiting belief here). The most important thing is to get started and everything with flow naturally in its own time.
Feeling → I now feel empowered and amused. When I read this back, it sounds stupid. How could I honestly convince myself let alone anyone else, that I couldn’t work without a stimulant? Productivity is my choice, and I am not going to let caffeine pills stop me from reaching my goals.
Action → I started writing. 75% of this article has been written since this realization and re-framing of those initial unproductive thoughts. Ideas continue to flow smoothly in my mind. I have fewer distractions, and I won’t accept my own excuses for inaction.
Outcome → This will be posted today, and I will move on to the next piece of work. Next time I blame coffee/caffeine shortage, I will remember this and be reminded of how I always have a choice as to how I feel and how I react to a situation.
The great thing about this formula is that we can apply it positive emotions as well. If you ever find yourself in a blissful state of flow, productivity, fulfillment, happiness, etc., just work backward using the same model. Try to ascertain what actions led to your outcome, what feelings drove your efforts, and what thoughts spurred those feelings within. Take note, because that is your personal strategy of productivity — you unique and proven method that you can use any time to access that flow state of getting things done.
If you take one thing away from reading this, realize that you always can control your emotional state.
- You can shut off negative thoughts at any time and replace them with useful ones.
- In every living moment, you personally make a choice whether you are empowered or disempowered.
- The quicker you grasp control of yourself, the more power you have to determine the outcomes you experience.
If you want to change anything in your life, start with your thoughts. Just watch, as the compounding effect of Thoughts → Feelings → Actions lead you to the change in Outcome you desire.