Life is confusing. Here’s how to discover peace.
How to listen to your emotions and act on what they tell you.
Inside Out is my all-time favorite Pixar movie.
The story is of a little girl named Riley and her family who move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The other characters are Riley’s emotions named Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. The movie shows how every emotion is important and how each one reacts differently to change.
The last time that I saw the movie, I was with my two little boys (ages 4 and 6). They had not seen the movie in a while, so it was like a brand new experience for them. As for me, by the end, I was a puddle of tears, even though I have seen the movie multiple times. Pablo (my 6 year old) was sitting in my lap and looked at me. “Papi are you ok? Do you not like this movie?”
“I’m…I’m fine Pablo, this …. this is a great movie.” I sobbed and snorted.
Then I started to laugh because Pablo’s expression showed that he was more than a little concerned about my well-being. In that moment, I was happy-sad-afraid all at once.
Often times, like Riley, our emotions are having a free-for-all wrestling match in our heads.
Life is confusing.
We will have mixed emotions concerning major events in our lives.
When my mom died of cancer I was terribly sad to lose my mom but happy that she was no longer suffering in the hospital.
When my sons were born, I was overcome with joy and terrified that God would trust me with such a huge responsibility.
When I go to work every day, I often feel happy to see my students and angry when they don’t do what they are told.
These emotions can create confusion. However, if we can learn to listen to our emotions, we can find clear direction that leads to prosperous and peaceful living.
In all kinds of well-meaning articles and books, people talk about emotions and refer to them as positive emotions or negative emotions.
In this article, I am going to change that paradigm and show you how all emotions are good. They may not feel good all the time, but they all have a purpose that can lead to full living.
Let’s take a common, everyday example from my own life so we can picture the problem clearly.
However, before I begin, let me make something clear. When I first started writing this article, I wasn’t sure if this example would impact my readers. It seems like such an insignificant example in light of death, divorce, war, and other life losses. However, I believe that many of us spend more time fighting the small emotional battles rather than the large ones. Also, if we can learn to gain small victories, then we will gain traction to overcome the larger problems in life.
So here is my struggle:
I’m a school teacher.
I walk into my classroom and notice that all my students are talking loudly even after the bell rings. I finally get them to quiet down, and I ask them to get out the school computers to do some research for an upcoming Spanish project.
They start off well, but then continue to talk and become increasingly noisier. That noise bothers me, so I ask them to get back on task. Then they inform me that they are already done with the assignment. I roll my eyes knowing that there is no way they could have done all the required writing that quickly.
I look at the clock and still have 15 minutes left of class, but I don’t have anything else planned for that particular day. I walk around the room trying to keep everyone on task, but they keep talking and the chaos continues.
Finally, the bell rings, and as the students leave class, I feel different emotions. However, if you had been in the room to ask me what was wrong, I would have said, “It’s nothing. I’m just stressed.”
Stressed does not even begin to describe what I am feeling. According to psychologists, stressed really isn’t a true emotions. I was feeling a lot of different emotions which makes the situation confusing.
The core emotions in inside out are Anger, Disgust, Sadness, Fear, and Joy. According to this article, Pixar based its characters off of Paul Ekman’s theories of core emotions: https://www.paulekman.com/parentsguide/
Another list that I find useful is Dr. Chip Dodd’s list. According to him, there are 8 core emotions including fear, hurt, loneliness, and gladness. To see his full list look here: http://chipdodd.com/spiritualrootsystem/
So If I wasn’t stressed with my class what WAS I feeling and how could that help me live in peace?
Baby Steps to Freedom
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel defeated and confused, your feelings can lead you to freedom. I’m a guy who loves processes. So let’s create a process to follow that will help us decipher our emotions.
Step 1: Notice the Problem and Buy Yourself Some Time
When you are in that stressful, depressed, or frustrating place (by the way, none of those are core emotions). All you need to do right now is notice that something doesn’t feel right. It may feel like a tightness in your chest or queasy feeling in your stomach. Notice that feeling, and buy yourself some time by being honest about how you feel.
For my situation with my students, I could say: “Guys something doesn’t feel right here, and until I figure that out, I need complete silence.”
Here is the formula:
Notice the “ not right feeling” + I need statement = buying time.
Here are some examples of the formula:
- If you are in an argument with your spouse: “Honey, something isn’t working for me in this conversation. Until I figure that out, I need to take a break and go in the other room.”
- If your child is disrespectful to you: “Buddy, something doesn’t feel right here. I’ll figure it out, but until then, I need you to go to your room.”
- If your co-worker is gossiping to you: “Hey, something feels weird about this conversation. Until I figure that out, I need to talk about this later.”
- If your family is criticizing you: “Mom, I really want to listen to you, but something doesn’t feel right here. I’ll call you back later after I think about it.”
Here are some more phrases that will buy you time:
1. Hey, that’s not working for me.
2. That’s a problem.
3. I’m going to do something about that, but I need to think first.
4. I need a “time-out”
5. I want to talk, but not now.
There is rarely a conversation or decision that HAS to happen in the moment. You need time to listen to your feelings.
In my situation with my students, I needed time. Instead of letting the class continue in chaos, I should have bought some time.
Step 2: Listen to your feelings
Once you have bought yourself some time, figure out exactly what you feel.
Since there are differences in opinions about core emotions, I think that it is important to simply choose a list.
Then, figure out which core emotion best describes what you are feeling. I find that an effective way to do this is dumping my feelings onto a piece of paper. After I have finished, I read back over what I have written and decide which emotion I see throughout my writing.
Talking to a trusted friend also brings clarity. Some friends will try to fix the problem for you. Let them know that you just need them to listen and then you both can work on a solution.
With the event in my classroom, I could have talked to a co-worker or even my boss and figured out that what I was feeling was shame and anger. In that moment I was feeling shame because I had lost control of that class and I was embarrassed about that. I was angry at the students for not listening.
Step 3: Ask for what you need.
Next, in light of what you feel, you need to figure out what you need. Here are some questions to help you in the process:
What do I need to do to care for myself?
Maybe you need to put a boundary in place by asking yourself what you are willing to tolerate and what you are not willing to tolerate.
What do I need from others?
Maybe you need something from other people. Make it realistic and practical. Avoid generalities here.
What do I need from God?
God invites us to ask him for what we need. Ask God for specific needs through prayer. Invite friends to pray with you for the need.
After some reflection on my situation, I knew what I needed. I desperately needed more focused time to prepare my class, and I needed to apply discipline to my students. I also needed to ask for help from my superiors so that I can become a better teacher.
Step 4: What action will you take?
Lastly, you need to ask yourself what you are going to do about the problem. Commit to a plan of action. This step is simple to ponder, and difficult to practice.
What was MY plan? The next time my class gets out of control:
- I will set a firm boundary saying. “Talking is a problem. If you guys continue to talk, I will put away the computers and we can do grammar exercises from the book instead.”
- I will also reach out to other teachers for help to see how I can plan my classes better.
- I’ll also put a boundary on myself. When it’s time to plan my lessons, I won’t do any other task until my lessons are complete.
After the process you should notice peace. You will have peace that your emotions where heard. You will have peace through connection to others by asking them for help. You will have peace because by committing to action, you are holding on to hope that things will be different.
Let’s revisit the process.
Step 1: Notice that feeling inside you that isn’t quite right, and buy yourself some time.
Step 2: Figure out exactly what you are feeling through journaling or a conversation.
Step 3: Ask for what you need.
Step 4: Commit to an action plan.
The interesting thing about this process is that I would have never found a solution if I had not had the feelings of shame and anger. I would not have thought of a plan or reached out for help.
Our emotions are not “good” or “bad.” They are all good because they all can lead us to reality, connection, and action.
So whether you are going through a small crisis like an out of control group of students or a major life crisis, listen to your emotions and live in peace.
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If you are breathing, you are an educator.
If you want to increase your influence and expand your impact, download my FREE ebook: “Profe Pablo’s 25 Teaching Tips that will instantly make your life easier” (PS — Be Careful with the one that tells you to stand on a desk. I’ve only fallen twice!)