One day you may feel on top of the world. The next may find you wanting to crawl under a rock. Life elicits myriad feelings, but that doesn’t mean you have to be ruled by your emotions.
I used to allow my circumstances to dictate my feelings. If painful or difficult things were happening to me, I found myself bobbing helplessly in a sea of sadness, occupied only with trying to keep from drowning. If good and pleasant things were going on, I floated happily along enjoying the scenery.
Unaware I had a choice, I was tossed to and fro by the events of my life. In fact, I got tossed around so much I started to wonder if there was a better way. Eventually, over the course of many years, through painful lesson after painful lesson, I learned the three secrets to not being ruled by my emotions.
Secret 1: Stop trying to change your emotions by changing other people
Frankly, I’m not at all fond of this rule, but I’ve come to respect it nonetheless. I respect it, because trying to change my emotions by changing other people never worked. It was a complete and utter failure – and it was a failure I experienced over and over and over again.
Once I gave up that nonsense, along with trying to figure out other people’s behavior, I learned there is real wisdom in the saying, “Live and let live.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you let evil have its way. If someone is harming you, the most loving thing you can do is to stop them. Often, this means removing yourself from the relationship.
To live truly free, and let others live in the same freedom, means you stop making other people responsible for your emotions. Instead, you simply observe the behavior of others, with no motive other than to make decisions about your own behavior based on what you see.
If they borrow things and don’t return them, you can stop loaning your property. If they complain incessantly, you can limit your exposure to their negativity. If they refuse to take responsibility for their actions, you can find people of integrity and maturity who will.
People show you who they are by their behavior. So just pay attention. Notice what they do more than what they say. Then adjust your behavior accordingly. When you do, you just might discover how incredibly liberating it is!
Secret 2: Choose the emotions you want to feel
Despite what you might want to believe, no one can make you feel anything. How you respond to life and the other people in it is a matter of choice.
Just because someone insults you, doesn’t mean you have to take it personally and get all bent out of shape. Just because your rent increases, doesn’t mean you have to be filled with anxiety and fear. And just because you caught a cold, doesn’t mean you have to be an irritable grouch.
It’s easy to blame your emotions on the events of the day, or another person’s behavior, or even another person’s emotions. It’s easy, but it’s not honest. The truth is . . . how you choose to feel is up to you — and you alone.
You choose your emotions. They are not chained helplessly to your circumstances, or to the people around you, or to the weather. You choose them, just like you choose what you will eat, what you will wear, and what you will think about.
So, next time you feel yourself being ruled by an emotion, say out loud, “I am choosing to feel ___________.” Then ask yourself if you are enjoying your choice. If you aren’t, then choose a different emotion!
It may take some effort. It may even take The Mood Cure. But my point is . . . it is absolutely possible to choose the emotions you want to feel!
Secret 3: Notice your emotions, don’t embody them
When an unpleasant feeling (such as sadness) rises to your awareness, don’t embody it. Don’t say, “I am sad.” Saying, “I feel sad” is an improvement, but it still involves a degree of embodiment that can be difficult to shake.
In order to avoid being ruled by your emotions, it is far better to simply acknowledge the feeling from a third-party perspective. If it’s sadness, say “I’m noticing sadness.” If it is anger, say “I’m noticing anger.” If it’s anxiety, say “I’m noticing anxiety.”
When I first tried this technique, I was amazed by the results! Not only did it free me from feeling burdened by whatever unpleasant feeling appeared on my radar, but it also allowed me to ponder its origin more objectively.
“I wonder where this sadness is coming from?” I would ask myself. “Is it my default mode trying to take over? Have I been focusing on all that’s wrong in the world, instead of all that’s right? Or is sadness creeping in because I have been believing a lie, or foregoing connection?”
The practice of noticing your emotions, instead of embodying them, greatly lessens their power over you. It doesn’t mean you avoid feeling anything unpleasant. But it does mean when unpleasant emotions arise, you will be better equipped to process them and get back to feeling the emotions you enjoy.
If you don’t want to be ruled by your emotions, you don’t have to be. You have more control over what you feel than you may think. It doesn’t matter whether it feels true. It is true!