Controlling your emotions doesn’t mean ignoring them. It means you recognize them and act on them when you deem it appropriate, not randomly and uncontrollably.
1. Know your emotions. There are a million different ways you can feel, but scientists have classified human emotions into a few basics that everyone can recognize: joy, acceptance, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. Jealousy, for example, is a manifestation of anger – anger that you’re not “as good” as something else, fear of being abandoned because you’re not “perfect” or “the best”.
2. Observe your emotions. Many times, we’re at the mercy of our emotions on a subconscious level. By recognizing your emotions on a conscious level, you’re better able to control them. The last thing you want to do is ignore or repress your feelings, because if you’re reading this, you probably know that when you do that, they tend to get worse and erupt later. Ask yourself throughout the day: “How am I feeling right now?” If you can, keep a journal.
3. Consider your options. Once you recognize an emotion, think of at least two different ways you can respond. Your emotions control you when you assume there’s only one way to react. You always have a choice. For example, if someone insults you, and you experience anger, your immediate response might be to insult them back. But no matter what the emotion, there are always at least two alternatives:
- Don’t react. Do nothing. If you do this, however, it’s important to continue acknowledging the emotion. Just because you’re not reacting to an emotion doesn’t mean that emotion doesn’t exist. If you choose not to respond, it should be for a reason (as discussed in the next step) not because of a competing emotion (fear of confrontation).
- Do the opposite of what you would normally do. The “turn the other cheek” philosophy would fall under this category.
4. Make a choice. Now that you’ve got several options, act on:
- Principles – Who do you want to be? What are your moral principles? What do you want the outcome of this situation to be? Ultimately, which is the decision you’d be most proud of? This is where religious guidance comes into play for many people.
- Logic – Which course of action is the most likely to result in the outcome you desire? For example, if you’re being confronted with a street fight, and you want to take the pacifist route, you can walk away–but, there’s a good chance that burly drunk will be insulted if you turn your back. Maybe it’s better to apologize and keep him talking until he calms down.
5. Change your perspective. The above steps show how to not let your emotions control your behavior, but not how to change the emotions themselves. If you want to nip your emotions in the bud, change the way you see the world. If you learn how to be optimistic and laid back, you’ll find that negative emotions make fewer appearances to be reckoned with.
- Learn to recognize and anticipate “triggers” that set you off.
- If you wish to live with a more “uplifting” attitude, a good idea is to stay away from tv or music that has a negative style to it (e.g really depressing songs), it’s proven that being around a lot of music or movies that have a negative view on the world can actually change the chemical balances in your brain that can even change the way you see things or the way you act in a negative way.
- Watch for “all or nothing” thinking. Most of life is a gradient or gray scale, rather than a set of absolutes or extremes. Many situations and events may seem as if they are black/white, good/bad, yes/no; but reacting as if they are can easily lead to irrational and unhelpful attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.
- Some experiences like watching a film, hearing a sound or tasting a food (sensory input) can trigger or bring about good emotions. The more good ones you can recognize, pay attention to and be aware of, the easier it is to put your self in that kind of a recognizable mood. It’s far easier to get out of an angry or sad state of mind when you can know what happy or joyful state of mind is like.
- It is important to control your emotions, but suppressing them is something different entirely. Suppressing your emotions can cause psychological disorders and depression.
Sources and Citations
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