I grew up believing emotions were inefficient and to be avoided. Emotions, even the “good” ones, were not to be trusted. They were to be overcome by being tough and powering through. So, I learned how to ignore emotions for the sake of efficiency. While this approach enabled me to perform and accomplish many tasks, it didn’t allow me to enjoy those accomplishments. It also left me feeling disconnected from myself and others, including my wife and boys. When I avoided emotions, I lived with low-grade anger and discontentment that, ironically, demanded more of my time and energy than the original emotions I was avoiding.
Maybe you, too, were taught feelings aren’t safe and should be suppressed. But what if that isn’t true? What if there is a purpose to emotions? What if acknowledging them is a pathway to growth and progress? What if there is a depth of life and relationship to be experienced through emotional awareness? What if emotions aren’t something to escape but the path to the life, relationships, and influence you have been searching for?
FOUR STEPS TO ALLOW EMOTIONS TO WORK FOR YOU
STEP ONE: SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP
The speed and busyness of life are one way we are taught emotions are to be ignored. There is simply no time for emotions. We pursue more work or activities as a means of escaping or numbing emotions. However, if emotions have a purpose and can provide important information about the abundant life path we desire, we must slow down and create space to experience and acknowledge them. When we create space for emotions, we bring them to the light instead of allowing them to drain our energy while operating in the shadows. Next time you sense an emotion, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, pause and take three to four deep breaths, allow yourself some space to experience the emotion, and then move on to the next step.
STEP TWO: NAME THE EMOTION
At first glance, naming the emotion appears to be simple. However, this can be difficult without a strong emotional vocabulary. When asked how we are feeling, we often have two or three go-to answers such as “fine,” “good,” “frustrated,” or a favorite of my son’s, “meh”. If moving beyond words like these is difficult, you are not alone. A simple hack is finding and printing an emotion word bank. We have a printable “Feeling Word List” available in the Resources tab at Journeybravely.com. Keep a picture of this on your phone or fridge. When you are tempted to use words like good, fine, or meh, look at the word bank and find words like thankful, valued, respected, overwhelmed, relaxed, and betrayed.
STEP THREE: WHAT'S THE STORY?
After naming the emotion, consider the narrative behind the emotion. How are your beliefs shaping your emotional interpretation? If you are feeling rejected when your friend turns you down for lunch, try investigating your story about your friend’s intentions. Are you believing you aren’t important to your friend? When you identify your emotional story, it is important to test the story with three questions. Is the story true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s time to adopt a new narrative. Try challenging the original story with a version that gives your friend the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they would like to get together another time because your friendship is important to them.
STEP FOUR: WHAT ARE YOUR ACTION STEPS?
Now that you understand your emotion, how will it guide your actions? Maybe it’s time to replace old thought patterns that are no longer serving you. Maybe there are relational boundaries you need to establish. Maybe it’s time to set boundaries with news, social media, or other cultural input. Maybe it’s time to start saying “no” so you can slow down and be present with yourself and others in more meaningful ways. Remember, you are ridiculously in charge. You largely get to make your own decisions as well as what and who you allow in your life. Emotions can help make these decisions more efficient if we give them the space to do so.