HACK YOUR EMOTIONS

Last updated on March 1st, 2021 at 08:48 am

Something’s not right and the thought of feeling the way you do for another minute is completely off the table. It’s unbearable, unacceptable. You don’t want this. You NEED to feel better. NOW!

The tension then spark into a craving. A piece of chocolate cake, an entire pizza, a donut, a drink, and so on.

Oh, wait. That’s not you – it’s me. Yes! I often experience cravings, and the entire corona situation, limitations and all, haven’t exactly eased life. Okay, you probably know this too well: resisting a craving is often a tough ride. You get restless. Stressed out.

Does giving in help? Does it solve the problem underneath the craving? Rarely these temporary emotional fixes help us in the long run. They help us just as much as a wet band-aid.

We need a more constructive, more mindful way, to handle life’s big and small catastrophes.

Rather than working hard to resist cravings, take a bit of time to explore the various physical sensations of it, along with the accompanying thoughts.

“Surf the craving rather than resist it. Explore it.

We need to learn to surf the waves of our emotions instead of reacting or trying to escape them. It was Jon Kabat-Zinn who said «You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.» Through practice, we can learn to endure difficult emotions until they settle.

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez. Thank you!

EMOTIONS COME AND GO

Surprise, inspiration, and joy are all emotions that appear for a moment, then naturally fade away. We love these feel gooders. When they’re gone, we yearn for more. Sound familiar? On the other hand, emotions like shame, frustration, and anger feel a tad bit worse and tend to stick around for some time – nagging and tugging away at our patience.

Uncomfortable emotions, however, serve a purpose too. Emotions that linger can be a call to action. There might be this one issue that keeps entering your awareness over and over. You just haven’t set a date for when you’ll address this issue. Sooner or later. However, the effects of emotions can cloud up our view, warping our perception of reality, and thus preventing us from entering the necessary headspace required to make a mindful decision in the moment.

But how do we unlock the door to this constructive headspace?

Let’s start by exploring our emotions.

The “starting point” of one’s emotional intelligence is self-awareness: the ability to recognize our own emotions and mood, and our thoughts about them.

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WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?

Emotions are the product of a mental reaction subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object. The object can be a thought, a situation, a person, and so on. In addition, the reaction don’t pop up alone. Typically, it’s accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body. These physical sensations can be felt in various areas of the body – such as a racing heart when you realize you’ve been walking around all day with a scrunched up piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. Or as “butterflies” in the stomach when you’re in love.

Raman Chadha, founder of The Junto Institute, on emotions and emotional intelligence:

“The “starting point” of one’s emotional intelligence is self-awareness: the ability to recognize our own emotions and mood, and our thoughts about them. It’s our ability to see how those thoughts and feelings are connected with our behavior: how they affect and are affected by our actions, reactions, decisions, and daily interactions with others. None of this can occur unless we also have the ability to label how we’re feeling or what our mood is. And that’s where the Emotion Wheel comes into play.”

Thanks to The Junto Institute for creating this wheel.

DON’T FALL PREY

When we are navigating through emotionally difficult situations, our autopilots can make us fall prey to our emotions. Unless we take a moment to pause, that is. And by pausing, we minimize the risk of making mindless decisions, such as yelling at around partner, family member, or even some random person in the store. Keep in mind that most of our autopilots are not all bad – they are the reason we are able to pick up our knives and forks and eat without much hazzle. Autopilots enable our legs to ride a bike smoothly, practically without any mental effort.

Let’s head back to our emotions again.

The vital first step as soon as you notice discomfort or distress, is to take a moment. Slow down. Close your eyes (if it’s safe), take a breath or two, and then ask yourself:

“What is going on with me?”
“What am I feeling?”

Don’t fall prey to your emotions – take a moment to pause and notice them. Then, rather than react, choose your next action.

This is easier said than done when we’ve just started out. Hang in there though. Having plenty of room for improvement is a good thing. Right?

Photo: Ali Yahiya

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THE STEPS: R.A.I.N.

Let’s start changing the way we relate to emotions. We’ll be needing the R.A.I.N. method in order to step out of autopilot mode.

  1. RECOGNIZE
  2. ALLOW the presence of the emotion (it’s just an emotion inside you)
  3. INVESTIGATE
  4. NON-ATTACHMENT and NURTURING
Photo: Gabriele Diwald

Grab your lab coat, safety goggles, and gloves. Ready?

Recognize the presence of the emotion the very moment you experience this shift in your emotional energy. Perhaps you can name the emotion, or if you can’t, but have the emotion wheel at hand, which emotion could it be? Perhaps you’d like to say: “Hello, my old friend, [insert emotion]”. This naming or labeling our emotions reduce activation in areas of the brain responsible for stress responses. How neat is that? Go on to checking your body.

What is going on in your body right now?
What thoughts are there?
What are you doing – or what were you about to do?


It’s okay if you can’t feel any physical sensations right now. It’s okay. Nothing going on in your body right now is an observation in itself. Try your best to simply face what is happening in the present moment. Experience the emotion, the thoughts, and the physical sensations with an open mind, and non-judgmentally. Simply recognize what you are observing.

A personal example: When shame comes to visit me, I’ve noticed that I tend to make myself smaller. I sorta curl up, but not in a snuggly way. My head hangs a bit and I avoid eye contact (if there are people around). Picture the face and body language of a dog that’s just been caught misbehaving.

Photo: Splitpics.uk

Recognizing the emotion and the various internal aspects in the experience (thoughts, inner images, and physical sensations), brings your awareness into the present moment. Congrats! You’ve already stepped out of the autopilot.

Allow and accept the presence of the emotion and what you are experiencing in your body and mind in this very moment. Often we fight uncomfortable, unwelcome emotions in an attempt to drive them away. Not unsimilar to how we resist and debate with clingy salespeople. But fighting is hard work. What would happen if we were to say nothing at all? What would happen if you were to simply observe rather than react?

Investigate with gentle attention. They say the first step to change is awareness, and by looking at your experience through the lense of kind curiosity and interest in learning, lies the opportunity for change. Stepping out of (undesired) autopilots and making changes. You are in your Yoda headspace.

“What does my body feel like?”
“What is my mind telling me?”
(or my inner Cookie Monster)

Food related cravings, for me, often try to convince me I need a box of cookies and a jar of licorice ice-cream. Sometimes, if it’s one of those days where I’ve gone food shopping after a stressful day of studies or work, or if loneliness has come to visit me, I just buy whatever without giving it a second thought. The tension and stress of having to make a decision while standing with the box of ice-cream in the store, often lead me to just go for YES. Having made this decision produces an immediate relief of tension. Relief of having made a decision. So it is possible to feel relief by choosing not to go for ice-cream. Makes sense? But I digress. Keep being curious about what you are experiencing.

“What is my mouth’s response to this food?
“What are my eyes doing?”


My eyes. Oh, my dear eyes. Wide open in total awe of whatever they are craving.

Move on to ask:

“What am I really feeling?
“What do I truly need beneath this (craving)?”

Nurture yourself is the fourth step. This is the step in which you awaken self-compassion and allow its kind arms to wrap themselves around you. Now, this step might be difficult at first. Give it a chance though. Try to imagine a naturally gentle and kind animal, a loving family member, a good friend, or even someone you’ve seen or you’ve been lucky to be in the presence of. Imagine their compassion and warmth surrounding you. Imagine their energy reaching every nook and cranny of your being. Imagine your atoms being soaked in their compassion. Imagine hearing their voice gently saying: “Come on, buddy. I know this is tough, but I am here with you no matter what. It’s all right.”

After you’ve completed the steps in the R.A.I.N. method, you are better able to choose what to do next. What you truly need, or what is right for you, you know best.

CONCLUSION

Hacking your emotions or discomfort by pausing, exploring your experience, and then ask what you are really feeling or really in need of, is a skill worth practicing. It’s not easy at first, but in time you’ll get better at it. And you’ll get better at taking care of yourself in a more constructive way.

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Written by Justin