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Emotions are Complicated, But There is a Trick to Mastering Them

Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 1:00AM

Ben Fairbrother

I’m an Empowerment Coach here to help you expand your potential by releasing limitations that are holding you back.


How we respond to our emotions can give us greater emotional control.

Learn the difference between identifying with and feeling your emotions, and develop this key skill for building equanimity.

Recently I started a new daily schedule, I wasn’t feeling as productive as I’d like so I decided to make a change.

As part of this new schedule I wake up at 5am and go to the gym on 6 hours of sleep, my body feels tired when I wake up (big surprise) but I’ve noticed that in my head that gets translated to “I’m tired.”

That’s a leap from feeling a sensation to identifying with it.

It gives more power to that sensation, and the sensation becomes more real to me. So now, instead of letting that thought stick, I change it consciously and declare “I’m NOT tired, I just FEEL tired – and feelings pass.”

This change from ‘identifying with’ to ‘feeling’ is a core component of equanimity, and it gives me the power to control my emotional state.

The control lies in how we respond to the feelings we have. For instance, if I see something and begin to react angrily, I will likely soon become the anger and say “I’m angry,” though I also have the option to take a step back and correct myself by saying

“I feel angry.”

When I create that mental distance I feel more calm, it allows for a broader perspective on what I feel so that I can better understand it and let it go.

Emotion is good, emotion teaches me about myself, but when I identify with it I don’t see the lesson.

The idea isn’t to mute emotion, but to feel it instead of identifying with it. Sometimes I think of emotion as a sixth sense – the amalgamation of the five senses into a harmonious feeling in the body.

The brain actually processes our environment faster than we consciously perceive it.

A great book that I am rereading describes the neurological processes that allow emotion to spread between people like a contagion.

In Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, the author describes two neural pathways: the low road and the high road.

In the low road, sensory information is passed through the amygdala which instantly assesses potential threats and opportunities, and processes the emotions of those around us by analyzing micro expressions on their faces.

The amygdala immediately predisposes us to feel the emotions that we perceive in those around us, before we are even conscious of perceiving them.

This automatic sensing of emotions allows us to have empathy, to be able to feel what another feels.

The high road works slower than the low road, and uses different neural pathways.

It acts on the prefrontal cortex, what could be thought of as the brain’s command center, and allows us to think about what is happening to us.

Goleman says that “the low road is faster than it is accurate; the high road, while slower, can help us arrive at a more accurate view of what’s going on.”

(Page 17) The low road processes raw signals and makes snap decisions, the high road can think and rationalize those signals further and override the low road.

By using the high road we can change what we feel by consciously changing our perspective, in other words “‘reappraisal alters our emotional response.

When we do it intentionally, we gain conscious control of our emotions.”

This is the mechanism for building equanimity. For example, instead of seeing a baby crying on a plane as an annoyance, it’s possible to shift perspective and find empathy for the baby who likely can’t relieve the pressure in their ears, which anyone who has flown knows can be painful.

That shift in perspective would build compassion instead of feelings of irritation or worse.

Some might get the impression that equanimity is an emotionless state, but that’s not the case.

Emotions are still felt, but not reacted to. Just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean that I must succumb to it – the emotion is maintained when I attach myself to it through identification, but I can instead choose to observe the emotion and hold it at arms distance.

Observing emotions allows me to learn more about myself and keep a more balanced emotional state.

I get to practice internal independence from the external chaos of daily life. That more balanced state is equanimity, and maintaining it produces immediate benefits: bliss, contentment, and empathy.

Words can’t describe how good it feels to be non-reactive, it must be experienced – and you deserve to experience it for yourself.

For me, it’s like sitting on a plane and doing absolutely nothing – just being there – and feeling absolute joy. I call it empathetic detached indifference.

Indifferent to the kid kicking my chair or the babies crying, detached from any preferences or aversions to how things should be, and empathetic towards everyone around me.

By empathetic, I mean holding love and compassion for everyone.

In that state, I literally feel my eyes well up with tears of joy.

The feeling is so profound that simply writing these words brings them back, it’s a feeling that permeates every square inch of my body in unison.

In your day to day life, practice noticing when feelings arise in your body.

When they do, try to make the conscious shift from identifying with the emotion to simply feeling and observing it.

Take note of how that transition feels, what changes take place when you shift from identifying to feeling?

  • Emotions are Complicated, But There is a Trick to Mastering Them

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