Let me lay a hard truth on you. You’re probably not going to like this, but stick with me.
You choose your emotions. Every. Single. One.
To be more accurate, your subconscious mind chooses them. No one “makes” you feel any way without your subconscious permission. If you’re anything like I was, reading those words is bringing up some strong reactions. What do you mean?? My ex makes me angry! My kids make me frustrated! The state of the world makes me scared! I know. Taking responsibility for your emotions places a major burden on your shoulders – one that you alone can bear.
But it also gives you tremendous freedom. Because if you can choose negative emotions, you can choose positive ones, too.
What if, instead of getting mad the next time someone cuts you off on the freeway, you remember this article and choose peace? What if you chose to assume the best about the person, and moved on with your day? Instead of spiraling into a futile rage, what if you choose to believe the other driver really had to pee and probably felt terrible about their crummy driving. The next time someone cuts you off, just choose to assume they are just desperate to get to a restroom? What emotions would you feel then? Compassion comes to mind. We’ve all been there, right? Compassion is rooted in love, and love is always the answer.
But on this day, I decided to put into practice all I had been learning about choosing emotions.
A huge shift in this area occurred for me in a particularly trying parenting moment: before I moved back onto the path of empowered peace, I easily became triggered, responding challenging situations with barely-controlled anger, annoyance, sarcasm and frustration. I did my best to respond with compassion and peace, but it was a struggle. One hot summer afternoon, when my boys were two and four, we were home and all getting on each other’s nerves. We were sweaty and cranky, and I was just done with their bickering. My typical response would have been to snap at them, maybe separate them in time out, have a long talk which they wouldn’t understand, then rinse and repeat until bedtime. Sound familiar to anyone else?
But on this day, I decided to put into practice all I had been learning about choosing emotions. This time, I took a long, slow breath and said, “Wow! You boys really are giving me lots of opportunities to practice patience today!” The instant drop in anger and frustration coming from me triggered an instant drop in them, and they just… stopped. We all stopped. They returned to playing and began finding ways to be peaceful. As the leader of our pack, I led with peace, and they followed.
Years later, I still struggle with choosing the optimal emotion for the situation. I’m not perfect, but with practice, I’m getting better and better. It starts with awareness, a step you’ve already taken by reading this column. Great job! The next step is introspection. Pay attention to your emotions. If a feeling comes up that will not support wellness and vitality, move to step three: consider what emotion would better serve your purpose – – and choose that! The more you see challenging situations as opportunities to flex your muscles and practice emotional choice, the more fluid (and fun) it will become.
Next week on The Journey-Centered Life, I’ll give you a fast, effective tool for shifting your emotions from negative to positive. It worked on my toddler son, and if it can turn a three-year-old from tantrum to peace in seconds, it can work for you.