If you are to make one decision this new year – mastering your emotions should definitely be this one!
Every new year we innocently make resolutions to improve our lives and become happier. Unfortunately, we tend to make the effort in the totally wrong direction. We laboriously try to change our outer world, which takes a lot of effort and is often not in our hands. Instead, we can learn to change our inner world easily and be happier at once.
Here are the most efficient ways I found to change every unwanted emotion. Sitting three hours a day in meditation, for example, is very helpful, but it wasn’t for me. I, for some unexplained reason, have always preferred the easier means.
How To Turn Destiny Into Choice
Actually, we are destined to be controlled by our immediate emotions every time something triggers us.
But only for ninety seconds.
Our reptilian brain immediately responses to threatening triggers with fear or anger, and sends chemicals that prepare our bodies for a fight or a flight. After only a minute and a half, however, these chemicals leave our blood, and the control can go back to our new wise brain. We are free to choose our emotion and our response.
I, for example, have a dental trauma, so every toothache freaks me out. But after ninety seconds, I can come to my frightened senses and choose whether to stay horrified or turn my fear into calmness.
It’s not always easy, though.
Luckily, there are quite a few techniques that can come to our aid.
Doing It The Easy Way
The simplest way is to identify the emotion you feel, accepting that it’s okay for you to feel this emotion, and ask for help in raising it to its highest potential. Asking to lift my panic into feelings of safety and faith, for example.
It doesn’t matter who you’re asking for help. It can be your chosen god, the universe, your inner self, or a sparkling blue fairy. Somehow, they all work. When you ask for help, things happen.
Imagining how it feels like to experience the highest emotion, like security, also adds its fair share. Our imagination is our world-creator, and it’s extremely powerful.
Many times, this identification and request for better emotion can be enough to change your feelings completely.
Doing It The Passive Way
But sometimes these few seconds of concentration won’t solve the pain.
Bigger measures are required.
Reading a few pages of a book, for example.
The laziest course of actions I came upon (and believe me, I checked p-l-e-n-t-y,) is to read the relevant chapter in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This simple magical book includes chapters that explain how these two giants deal with loneliness, fear, sorrow, rage and despair, and it’s incredibly helpful.
This book is the only one I keep next to my bed, and somehow, reading the relevant chapter always brings peace back into my heart. I don’t know how it happens (though I have my suspicions,) and I don’t ask. I just use its calming magic.
The Big Guns
Yet, sometimes the harsh feelings are too deep, too painful, and they keep coming back again and again. They keep hurting.
Then, desperate times call for desperate measures. They even call for doing some work (mental one, mostly. We’re talking first aid here, and we want it to be quick. And easy, obviously.)
One of the most efficient ways to work on unwanted emotions is called, believe it or not, “The Work”.
You probably believe it, as The Work of Byron Katie is well-known, and rightly so.
To do The Work, all you have to do is define the thoughts that bother you, and for each thought, ask yourself four questions and turn it around.
How simple is that?
The simplest. Definitely.
So let’s do The Work together.
The four questions are:
1: Is it true?
2: Can you absolutely know it’s true?
3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?
4: Who would you be without the thought?
Turn the thought around.
For instance, here’s how I can work with my dental trauma:
Some background: my dentist tried for three hours to gorily pull out a tooth whose roots were entangled around the bone. I felt both pain and fear to be suffocated by the liquids streaming into my mouth. Consequently, I never went to any dentist again.
Not much fun, isn’t it?
Let’s Work it out.
My thought about it is:
The dentist shouldn’t have made mistakes that traumatized me.
The work is:
1: Is it true? Sure. The dentist should have been more professional and considerate.
2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? Not really. He probably did his best. And everyone makes mistakes.
3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? When I think that he shouldn’t have made mistakes,I feel like a victim. I feel hurt. I feel weak and vulnerable. I refuse to be in such a situation again, so I don’t go to dentists and neglect my health. I feel neglected. Every negligible pain in my mouth horrifies me. I dread the day I’ll have no choice but to go to a dentist. I feel anxious and helpless.
4: Who would you be without the thought? I’ll be able to look after myself properly and be proud of myself. I’d feel competent and powerful.
Turn the thought around, in different ways:
– I shouldn’t have made bad decisions that traumatized me. True. I should have checked my treatment and doctor better before I scheduled it. I should have stopped the treatment earlier, and taken responsibility. I let others be the only ones responsible for me, and I shouldn’t have.
– The dentist should have made bad decisions that traumatized me. True. He taught me, for example, that even if I was frightened, I wasn’t in real danger, or else I would have left. I learned that I’m always the one who is responsible for my safety, and that actually I can cope successfully with fears and with dangers.
– I should have made bad decisions that traumatized me. – Also true. I can use it to learn to forgive myself, as well as to forgive others, as everyone makes mistakes. If I learn my lessons, this experience can empower me.
I can keep exploring other turns, like “the dentist shouldn’t have made bad decisions that traumatized him,” or “I shouldn’t have made bad decisions that traumatized him.” But you’ve already got the hang of it. In every turn, there’s a truth.
The way to reveal the benevolent truth, and leave the suffering behind, is to examine it. As Byron Katie says, (much like Buddhism, I think,):
“An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.”
“Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.“
“When you argue with reality, you lose— but only 100% of the time.”
To understand “The Work” better, you can go to Katie’s site thework.com, or read her book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life.
It’s best to write your answers down, but if you’re as lazy as I am, and you already know the questions by heart, doing it in your mind also works pretty well.
Anyway, learning over and over that reality is benevolent for us is a fantastic way to be happier.
Practice Makes Perfect
An old story describes us as containing two everlasting dogs, black and white, that struggle inside us. One dog is the part in us that feels fear and anger. The other is the part that feels love and happiness. Both of these dogs are ours; both of them care for us and want to protect us. But we are the ones who can choose which dog’s feelings we wish to adopt. Would we feel fear and anger and act upon these feelings, or would we choose love and happiness?
Which dog will we feed?
Choosing love is better for success, by the way. But we’re free to choose whatever we like.
Practicing techniques, such as asking for the highest emotions, reading comforting sayings, or doing Byron Katie’s Work, can bring us happiness and peace of mind.
But changing our emotions can accomplish more than that.
Because becoming happy affects others, too.
Firstly, because we become less revengeful and more loving, generous and helpful.
Secondly, because we somewhat become models, which enable other people to learn how to be happy, too.
Therefore, we can help our families, our communities, and our world.
One hard feeling at a time.
One change of emotion at a time.