A while back, I read a story about a boy and a fence.
The boy had a very bad temper and he would get upset at the littlest things.
One day, his father told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.
A couple of weeks go by and the boy eventually learns how to control his temper. He’s hammering a lot less nails into the fence now.
It got to the point where the boy wasn’t losing his temper at all.
His father then told him that for each day he doesn’t lose his temper, he can remove one nail from the fence.
This went on for a couple of weeks until the boy was able to pull every nail out of the fence.
The father told his son, “You have done well. However, look at the fence. The fence will never be the same again. When you say things in anger, you leave emotional scars just like the scars on this fence.”
Learning how to control your emotions isn’t just good for us, it’s good for the people around us.
When we think twice before saying something in anger, we stop ourselves from potentially wounding another person with our words.
We can apologize afterward, but the scar will remain just like the fence.
What are Emotions?
An emotion is a reaction to a perceived event. By their very nature, emotions are a secondary response.
Emotions are very personal in regards to what triggers the emotion and the reaction itself.
Our emotional responses have very little to do with anybody else.
When we emote, it is just like performing any other behavior. You either use it or lose it.
In other words, the less you experience a certain emotion now, the less likely you’ll experience it in the future.
There’s no such thing as a “negative” emotion. There’s only fixations and applications of energy.
And it’s up to us to choose how we use that energy.
What is Emotional Mastery?
Learning how to control your emotions starts with the realization that you're a whole and complete being.
At times, we tend to think of ourselves as a brain with a body or that we’re made up of separate components.
As a matter of fact, we’re more than our parts. We’re an embodied experience.
From this perspective, we can learn to interact with the experiences as they’re happening and play with them.
Everything is in constant flux and we must learn to flow with it.
One of the goals of learning how to control your emotions is being able to separate the reaction from the event that happens.
From there, we can teach the brain that there are other choices available.
As a thought experiment, I want you to think of a time where you felt forced to have a particular emotion. Now, imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have that obligation.
It’s not as hard as you might think to get to that point, but it does require consistent effort.
How To Find Your Emotional Baseline
Everyone has an emotional “baseline” they operate from.
Your baseline is your general mood.
It’s preferable to have a higher baseline than a lower one because you’ll have a much more positive outlook on life.
You’ll also be less affected by negative events that do happen.
To find your baseline, start by checking your emotional setpoint at random times throughout the day.
When you’re checking your emotional setpoint, pay attention to what’s going on in your mind and body.
Don’t worry about the content. Pay attention to the submodalities.
Here’s a list of things to take note of:
Date & Time
The feelings in my body are…
What’s going on in my mind?
Once you gather about 20-30 data points, you should begin to see a trend of your overall mood.
You must also realize that you’re the only person who’s making it that way. No one else can control your emotional baseline but you.
Ask yourself the following questions for deeper introspection:
What’s the pattern?
What are the feelings and thoughts that I keep coming back to, again and again?
Are these reflective of the thoughts and emotions I want to have?
How To Raise Your Emotional Baseline
One of the easiest (and most effective) ways I know of raising your emotional baseline is by implementing the 5% principle.
It’s a technique that I learned from an NLP trainer a while back, and I want to pass it on to you.
The idea is that you want to bring energy to every situation you’re involved in.
For example, if you have some errands that you need to run, go 5% faster than you normally would.
If you’re talking with someone, raise your tone 5% higher than you would normally speak.
If you’re in a relationship and you’re kissing your significant other, be 5% more passionate than you normally would.
Challenge yourself for the next 90 days to use the 5% principle and watch what happens.
How To Cultivate Greater Emotional Flexibility
To increase our emotional mastery, one of the first things we must do is extend our range of emotional flexibility.
This will make it so we never have to feel bad ever again.
Here are a few ideas for increasing your emotional flexibility:
Take an improv comedy class.
Take a clown class
Use a “cool” filter
Allow yourself to be moved
Watch sappy movies!
Catch people doing something right
Try something you never tried before!
Intentionally create conscious moments of enjoyment (Do this for yourself and for other people!)
How To Deal With Other People
Keep in mind that people cannot “force” you to feel a particular way. That’s a phenomenon that comes out of language.
For example, you’re interacting with someone and they might say something that rubs you the wrong way.
In fact, it might’ve annoyed you a bit.
Even though you can logically connect what they said or did to how you’re feeling, the fact of the matter is you’re the person in control of how you feel.
You can feel as good or as bad you want to be, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.
When we act “as if” other people can make us do things, our body will produce the appropriate feelings for the situation at hand.
It’s good to keep in mind that if you feel like somebody is making you feel bad, it’s just as easy to make yourself feel good. It all depends on where you want to direct your efforts.
You might find yourself in a situation where you’re right and the person is completely in the wrong.
For instance, you might be driving along and minding your business and out of nowhere, somebody decides to cut in front of you.
You immediately slam on the brakes and barely avoid getting into an accident.
Most people would get angry if such a situation occurred, but this will not help us gain control of our emotions.
In order to create change in the system, you must take 100% responsibility for whatever happens. Without taking full responsibility, there’s nothing you can do to change what’s going on around you.
It reminds me of a story where a person was waiting at a fire stove and said: “give me heat, then I’ll put in the wood.”
We must do our part first if we want the universe to do its part.
If someone is going out of their way to make you feel bad, don’t give them the satisfaction!
Instead, do the complete opposite and viciously relax and enjoy the experience.
In most cases, if you’re dealing with someone in a highly charged state and you remain calm, the other person will eventually have to change their state.
Once you start feeding into their anger, you’ll be caught in a negative spiral where nobody wins and everybody loses.
No matter what happens, remember that most people are more concerned about themselves then they are of you.
In fact, most of what goes on in the world isn’t about you. If someone rubs you the wrong way for one reason or another, it was probably unintentional.
There are very few people in the world that go out of their way to bring misery and suffering to others.
How To Deal With Problems, Situations, Challenges, etc.
At some point, we’re going to experience a challenging problem or situation.
Brian Tracy, a noted personal development speaker, once said that we’re either going into a crisis, in the middle of a crisis, or coming out of one.
It seems that problems are here to stay so it would be in our best interest to learn how to deal with them.
For starters, when dealing with a problem, remember to bring it down to sensory level.
Describe the problem using only sensory modalities like visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.
From there, the problem becomes a lot more concrete and you can deal with it objectively.
Once you’ve outlined the problem, check to see if there’s a mismatch between the problem and the desired outcome or state.
If there is, it indicates that something is broken and it presents an opportunity to fix whatever is going on.
It’s also a good idea to develop a practice where you’re consciously and intentionally removing excess tension from the body.
The body naturally builds up tension as we attempt to adapt to what’s going on in the environment, as well as the thoughts we think.
When your body is more relaxed, it’s a lot easier to maintain control over your emotions.
Finally, it’s good to note that most things aren’t immediate threats to our health and well-being.
A lot of unnecessary stress comes from anticipating something bad might happen.
Even if the worst does happen, you have to know and believe that you will be OK!
You always have the choice to start planning, acting and working your way towards a better situation than you’re in now.
Develop a resilient attitude.
How To Deal With Habituated Responses
Sometimes, we’ll catch ourselves responding to a situation before we can even consciously think about our responses.
For instance, I read a story about an NLP Trainer that noticed every time he would come home from traveling, his wife (now his ex) would have a certain look on her face that would get under his skin.
Whenever he would see that look, he would immediately drop his bags and say “WHAT!?”.
His wife would respond with something like, “Why do you always come back in a bad mood?”
When dealing with habituated responses, there’s a simple 4-step process that you can follow to break it:
Find the pattern
Break it down to its simplest components
Find the least variable parts of the pattern
Change the least variable parts.
Usually, when you change the least variable parts of the pattern, the entire dynamic will tend to shift.
In the case of this NLP Trainer, he noticed that the least variable parts of the pattern were his wife standing at the door and stopping halfway up the driveway to put his bags down.
He knew that he couldn’t force his wife to change, so he decided that the next time he came home, he would not stop halfway up the driveway. He would continue walking all the way into the house.
The next time he came home, he implemented his plan and continued walking up the driveway. He even kissed his wife as he went in. From then on, the situation changed and they never had that problem ever again.
How To Deal With Negative Thoughts
You ever had a thought that put you in a bad mood?
You might try to swat it away, but then it comes back with even greater force.
Now, you feel even worse than you did when the thought first appeared.
What to do?
Well, you can start by not trying to resist it.
Keep in mind that your thoughts aren’t “real” or tangible. They only exist inside your head.
When an unpleasant thought comes up, go along with it.
When you insert enough conscious purpose into an unconscious process, you end up ruining it!
The next time an unpleasant thought comes up, learn to play with it.
For example, imagine you’re on a plane and you think to yourself “Oh my god, what if it crashes and I die?”
That’s a legitimate fear, but the odds of crashing in a plane is extremely unlikely.
Here in the United States, we have an organization called the US National Safety Council that crunched the numbers based on US Census data.
According to them, the odds of dying as a plane passenger is about 1 in 205,552.
To put it in perspective, it’s much more likely for you to die in a car crash (1 in 102) than it would be for you to die in a train.
However, you don’t need to know any of that to deal with this negative thought, or any other one for that matter.
If you catch yourself thinking, “I’m gonna die on this plane”, you can consciously add, “and after I die, I’m gonna end up in Hell and be tortured forever.”
Sound pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?
That’s the point. Once you start adding on to the thought, it becomes a lot harder to take the thought seriously.
Another thing you can do is consciously think the thought from beginning to end.
If you do that a couple of times, eventually you’ll get tired of the thought and it’ll go away on its own.
Either that, or you’ll begin to realize how ridiculous the thought is.
When you catch yourself imagining all the bad things that could happen, you need to start expanding the range of possibilities of what could happen.
You can just as easily imagine all the good things that can happen as you can the bad things.
It all depends on how you choose to use your mind.
How to Deal With Anger
Anger is a tough emotion to get under control.
Earlier, we brought up the example of driving in a car and someone cuts you off out of nowhere.
If you’re a driver, then you know how frustrating that is.
Most people would be inclined to express some form of anger.
You must realize that anger is a secondary emotion. In other words, it’s a reaction to something else.
Going back to the car example, it might seem like you’re angry that someone cut you off.
But if you dig a little deeper, your anger might have nothing to do with the person that cut you off.
The person in the car might’ve reminded you of someone you didn’t like, and the fact that they cut you off triggered your anger.
Once you get to the root of what’s really causing your anger, you’ll gain clarity about what’s going on, and what has to change.
If you get angry that something didn’t go according to plan, that’s a clear sign you need to get clear and curious quickly.
It could be that your plan or desired state wasn’t aligned with the world and didn’t allow other people to join and cooperate.
Whenever anger comes up, you need to figure out how you set things up such that anger is the most appropriate response.
Getting your emotions under control is a lifelong endeavor.
You must work on gaining control day in and day out.
At the end of the day, your emotions are yours alone. The minute you start pointing the finger at other people for your emotional well-being, you relinquish your power to do anything about it.
I’ve given you a few action items throughout the article.
Here’s a list to summarize:
Check your emotional set-point throughout the day
Utilize the 5% principle
Cultivate greater emotional flexibility
When someone tries to make you angry, focus on relaxing instead
Use the 4-step process for dealing with habituated responses
If a negative thought comes to mind, actively think it from beginning to end or play with it by adding on to it.
If you get angry, ask yourself how you set things up such that anger is the most appropriate response.
If you follow just a handful of these points, you will gain greater control over your emotions, which will greatly improve the quality of your life.
For additional reading on how to control your emotions, check out this article by Florida International University.