Our emotions are designed to rapidly mobilize us to deal with what is important in life. Sometimes emotions can feel as if they are overwhelming and take on a life of their own. According to Dr. David Matsumoto, Professor from San Francisco State University, our emotions were developed to help us deal with situations that existed in our lives over the last 200,000 years.
New Emotional Paradigm
Although our lives and the problems we deal with today are radically different than the past, our emotions have probably not had time to catch up and adapt to the realities of today’s existence. Humans are generally safe and no longer hunted as prey in the wild, food and water is generally abundant, effects of the weather are generally manageable, even interactions between people and other animals are generally controllable. Additionally, advancements in communications and transportation have radically changed our culture and social interactions. The question is, is our emotional portfolio adequate for the new world we live in and the new kinds of challenges we have to deal with?
The answer is not clear, but what is clear is that emotional mastery is essential in every aspect of life. A good friend and fellow NLP Practitioner, Paul, reminded me of a great quote from Aristotle on his blog, nlpbits.blogspot.com (you need to read Greek to enjoy Paul’s blog):
Anyone can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.
There is no such thing as a negative emotion, only a negative expression of an emotion. Most problems occur because we allow the emotion to be acted on with too much intensity or dwell on the feelings of the emotion for too long. The emotion ‘takes control’ of us, instead of being controlled by us. Often, built up emotions can be very painful to deal with.
A Time and Place for Everything
It is very possible to control our intense emotions when we need to. I took a seven day training in London a few years ago. The course was intense and the trainings lasted from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm every day. Even with this schedule the time went by very quickly and I rarely felt tired due to the charisma and energy of the trainer. At the end of the course most of my fellow students and I agreed that it was one of the most entertaining and enjoyable training experiences we had ever had.
At the Champaign gathering that followed the course, we found out that the trainer had separated with his fiancée only a couple days before the course started. As hard as we tried we couldn’t think of a single moment that the trainer showed any sign of his break up. It was clear that this was an individual who was well in control of his emotions. He knew how to deal with his feelings in the right time and place and he knew how to keep them out of this work.
Emotions create certain physical reactions. Happiness makes us smile or laugh for example. Fear readies us by opening our eyes to take in more information and inhale (or gasp) to oxygenate our blood to prepare us for action if necessary.
Today we know that the opposite holds true as well. Physical actions can control emotional feelings. Practically, its very difficult to feel sad if you stand up straight, tilt your head back, widen your eyes and look up, put a smile on your face and say “yes, yes, yes, yes”. I challenge you to try your best to feel sad while you do this, although I do suggest you find somewhere private to make this experiment.
Once you try this a couple times, you will realize how in control of your emotions you really are.