3 Degrees of Separation: You Are THIS Close To Controlling Your Own Emotions!

Last week, I think I may have heard a groan as you read about self-imposed distractions. I could imagine the emotional turmoil in contemplating how you distract yourself as much as you’re distracted by others. Though after that initial sting, it makes sense, right? Which makes it worth investing some more emotion in changing your habit. Once you allow yourself to embrace and follow a few self-tailored protocols, your rewards are priceless: Increased mindfulness, soaring productivity, and a steady progression towards accomplishing your goals.

Now keep in mind that on paper, these protocols may appear to be instantly achievable. But their execution can be elusive, thanks to your own brain getting in the way. Science demonstrates that when we’re stressed, anxious or defensive, the brain becomes fogged and we can’t see clearly….almost literally! Haven’t you noticed that when you’re psyched about a project, you can dive right in, but when you’re overwhelmed by the assignment, it’s as if the water is frigid, and you dillydally? Your primitive brain instinctively kicks in to protect you, and in the long run does you a disservice. When the cortisol is dripping, you fall short of full engagement and your creativity suffers.

Let’s build on our recent baby step towards greater mindfulness and presence, which asked you to check in during the course of your day to see if your mind is focused or lost in thought. Take this thought process one step farther and check in with your emotional state as well.

Saber-Toothed Tigers Are Extinct

Emotions play a huge role in how focused and mindful we are, and they are the main driver in the work we do. Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” Justice William O. Douglas said, “At the Supreme Court level where I work, 90% of our decisions are made on an emotional basis—the other 10% is used to rationalize what we feel.” And these quotes only illustrate part of the picture. Our emotional state also dictates our ability to channel our attention. When the brain perceives a threat, it goes into fight/flight/freeze mode quicker than greased lightning. And remember, your brain as an organ isn’t instantly equipped to differentiate between a saber-toothed tiger staring you down and a deep-pitted anxiety about an encroaching deadline. As we become more mindful and tune into our emotional state, we can alter our emotions by shifting our thoughts, ultimately controlling the direction of our actions. Our parasympathetic nervous system will become calm, and that Executive Brain will emerge, geared up and ready for action.

Gimmie Three Steps

If all this “mind-altering” stuff seems easier said than done, truth be told: The process is simple, but it sure ain’t easy. However, when you realize the emotion, acknowledge it, and then literally get curious, you’re halfway to freedom. Curiosity is that magical state that shifts your brain’s energy from reactive to responsive, reengaging the prefrontal cortex and clearing that fog of anxiety. Here’s a handy little “three-step program” to get you the rest of the way:

-As you continue the ritual of checking-in with yourself during the course of the day, begin by assessing where your mind is. Are you focused on substantial work? On busy work? Or are you engaged in an avoidance activity? Do NOT beat yourself up as you zero in on your focus. This is a process of building your focus muscle, not putting yourself down.

 -Next, tune into your emotional status, and take note of any negativity. Emotions channel themselves into your body in different ways, so ask yourself, “How do I FEEL?” Is there a knot in your stomach because you’re anxious? Tension in your shoulders because you’re impatient? Is your forehead crunched because you’re angry? Maybe your face looks stern because you’re frustrated.

 -When you feel one of these negative emotions, call it out, and then ask WHY you might feel that way. What are some of the direct causes? Just by asking the question, you’re applying an emotional healing ointment and relieving the tension. As a bonus, the process of becoming curious reengages your Executive Brain and over time, it will bypass the fear factor and jump straight to curiosity.

Throughout the process, be patient. Mindfulness is a long-term practice. Once you master the diagnosing of your own feelings and the redirecting of your thoughts, you will be prepared for our next emotional challenge: Becoming mindful of others.