Oct 102006

As some of you may now, I don’t believe that reactions to situations are anything but ingrained habits. That is, we’re taught that if something doesn’t go according to plan, you should be disappointed. I also believe that I have complete control over my thoughts, feelings, habits, behaviours and life. It’s an immensely empowering belief.

Imagine if you had give up a hundred bucks every time you got angry or frustrated. You’re not gonna like that, but in some ways, you do that already. Most emotions require a lot of energy and are virtually sinkholes (empathy and sympathy tend to work the opposite way–they give you more energy). You use your energy to make money. Following if A = B, and if A then C then if B, then C. We arrive at the conclusion that you are spending your money to perpetuate your bad feelings. Another arcane joke by me, but I think you get my point: if you had to give up something tangible in exchange for your bad feelings (rather than your intangible energy and motivation) then you’d probably wanna stop having bad feelings. Think about the real cost of your emotions. That includes mental clarity, emotions, motivation, energy and being knocked down some levels of consciousness.

"Ok, I choose and control my emotional reactions now. What do I do about old feelings and emotions and memories that I still remember but don’t want to?" you might be asking. Human beings’ strongest memories are those that have strong emotion attached to them. For me, unfortunately, some of my most vivid memories are of embarrassment in one way or another. I didn’t necessarily have to be ridiculed but I felt embarrassed regardless. There are memories that include other emotions such as anger.

There’re number of solutions to this problem, of which I will describe two. One is to completely accept the memory and feeling. When a memory with a strong emotion comes at you, your first reaction is likely going to be to close up to it or to wallow in it. Accepting it is something different. You accept that such and such situation occurred and you accept that you have such and such strong feelings about it. Don’t try to judge those feelings or figure out whether they’re good or bad. Rather, just accept that you had them. Sometimes that’s all it takes to dissolve those strong feelings.

Another way I found to deal with my feelings (especially those of embarrassment) was inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy. The basis of the philosophy states that stuff you have to do knocks about in your head, taking up valuable "psychic RAM". You have to get that stuff out of your head and put it on paper, make a decision about it and get to work on it. In this case, the decision was enough. I decided on a lesson I learned from that memory. That is, if I committed a social faux pas that I’m feeling embarrassed about, simply admitting that I did it and then deciding to do something concrete about it so that it never occurs again made that feeling disappear. I literally decided never to let that happen again. Obviously, some discretion is necessary here so you don’t decide to let something useful never happen again out of a fear of being embarrassed or angry again. A healthy attitude towards failure is important here, but that’s another blog for another day.

So, accept your feelings completely and without prejudice. Then ask yourself what you can do so that it never happens again. It can be a specific thing (like deciding not doing film board members a favour if they’re not willing to make it worth my while, or learning about the proper etiquette for a particular situation) or can be simply deciding that next time you won’t lose your temper or feel embarrassed.

Good luck!

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