How good are you at controlling your emotions? Are there moments when you look back at something you’ve just said or done, and wish you could just take it back?
If you don’t know how to control your emotions, they end up controlling you – which can have disastrous results for your health, relationships, and life success.
Wouldn’t it be great to take the emotion back, or transform it, before you’ve done something that you regret?
I had a crazy week last week. After speaking and dancing at a conference on Monday, I got ready to make the final sprint of the month: finishing the revision of my book, which was due in five days. I’d cleared my schedule to totally focus on it, and was raring to go.
After dragging my suitcases through my front door, I reached for the light switch. Nothing. Moments later, I found out why from a neighbor – the city is turning off the power for three days in a row, during my peak “business” hours. Unfortunately, I hadn’t received any notice that this would be happening. My computer wasn’t charged, my cell wasn’t charged, and on top of that, I couldn’t just pick up and go somewhere else – I needed all the books and references in my home office (and a lightbulb – my office doesn’t have a window) in order to finish the book.
There’s no need to provide you with all the unfortunate details of my reaction, but it wasn’t pretty. For several hours, I alternated between helpless anger and disbelieving, wordless shock. If you’re a writer, you know that writing requires a focused, calm, centered state of mind and spirit. I got thrown off so badly by this news that even when the lights finally came back on, it still took a while for me to be able to sit down and write.
Once I reeled my emotions back in, I started to see the positive ways in which I could handle the situation. I usually procrastinate horribly when I write: write a paragraph, check email, write some more notes, eat a granola bar, etc. I suddenly realized that the knowledge that the power would be out for hours every day could be a great motivator for me to write non-stop during my precious “hours of power”. During the outage, I could do other necessary things, like make phone calls, take the dog for a walk, do laundry or practice flamenco.
So, even though I lost a stunning amount of my time to the power outage, I still got the book done. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take back the damage that my initial emotional response had done to my body, my precious time, and the ears of anyone who’d had the misfortune of having to listen to me in that state!
Here are some tips to help you control your emotions:
• If you practice self-control (and personally, I pray for help with this, as it’s not something most humans can do out of sheer will), you will be better able to control your impulses – it will be better for yourself and the people around you
• If when we are in a crisis our primary reaction is explosive, there will be all kinds of bad outcomes: wasted opportunities, professional damage, and we can ruin good relationships. When these behaviors are frequent we may become labeled as unreasonable and be seen that way or even rejected by others.
• Remind yourself of the cost of extreme stress reactions. Controlling your emotions has a huge impact on your personal well-being
• Learn to recognize your emotions and steward your responses. Get curious about why you sometimes have such quick reactions. Practice letting some time pass before reacting.
• Ask yourself if what’s happening is worth a reaction. If it is, give it your full attention and make good choices.
• Consciously stop being moody. Be more tolerant and commit to being slow to judge others. Do not expect perfection from yourself or others. Moody and unstable behavior can bring all kinds of harm to your life.
• Commit to monitoring and improving control of your emotions (again, for me, asking God for help with this is critical)
Though obviously I still have my moments, I’ve already noticed improvements and insights. I’ve managed to catch myself in moments where I might otherwise have become upset, and I’ve also observed emotional behaviors in others that they would have been better off controlling. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit is working in me continually to create in me the “fruits” of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (what an amazing list, no?). I really can see this happening in my life as the years go by, though I’m still a huge work in progress and probably always will be.
A final note: as with most changes you make in your life, the first step is simply awareness. Sometimes it’s the most difficult step of all, because you suddenly become aware of, or start to notice, shortcomings or problems in your life or personality or health that you might not have seen before.
Begin paying attention to when and how your emotional reactions pop up, and when and where you could benefit from learning to control them better. The better control you have of your emotions, the more you’ll enjoy a healthy body, mind, relationships and life.