If you want to experience more happiness in your relationship(s), as well as take control of your life, you have to understand and control your EMOTIONS. It is essentially your inner world that determines how you experience and respond to your outer world.
And unless you learn how to control your emotions or generate more helpful or empowering emotional state, you will always be at the mercy of what goes on around you.
This is vital, and what I’ll show you how to do in this post today.
Firstly, before we look at how to control your emotions, let’s get real about their power first and foremost.
Emotions control much of what happens throughout both our individual lives and in the world.
Entire wars have begun as a result of human emotions.
Countries have been divided because of emotion and how people felt about others.
We make decisions about whether to get married or divorced based on our emotions.
Buying stuff is essentially emotional in nature.
We choose to befriend some people while avoiding others as a result of human emotion.
Many successful businesses and companies started out as a result of someone’s passion, which is nothing but a strong, intense, feeling about something.
Ideas and inventions, passions, and hobbies are all driven by emotion.
They are all part of our internal drive to change the way we feel.
Emotional states also affect our daily attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.
And these daily attitudes, thoughts, and behaviours determine our daily experience of life.
Consequently, if we don’t take control of our emotional states, we could hear easily start to experience life as out of control also.
It’s only when you take control of your consistent emotions that you’re starting to consciously and deliberately change the experiences of your daily life and therefore overall quality of life.
So what am I saying here?
Mastering your emotional states, or controlling your emotions, is an essential element to achieving success, contentment, fulfillment, and happiness in life.
Many people focus on changing their outer world to improve their lives, but that’s only half the story.
And much more important area to focus on is the inner world.
When we learn how to control our inner world our outer world seems to follow suit, or at least respond to it accordingly.
So, the question becomes how do you do it?
How do you control your emotions better?
How do you master your emotional state and cause it to work for you rather than against you?
In the rest of this post, I will share with you a few easy strategies that you can learn and apply to control your emotions and master your emotional state for the better.
These strategies will help you to improve your relationships specifically, as that is the focus of my work.
But, they will also help in other areas of your life.
The issue is not so much which area the strategies can help you in, but rather the fact that you must learn to control your emotions if you are to take control of your life (any area).
Firstly, you must learn to …
Change Your Story
Everyone has one. Even you.
But, there are individual differences in what people decide to do with their story.
For example, what enables one person to experience personal trauma and tragedy and then decide to use it to their advantage in life, while that same situation makes another person feel like life is not worth living?
We know that some of the most incredible, celebrated, happy, or followed people have experienced great personal tragedies or faced certain death, like New Zealand’s own Willie Apiata who won the Victoria Cross for carrying a seriously wounded colleague to safety through a barrage of enemy fire in Afghanistan.
On the flip side, we also know people with every advantage or opportunity in the world sometimes squander it and spend their days in addiction rehab centers as a result of drugs and/or alcohol, like many Hollywood celebrities.
The important question, however, is:
What story are you telling yourself?
What story are you telling yourself about your spouse?
What story are you telling yourself about your children?
What story are you telling yourself about your job?
Because ultimately, the story you are telling yourself right now, is definitely influencing how you feel most of the time.
If you are a victim in your own mind, and that’s the story you’re constantly telling yourself (and everyone else), your life will reflect that.
I want you to,
Ask yourself these 2 questions:
- Is the status quo in your life just the way it’s always been and there’s nothing that can change it?
- Or, on the other hand, is there some way that you can you use your experiences to propel you forward toward greater success and happiness? If so, how?
Here’s the thing,
If your current story doesn’t serve you, then change it!
I love what the legendary teacher, Jim Rohn, used to say:
“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”
Beginning to change your story involves figuring out the meaning of events and issues in your life.
You feel a certain way about every single thing in your life because of the meaning you gave it.
Some things you have given a positive (or neutral) meaning, and therefore you feel fine about them.
Other things, however, you have given a very destructive for negative meaning, and your life is in pain as a result of it.
You can’t seem to move past the anger, regret, disappointment, or sadness.
However, if you want to change how you feel about certain things in your life, you have to change the meaning you are giving those things.
And that means, changing your story in many instances.
It also means challenging the current story you have in your head and figuring out your life’s purpose, i.e. what you want what you are about (or want to be about).
The famous Tony Robbins always says:
“Divorce your story and marry the truth.”
Let your story encourage you to take action to make your dreams come true.
Move beyond your limiting story and write a new one, so to speak.
Rather than drown in self-pity about the state of your marriage, for example, decide to change the quality of your relationship by starting to tell yourself and your story about it.
Take your wounds and turn them into wisdom, as Oprah Winfrey once suggested.
Take your pain and find the gift in them and use it to strengthen your life.
After you’ve started changing your story, you must also learn to start …
Now, typically changing your story requires you to look back into your past.
And that’s very helpful.
But what about the present?
How do you control your emotions on a daily basis in your regular routines?
For this part of your emotional mastery, you need to learn how to practice self-awareness.
There are certain automatic thoughts that people have on a consistent basis that play a huge role in determining their emotional states and how they feel most of the time.
Some researchers have estimated that the average person has between 50 and 70,000 thoughts per day.
The vast majority of those thoughts tend to be negative as our brains have evolved to identify and avoid possible danger.
As a defense mechanism.
The problem is that even though we no longer run away from lions trying to eat us, we are being bombarded by “threats” or possible “danger” in the media (including social media) all day long.
This puts us in a heightened state of alert and stress for the most part.
In addition to this, we tend to develop patterns of thinking which on some level us navigate our way through life but on another level hurts us.
And because of these automatic patterns of thinking, we also develop automatic emotional responses to various things.
Now, those triggers don’t necessarily have to be exactly the same to trigger the same responses, but our brains are very good at generalizing information and therefore “packaging” it in “similar boxes” to shortcut the response process.
For example, how do you feel when someone cuts you off on the highway?
Have you noticed how something completely unrelated also elicits the same emotions and triggers similar responses in you?
For example, your husband not picking up his dirty laundry even after repeatedly asking him to?
Even though these two events (“being cut off” and “laundry on the floor”) have absolutely nothing to do with one another, your brain potentially views both as attacks on one of your highly valued core values (people should always respect you), and therefore a threat to ALL of you.
Consequently, you react in a similar manner (anger for example) to ALL triggers that threaten your sense of being respected (for example).
The only way around this is to become more self-aware, especially of your thoughts and how they interpret events, incidents, or situations which lead to certain emotions.
You might not be able to control other motorists on the highway or even your husband’s behavior, but you can control how you think about their actions and therefore how you feel about it and respond to it.
How do you do that?
Here are some strategies to become more self-aware and take charge of your thoughts:
- Notice what you’re thinking. Monitoring your automatic thoughts and becoming aware of when these thoughts begin is critical to begin changing them.
- Assign a different meaning to things that bring on negative thoughts.
- For example,
- What does it mean when someone cuts you off on the highway?
- What does it mean if your husband leaves his dirty laundry on the floor?
- Instead of being angry, one way you can think about it is by reminding yourself that not all drivers are courteous as you think they should be. Plus, realise that you don’t know their situation. Perhaps they have an emergency. You don’t know.
- Maybe your husband has all the right intentions but is just really forgetful when it comes to laundry on the floor (my kids have that problem).
- Maybe dirty laundry is the last thing he thinks about after a long day (night) at work. Perhaps he is in such a rush after work to spend time with you and the kids that he keeps overlooking the simple thing.
- It doesn’t matter what new interpretation you come up with. The point is that these new thoughts have the potential to diffuse your anger so you can let it go and move on.
When you control what’s going through your mind at any given moment, you’ve put yourself back in charge of your emotions.
And that’s what you want.
Just as you can adjust your story to support you, by practising self-awareness you can also alter your current thoughts to support you, too!
The reality is that nobody can make empowering decisions from a disempowered state.
Controlling your emotions better put you in a more empowering state to make better decisions.
On this point, however, it’s also important to recognise that the best time to deal with a “negative” emotion or reaction is when you first begin to feel it.
Don’t wait for that emotion to “grow up.”
Once an emotion shows up in full force is very difficult to put it back in the box.
But, the more you practice self-awareness and begin to understand the source and triggers of your specific “negative emotions,” the quicker you can deal with them.
A third and last powerful strategy to control your emotions is to learn the art of …
Practicing Gratefulness (or gratitude)
Research has shown that gratitude goes a long way towards achieving a state of happiness.
In fact, it’s hard not to be happy when you’re feeling grateful.
Is also impossible to feel angry (or depressed, stressed, sad, etc.) when you’re feeling truly grateful.
The reason gratefulness or gratitude is so powerful is that it does more than simply make you feel good.
Practising gratitude consistently by focusing on the very things you have to be grateful for, changes your perspective on life and eventually your behaviour.
A good example of this is the letter by the 27-year-old Holly Butcher, who died recently of cancer, that’s gone viral.
In it she wrote the profound words:
“That’s the thing about life; it is fragile, precious, unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right,” she wrote. I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life.”
Holly reminded us that looking at life through the lenses of gratitude can help us overcome the meaningless s**t we get hung up on.
We make big things out of nothing.
We end up living meaningless lives because of something outside of our control or that happened years ago but we’ve never let go of.
Gratefulness is a powerful emotion that can help us gain perspective again.
When you show your gratitude every day, you change the way you think.
The reality is that you’ll appreciate your good life when the majority of your thoughts remain positive.
But, negative thoughts can sometimes be overwhelming.
Gratitude, however, can keep them to a minimum.
Our days on this earth are numbered so we must cherish the time that we do have and enjoy the benefits of living each day as if it were our last.
As Holly wrote:
“That’s the thing about life; it is fragile, precious, unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.”
So, how can you practice more gratefulness in your life?
Consider these methods:
- Spend five to ten minutes in quiet meditation and focus on the different things you’re grateful for in your life.
- Uplift someone. Another is by going out of your way each day to compliment or thank someone, without expecting any recognition in return.
- Help others. Spend time volunteering at food pantries or homeless shelters.
Holly wrote: “Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more.”
Final thoughts …
I hope the ideas above have given you some food for thought in a good starting point to start taking control of your emotions and therefore relationships (and life as a whole).
I want to leave you with two more thoughts that could be helpful.
To really take control of your emotions it’s important to think of your mind and emotions as a garden.
And the only way to ensure a bountiful harvest is to plant seeds like gratitude, self-awareness, love, and helping others, instead of seeds like regret, disappointment, self-pity, anger or fear.
But that process starts with taking small steps on a regular, daily basis to take control of your emotions until you become more skilled in emotional fitness.
You have to spend time in your “garden” daily, planting good seeds (or at least taking care of them) and uprooting weeds.
This will ultimately create emotional fitness and awareness, which in turn will cultivate maturity, astuteness, and success, and will make a positive difference in your overall quality of life.
The second, and last thought I want to leave with you is the idea that motion leads to emotion.
The way you use and move your body consistently influences your emotional state.
A lack of sleep influences how you feel during the following day(s).
A lack of movement or exercise also contributes to a disempowering emotional state over time.
Poor nutrition also impacts how you feel.
It’s important to understand that how you use your body is just as important to your emotional state as your mind.
Many people harbor “negative” emotions because they rarely move around enough.
They never get any exercise.
And as a result, they either sleep too much or too little; both are not ideal.
Furthermore, a lack of movement can easily lead to cravings for all the wrong foods and drinks, which in turn leads to an “undernourished mental and emotional garden.”
How you move your body, and how much, plays a huge role in creating AND controlling your emotions.
In fact, it plays a massive role in creating the emotions you feel.
And perhaps this is the only thing you need to change to really take control of your emotions.
Maybe it’s not mental, fear, lack of sleep, other people, or your circumstances that are the biggest contributing factors to how you feel at the moment.
Maybe you’re simply sitting or sleeping too much with not enough physical exertion on your part.
Listen, if you want to take control of the quality of your life, you have to take control of your emotions.
Your emotional state is at the heart of most of your behavior, habits, and reactions to what happens around you.
I read recently that when we are upset, about 90 percent of the upset is related to our past and has nothing to do with what we think is upsetting us.
What this points out is that ignorance is not the answer to your challenges.
You cannot continue saying, “this is just how I am” and hide behind that.
There is far more to you, your thoughts, emotions, and behavior than you think.
So, now is the time to spend some time with yourself and growing your self-awareness.
The answer to a better quality of life or relationship does not necessarily lie outside of you but rather inside.
Previously Published on Medium