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Have you ever seen a toddler having a meltdown? I mean a screaming, sobbing, inconsolable tantrum?
One mom I saw on a particularly hot and breezeless day at the Bronx Zoo leaned down and addressed her mid-meltdown toddler by saying, “I see you’re having some really big feelings. Can you use your words to tell me about it?”
It struck me. How many adults, nevermind children, are able to put their “really big feelings” into words?
Let’s face it—that’s the work of a lifetime. Emotions are hard. The negative ones like anger, fear, resentment, guilt, blame, rejection, sadness, and shame are decidedly unpleasant and unavoidable.
Tip #1: You can’t avoid, ignore, eat, drink, or wish them away.
These feelings alone don’t have the power to hold you back because, at their core, emotions are just data. In fact, the negative emotions we spend billions of dollars to erase, stamp out, and avoid are actually some of the most valuable tools we can use to cultivate joy. They are signals pointing us in the direction of our happiness, showing us that something needs to change.
Negative emotions are our allies, not enemies.
When we shove them away, we deny half of ourselves and half of our lives and then wonder why we feel unfulfilled.
Tip #2: Our emotions don’t dictate who we are. They signal what’s going on inside.
Too often, I see people become their emotions rather than experiencing them. If this is you, please believe me when I say you aren’t a sad person, an angry person, or a jealous person. You are so much more than one emotion.
Our challenging feelings are just as valuable as our joyful feelings. Positive feelings tell us that we’re on the right track, that the activities and relationships we are engaged in are in alignment with our best selves. Our negative emotions communicate to us when something is out of balance in our physical world or when we are misaligned in our internal world.
Tip #3: Ask yourself “What is this feeling trying to tell me?”
The information we can glean from asking ourselves this question can be life-changing because our emotions are inextricably linked with our decisions.
So when “big feelings” arise, do you process them as data? Do you observe them and derive meaning that is factual, or do you create a story? So often, we create elaborate narratives from our emotions, replete with victims, villains, and heroes.
Our tendency to create elaborate stories around our emotions can become a barrier to living our best life.
The person who cut you off in traffic—monster. The boss who asked you to work over the weekend—ogre. The friend who forgot your birthday—selfish. Notice how everyone else in these stories is the villain, and you are the victim? But these stories aren’t true. They’re interpretations based on our feelings. Unpleasant as they are, these emotions aren’t the enemy. Instead, they’re messengers, highlighting areas within ourselves and our lives that need attention.
Tip #4: When you find yourself creating a story and assigning blame to other people, pause and ask yourself why you need a villain in that situation.
When we encounter a surge of emotions, especially the negative ones, we’re not helpless victims. Instead, we’re presented with an opportunity to probe deeper into our minds and souls. These feelings are like signposts, indicating what truly matters to us.
Tip #5: Imagine a scientific observer delving into your mind, unearthing evidence that counters your emotional narrative.
It’s through this objective exploration that we liberate ourselves from distorted perceptions.
Our feelings are valid and real, but they aren’t reality. In becoming attuned to our emotions, we reclaim the role of co-pilots instead of being passengers. Emotions can cease to be random storms, instead becoming the compass directing us toward growth and understanding.
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Checking in with your emotions, including the bad ones, will allow you to take charge of your feelings and grow from them. These feelings are signals pointing us in the direction of our happiness, showing us that something needs to change.