There are some emotions we experience that use a lot of energy and don’t produce anything. These emotions are worry, fear, overwhelm and confusion. Typically, we believe that the circumstances of our lives are causing us these feelings: work is piling up, our boss scolded us, the kids are screaming, and our ex hasn’t sent us the monthly child payment. Our (emotional) brain jumps to scary conclusions: our job is in jeopardy, we can’t handle parenthood, we need to gear up for an epic battle with our ex. For most of us it is not our reflex to choose more soothing, supportive perspectives to help us manage the situation.
To gain true emotional freedom we have to recognize how these automatic thoughts determine whether we feel worried and anxious, or calm and resilient. We “resist” reality when our thoughts add an extra layer of difficulty by creating a scary story about it. We just strengthen these debilitating feelings and they soon they have a life of their own. It becomes an automatic habit to worry or be afraid. Several years ago, someone dear to me was going through an extremely difficult period in their life. I became consumed with worry and fear. These feelings became especially intense while I was driving; then I was alone to ruminate, rack my brain for solutions, and picture disastrous outcomes. It was a miracle that I never got into a car accident during this time as I was driving around in a trance. I found out later that I narrowly missed a co-worker walking in the parking lot without even noticing him. He described me as having a “thousand mile” stare, with both hands clutching the wheel. Soon after that, I decided I would no longer indulge in the catastrophic thinking that kept me drowning in worry and anxiety. By this time I’d learned that ALL thoughts are 100% optional: I could just as easily choose thoughts that focused on a positive outcome as a negative. This was a lifechanging process for me. I understood that my emotional brain would always scan for danger and conjure up fearful scenarios, but that these were illusions. Any number of other possibilities existed. How could I possibly think I could predict the future for me or anyone? And how could I know what is best for someone else’s life journey?
In the years since I’ve still needed to re-calibrate my thinking many times as I’ve watched this individual take steps forward and then fall back again. I’ve still had to decide whether I wanted to stay mired in fear about her or choose optimism instead. My emotional growth has greatly expanded as a result. I am more resilient, confident and at peace which enables me to follow my dreams instead of staying stuck.
We really can stop feeding these energy-sucking emotions by becoming the master of what we think. The first step is to notice our automatic thinking and the emotions it produces. Decide on purpose how you want to feel about a circumstance and then work to create the thought that generates that feeling. What if you decided to feel curious, or determined or capable? Those emotions can foster productive actions that will actually take you somewhere, for the benefit of you and everyone around you.