Part III: Don’t Let Your Emotions Control You

Hijacked by Our Emotional Mind

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Here’s an example of a simple but powerful new concept that can start you off. Most of the time when we feel an impulse or emotion, we don’t have to do anything! We almost always have time to hold back our reaction on what we say or do, and give ourselves extra time to process what’s happening before we act. As I become older, and theoretically wiser, I can’t tell you how often I’ve found that keeping my mouth shut, or not lashing out when I feel like it, has lead to the better outcome.

Emotions are there to grab us, to suddenly hijack our mind and our body and set us into motion, without having to think. Anger is there to mobilize us to attack, fear is there to help us defend, love is to help us connect with others, and to regenerate our species.

The sudden hijacking of our mind and body is usually quick and strong, and if you don’t act on it, it sets up a physical struggle inside. You can learn to win that struggle as you listen further.

Mind Gem # 3: Next time you get hijacked by an impulse to act, consider if you can give yourself time to think about how to respond to it. Usually you can.

An impulse can suddenly try to yank us out of the pilot seat. It’s like an alarm, sometimes it’s the real thing but it may also be a false alarm and reacting without thinking can be disastrous. Emotions can be sudden but they can also build, and we can find ourselves being swallowed up by them before we realize it. We may not be aware that we’ve left the pilot seat. We can get lost in our “emotional mind.”

Mindfulness will teach you to find the driver’s seat and stay in it. If you hear alarms (strong emotions), and think you have to act immediately, gem number three reminds you to process what’s going on before acting.

Part II: Mindfulness and Understanding Impulses

from the text version of the Potent Mind audio CD

Self growth, self help, self improvement, self control

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs

Who amongst us hasn’t had problems with their impulses, whether they are impulses to eat, or to spend, to be aggressive, or to run away? We all feel these impulses– sometimes they may be healthy and other times not. There’s been no clear way to describe and understand our impulses. That is until now.

Have you ever felt like blurting something out? Do you ever feel like lashing out, verbally or physically? Have you ever felt like crying? Have you ever felt like hugging someone? When you’ve done something embarrassing in front of others, have you ever felt like hiding or digging a hole and sticking your head into it? These can be normal impulses related to normal feelings. It doesn’t mean we always go and act on them. How do we decide when, and how, to show or act on our feelings, and when not to?

In order to live a more potent life, before we act, we must consider all of the following:

  1. Is my perception of what’s happening accurate?
  2. Are my emotions justified?
  3. What are the possible outcomes if I act on the emotion or impulse the way I feel like doing? What outcome do I want?

You have to do all this in the split-second between experiencing the impulse and deciding what to do with it. Believe it or not you can learn how to do that.

We’ll get into specific techniques you can practice which will clear your mind and create some space for thinking. You’ll learn how to recognize what’s happening in the moment, and separate that from the past. You’ll learn to clarify and validate your feelings, and understand how they make sense within the present context. You’ll learn to develop your own values and priorities, if you haven’t already, and then how to choose the action which is most likely to accomplish your goals.

Who we are is dependent on what we do. It’s not about what happened to us in the past, nor is it about what we want to do in the future. Who we are is not about some pre-determined or inherent meaning or purpose of our life. It’s about what we do. It’s about the values and priorities that we develop, and how we act on them in the present. Our feelings and impulses can be a guide for us. Following them mistakenly can take us off track and lead to negative consequences. Running away from our feelings can cost us opportunities missed, and can lead to self-destructive behavior patterns.

In order to be effective, we can’t be living in the past, or worrying about the future. We must be smack dab in the present. Before you can fly your space ship, or learn to navigate, you have to get into the pilot’s seat. For this we practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness may be considered the Master Skill. It is about learning to be present. In fact you can learn to be so present you can be ahead of the game. That is, first we learn by reviewing what happened, after the fact, and what we could do differently next time. Next we learn by seeing what is happening as it is happening and being able to think it through before we act. Strengthening of this ability to be present, not caught up in our emotions, not bound up by our biases and judgments, comes from the practice of mindfulness. As John Kabat-Zinn, a well-known psychologist, says, at first mindfulness, present moment awareness, is like a dial-up modem in that you purposely have to decide to do it, repeatedly,– but after practicing it becomes like a DSL or cable modem… always on.

A lot of the work for each of us is to be more focused and aware in the moment so that we can stretch the time to analyze and decide the best course of action. We must learn to be present and intentional so that we’re mentally there for the decision-making. We need to be more clear about what our emotional system is saying to us, what part of that is from the present and what’s from the past (we would call that baggage), and then to decide how we can best use the information to get what we need, and what we want. Those are essential elements of what we call wisdom. We are working at developing a higher part of our mind, a wise mind that can see above the distortions, impulses, and other distractions.

In this series I will be as uncomplicated as possible. Simple but powerful practices such as mindfulness, cognitive and emotional filtering, and thinking non-judgementally can help free you from negative emotions and open up your full potential. You can learn to get past the stories you’ve been telling yourself for years and plan a life you never thought you could live. These techniques require active, conscious practice. I’m eager to tell you about my own concept selfish compassion-ism and how many areas of life improve when people try this out. You’ll hear about amazingly easy adjustments you can make that will lead to drastic changes in your life. Open your mind to thinking outside the box.

To really open up parts of our mind – new concepts, ideas, potentials… we have to be willing to consider possibilities beyond what we already know and believe. We have to think dynamically rather than statically. We have to be willing to be “coachable” and consider perspectives outside of our usual thinking. We should all respect the courage it takes to question what we know, the willingness to stretch our mind, and go beyond where we’ve been before.

In such a short time as we have here, I cannot teach you each of the skills in depth, but rather instead aim to help you see the bigger picture… that with regular exercising you can strengthen yourself psychologically in different ways. You’ll hear how these various skills can be brought together under the “master skill” called mindfulness.

I life guarded and taught swimming for many years. This audio presentation is like talking about swimming. You don’t actually learn to swim until you get into the water and begin, section by section, to practice kicking your feet with a kick-board, holding onto the side of the pool and practicing turning your head rhythmically to breath, and rotating your arms all as the teacher instructs. Each section (arms, legs, head) may seem purposeless when considered separately but gradually as the sections become more and more technically correct, stronger and coordinated, we have a beautiful, efficient new skill that we can use on many occasions.

We’re out of the water now and for this to mean anything to you you have to think about what your strengths and weaknesses are and which of these skills might improve your life. And you have to jump in the water and practice the strokes. After some practice you’ll even be able to swim upstream.

With regard to the topic at hand, you might ask, Could I benefit by learning to:

  • be more present and focused? {Mindfulness Training}
  • tolerate uncomfortable emotions without reacting so strongly? {Distress Tolerance Skills}
  • relax myself when stressed, anxious, uptight or overwhelmed {Relaxation Techniques}
  • change what I’m feeling if I want to?” { Emotion Regulation Skills}
  • make sure I’m thinking clearly? {Cognitive Filtering Techniques}
  • stop feeling like a victim?” {PVR Pullout Techniques}
  • be more effective in interacting with others? {Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills}

Just as you might learn to swim or ride a bike, you can learn mindfulness, and all the skills I’ll be describing. At first you have to decide I’m going to practice my lesson and consciously pay attention to what’s going on with your body and in your mind, and how to work toward the goal. After you do this on a regular basis you no longer have to consciously think about it. It just becomes part of your nature, like getting on a bike and riding. Eventually you get to a point when you can see ahead, anticipate problems, and be prepared or avoid them. Marcia Linehan, who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy, calls that coping ahead.

By learning and practicing this skill, we create and establish a higher part of our mind which becomes more and more in control of our reactions and our actions. We develop an ability to see from above what’s going on, like a traffic helicopter hovering above a busy intersection, reporting on but not caught up in what’s going on below.

When we are mindful we are paying attention to what is going on in t-h-i-s moment. In a sense time is expanded. More of our brain is available to analyze what’s going on, and to steady ourselves in our choice of action. Part of it is Awhoa, slow down… think about what’s happening, and what are my goals and priorities? We’re in the present, aware and conscious of what were feeling, thinking, and feeling like doing, as well as what’s going on around. When you’re interacting with someone, you’re aware of their facial expressions and body posture, and you probably have a sense of what they’re feeling, and what they want. You can be connected with yourself, another individual, nature, or with a Sacred Being. When we are mindful we’re in the present, not in the past, nor in the future. We’re not putting spins on things. We’re not adding judgments. We’re just seeing clearly what’s going on. For now think of it in terms of a mindfulness muscle that we have in our brain, which most people don’t know they have, and you can train it.

Mindfulness, or the practice and strengthening of the “wise mind”, puts you in the cockpit, the control center, of your life. You’re not distracted by the past, or worried about the future. You can then look at your navigation panel, your gauges, and figure out how to get where you’re going. Do I have fuel? (HUNGER). Am I overheated? (ANGER). Are the electronics working? (IS MY THINKING DISTORTED?). Where am I going? (What are my VALUES AND PRIORITIES)

Mind Gem #2: Mindfulness is the Master Skill. It puts you in the driver’s seat, in the Present.