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SALT LAKE CITY — Life is a complicated and messy endeavor. Life Coach Kim Giles is here to help you with simple, principle-based solutions to the challenges you face. Coach Kim will empower you to get along with others and become the best you.
Question: I read your article last week on being psychologically mature and I definitely struggle with this. I think I have a hard time controlling my emotions because I feel things deeply and I cannot "not" feel what I'm feeling. Do you have any advice for helping me to stop my reactions and get control of myself? Also, how can I teach my children to get control of themselves so they don't inherit my bad habits?
Answer: Did you watch the biathlon during the Olympics? They are the ones who ski cross-country and shoot target rifles. One of the fascinating things about this event is watching the biathletes control their breathing and stifle their adrenaline after each race portion. If they can't calm down and breathe slow, they can't shoot accurately at their targets.
You can learn to calm yourself down and get control of your body and your mind too. You have the power to consciously choose your emotions, but it takes Olympic athletes years to learn to do this, and it is going to require effort and practice on your part too.
(Also, if you are struggling with depression, this is even more difficult. Depression affects your brain chemistry and makes choosing your emotions really difficult. I recommend talking to your doctor about some medication along with working on the suggestions below to control your thinking.)
We all have subconscious policies of fear that create strong emotional reactions to things, and these reactions are kind of like riptides. They are strong and fast and pull us out into dangerous water (bad behavior that creates poor results in our lives) before we even know what's happening.
Understanding riptides can help us learn to escape these damaging emotional reactions. A riptide does not pull a swimmer under water; it simply carries the swimmer away from the shore.
If a person caught in a riptide does not understand how riptides work, they will try to swim against it and will eventually exhaust themselves and drown. But if they understand how riptides work, they can easily exit the rip by swimming at a right angle to it. If they swim sideways, parallel to the shore, they can exit the current and return to land safely.
Experts recommend this approach if you get caught in a riptide:
- Don't fight the current.
- Stay calm to conserve your energy and think clearly.
- Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, but you can easily step to the side and get off. Swim sideways following the shoreline and when out of the current swim for the shore.
Your emotions work the same way and you have two primary fears that when triggered create riptide emotions and hard-to-control reactions. They are the fear of failure (the fear of not being good enough or looking bad) and the fear of loss (the fear of being taken from or treated unfairly.) When someone says or does anything that triggers your fears of failure or loss, your reaction will be swift and powerful. These fears do not create good behavior either. They encourage ego-driven, illogical, emotional behavior and inaccurate thinking. But you can learn how to step sideways and get out of these emotions.
Here is a simple procedure you can practice when experiencing strong emotional reactions to calm yourself down and consciously choose a more mature response:
- Don't fight the feelings of anger or hurt. Just sit with them for a minute. They are an interesting dimension of the human experience, and feeling them can teach you things and give you empathy toward others. Can you feel how much your ego wants to embrace fear and respond with selfishness, defensiveness or anger? These are strong feelings, but the more you sit with them, you will see that they are not your only option. Feeling this way is a choice. Being upset is a choice. You can choose to see this situation in a different way and choose peace, trust and love if you want to. You can choose to see this situation as a lesson (another chance to practice being in control of your head).
- Take a step back from the event, breathe slowly and think clearly. Ask yourself, "What am I really upset about? What am I afraid of here? Why do I feel threatened? Am I applying meaning here that may not be accurate? What will be created if I choose to be upset? Is that what I want? Is being upset a choice? Is there any other way I could choose to feel in this moment?" There is a To Be or Not To Be Upset Worksheet on our website that will help you to see these situations accurately.
- This is where you get to step to the side or exit the current by choosing a mindset the runs parallel to principles of truth (principles that provide solid ground and safety) like the shore. If fear is the riptide, you can choose thoughts based in trust and love (the opposites of fear) and you can step right out. Choose to trust these principles of truth instead of embracing fear in any moment:
- My value isn't on the line here because life is a classroom, not a test. Nothing anyone does or says can diminish my value because it is unchangeable, infinite and absolute. I am bulletproof, and if no one can hurt me or diminish me, is there really any reason to get upset? I can choose to see myself and my value as safe.
- Most bad behavior and almost all attacks are more about the other person and their fears about themselves than they are about me. Most bad behavior is a request for love or validation. This means instead of getting offended I could choose to give love and validation to this person, or I could choose to forgive them for being afraid and love them from afar.
- Nothing bad can happen to me without it serving me at some level. Everything I experience makes me wiser, kinder, stronger and more empathetic. I can trust the process of life that there is order in the universe and everything that happens, happens for a reason to teach me things. If I see life as a classroom, I realize there is nothing to fear and no matter what happens I will be all right. I can choose to feel safe right now.
- I am not better or worse than anyone else. We are all one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable human beings with the same infinite, absolute value. Just because someone casts me as the bad guy in their story doesn't make it true. They subconsciously do this to quiet their own fears and make their ego feel superior. I can see they are scared and not take this behavior personally.
We must realize that we control the weather in our heads and claim the power to choose how we will experience each moment. Then we must teach our children to think for themselves and choose how they want to feel. You can do this by teaching your children the principles mentioned above.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society."
It will take some work to master this, but you can do it!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "CHOOSING CLARITY: The Path to Fearlessness." Shauna Jensen is a certified Claritypoint coach who had the idea for this article.*