We can only be deliberate about the way we live to the extent that we are deliberate about the way we lead ourselves – including the way we manage our emotions.
“Managing ourselves well is foundational to all we do…
our ability to lead, manage, spend undistracted time with friends and family, and do everything else we do depends largely upon a skill that goes underneath all of those things and makes them all possible — the cross-functional skill of knowing how to manage ourselves.”
– Matthew Aaron Perman, ‘What’s Best Next‘
Managing ourselves of course encompasses a range of factors in our lives. It includes our time, self-discipline, ability to prioritise, and so forth. A crucial part of leading and managing ourselves is learning to manage our internal life – our thinking and emotions.
Put another way – do we simply listen to our feelings, or do we speak to them also?
Sometimes our emotions are telling us something important about our reality, and we do well to listen to them in order to respond well.
Our emotions may be signaling to us that something very important to us is now finished, and we need to recognise the gravity and significance of that in order to process it fully.
Our emotions may be letting us know that what we are facing is bigger than we are equipped to deal with, and listening to that signal can prompt us to seek additional support.
Perhaps our emotions are are teaching us that the behaviour of a person in our life is unacceptable, and we need to put appropriate boundaries in place.
At the same time, sometimes our feelings are not in sync with reality. Sometimes we need to ask them some questions about where they are coming from, before we accept what they are saying to us.
Biological – Is this emotion related to something physical? Am I tired or hungry? Have I been experiencing an extended period of stress or adrenaline that my body is reacting to?
Mental – Is my thinking on this situation accurate? Is it possible I’m interpreting certain aspects of the situation to mean something other, or more, than they actually do?
Environmental – Are there external circumstances that are making this seem worse than it is? Does this remind me of something else, and therefore appear as a pattern when it isn’t really?
If we can discern that our feelings are not a proportionate reflection of our reality, then we can be deliberate in how we respond to and manage them.
We can speak to our emotions
We can speak to our emotions by recognising our feelings, but not accepting that they are a reflection of the truth.
We can remind ourselves of the realities we’ve mentioned – the biological, mental and environmental factors at play.
We can remind ourself about other truths of our experience, our beliefs, our values and the facts of the situation.
And we can highlight to ourselves positive factors we want to focus on when our emotions are prompting us to focus disproportionately on the negative.
All of these are ways we can not just listen to our emotions, but speak to them as well. If we can continue growing in our ability to manage this part of our inner life well, we equip ourselves to lead our lives even more deliberately.
Emotions can follow behaviour
Finally, we can choose to lead our emotions by the actions that we choose.
Psychologists have found that actions do not simply flow from feelings and desires. Rather, the relationship between them runs both ways. It is possible for us to act in a way that will impact how we feel.
Dr. Noam Shpancer summarises it this way –
“Many people assume that the link between emotion and behavior is one-way: Emotions shape behavior. You love him, therefore you kiss him. You hate him, therefore you hit him. This view is incorrect. In fact, the relationship is reciprocal. Much of the time, behavior actually shapes emotion.
Ever wonder why so often the actor and actress who play a couple in a movie fall in love on the set? Multiple processes are involved, to be sure. Both are usually young and attractive. They have much in common. They hang around each other a lot. All these are known predictors of mate selection.
But they also do love scenes together. They have to act like people who care deeply for each other. They look into each other’s eyes, they touch each other. They act out the behaviors of love. No wonder the emotion of love often follows.”
We can shape our emotions through action
Action shapes behaviour. Or put another way, often feelings follow behaviour. We can lead our emotions by choosing to act in a way that is consistent with the emotion we want to reinforce.
If we want to reinforce our feelings of love for a family member in the face of feelings of frustration, we can choose to take actions that are loving towards them.
We can choose to take actions of professionalism and self-discipline in the face of feelings that we don’t measure up.
We can take actions that celebrate the blessings and joys of our lives in the midst of feelings of dissatisfaction.
In these ways, we can lead our emotions by our actions.
Our emotions are one of the most powerful forces shaping our decisions, our relationships and the contribution we make to the world. It is well worth it to continue honing our ability to lead our own internal lives deliberately.