I love to watch athletes in competition and see how their confidence, determination, and competitive spirit drive them to do their best and be number one. Yet the very emotions that allow them to be great at sports may not be the ones that are best suited for their personal life. Imagine a top athlete at home saying to his wife, “Sorry, but I can’t take you to the 7:15 movie like I promised, since I’m cleaning the stove, and I just realized the oven needs scrubbing, too. I’m determined to get this kitchen absolutely spotless. There’s no stopping me – I know I can make it perfect!”
There’s a time for fierce determination and confidence and a time to tone down those emotions and turn up the volume on feelings such as kindness and love. The feelings that are most useful at work may be different from the ones that are most beneficial in your family life or in your friendships.
I’m not saying that if you’re an athlete, you need to compartmentalize your emotions, checking your determination and confidence at the door when you get home or letting go of any kindness, empathy, or love upon entering the sports arena. In fact, all these emotions are useful in any circumstance. An athlete might be determined to improve his communication with his wife and feel confident that he can do it and that this will benefit his marriage. At the same time, although he may be a fierce competitor, he can be a good sportsman because he feels kindness toward his opponents, even when he’s intent on winning. The point is that in different situations, a different set of dominant emotions is required.
So if you recognize that you need to make an emotional switch, how do you shift from moderate joy to all-out elation, from anger to mere irritation, from agitation to calm, or from insensitivity to kindness? To start, you have to recognize the connection between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Emotions, Thoughts, and Behaviors
Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all influence each other, but the strongest force is our emotions—and that’s why it’s so important to take control of, and balance, them. While we may act or think obsessively, we only do so when our behavior or thoughts are driven by strong emotions. For instance, if people are addicted to alcohol, they reach for that glass of wine or vodka again and again because when they drink, they stimulate the pleasure centers in their brain and experience a false sensation of joy, well-being, calm, or confidence. While alcoholics may be determined not to drink and to never think about doing so—and might even clear out their liquor cabinet so that they can’t pour themselves a stiff one—their strong desire to feel the emotions that drinking creates for them may overrule their attempts to control their thoughts and behaviors.
In the same way, if we obsessively think about something, it’s because strong emotions are driving our thoughts. When we’re facing a challenge and we’re trying to think through our options, if our feelings aren’t overwhelming us, we can readily become distracted, finding it easy to pull our attention away from the subject for a while. Thoughts such as I wonder what would happen if I approached the situation from this perspective? might pop up while we’re in the shower or walking through the grocery store and we’ll go into a creative mode as we think, but we don’t get upset or obsessive. However, when a strong emotion is driving our thoughts, it’s much harder to shake them. Suddenly, we have insomnia as we spend the early-morning hours fearfully reflecting on what might happen to us, or we endlessly reminisce about a former romantic partner because we’re caught up in grief. It’s our emotions that trap us in obsessive thoughts.
All Emotions Are Available to You
To achieve your destiny, you have to be able to feel certain positive emotions at a high level. You might think that you don’t have the capacity to experience particular emotions, but I can assure you that you do. Inside you lies a multitude of emotions—you just have to access them, and there are several ways to do so.
Experiencing Emotions Through Art
We all get in touch with a wide range of emotions, switching between them very dramatically when we watch gripping movies, read books that move us, or experience any art form that speaks to our core. Recently I was at a conference that featured speeches and workshops given by many celebrities, from Lance Armstrong to Bill Clinton. One of the performers set to entertain the audience was Toronto singer/songwriter Amy Sky. While she wasn’t the star of the conference, she might as well have been, because she seemed to be performing as if she were in front of a stadium full of rabidly enthusiastic fans. She exhibited joy and playfulness, and as I watched her, I found myself connecting with my own feelings of passion, enthusiasm, and humor.
Although I’m not a singer or performer, Amy was able to stir emotions in me that I could use in my own work and life. She did so by immersing herself in these feelings. Had she stopped to think, Oh, these people don’t really want to see me or This is just a money gig; I’ll save the real performance for the next time I’m in front of my fans, she wouldn’t have had the effect on me that she did. If we open ourselves up to the positive emotions expressed through art, we can create them in ourselves.
Experiencing Emotions Through Interactions with Others
As the old sayings go, “Misery loves company” and “Laughter is infectious.” The people we surround ourselves with can affect our emotions, and vice versa. When cyclist Lance Armstrong was facing a dire diagnosis of cancer, he knew that he had to find a physician who believed in his ability to be healed. To fight such a challenging battle, he felt that he needed to draw upon the faith and determination of his doctor, as well as his own.
It’s good to be aware of whether the people you spend time with help you lift your mood or make it more difficult for you to stay positive—in other words, choose your companions carefully. Spending a large amount of time around those who always see the negative side of life and tell you about every depressing story they heard on the news may not just affect you in the moment . . . it may impact you overall. You’ll start to feel your energy dragging and your mind creating thoughts such as What’s the point? and I’m fooling myself. There’s no way I can do this. If you don’t consciously work at balancing your emotions around such people, your joyfulness, creativity, determination, and other positive emotions will diminish; and your feelings of hopelessness and melancholy will increase.
Then, too, when you’re around people who are gossipy and unkind, you’re likely to find yourself giving in to more judgmental, smug, and even cruel emotions. Even participating in mean-spirited gossip about celebrities isn’t harmless. It can increase your feelings of unkindness and decrease those of sympathy—and that may carry over to how you feel about, and treat, the people in your life.
On the other hand, making a deliberate decision to spend more time around those who do help you feel positive can make a big difference in your mood. If you’re surrounded by individuals who lack compassion and empathy, but you want to feel compassionate and empathetic more often and more intensely, seek out people who experience those emotions regularly. One of my clients has a friend who’s very playful and creative, and she makes a point to have a “girls’ night out” with this person regularly. By eating dinner with her and having fun trying new activities (such as karaoke), she connects to her own playfulness and creativity.
It will look like this: Your Destiny Switch – Balancing Your Emotions Part II