Emotions are like muscles, you need to work them out
It’s amazing how much of our lives are controlled by our emotions. In fact, it could be said that pretty much everything we do is in pursuit of some sort of emotional comfort. If you’re hungry, lonely or cold, your emotions are going to let you know by making you feel miserable. This is generally a good thing.
But the problem is that our emotions are a crude tool for controlling our behaviour. Often, they are obstacles in the way of getting what we want. Our feelings often prevent us from accepting a small amount of pain in return for a large amount of pleasure. This is obviously not a good thing, and is a major problem in many people’s lives.
Emotionally, as well as physically, we are the same as people in the past. From the caveman to the peasant woman working the fields of medieval Europe, our emotional make-up hasn’t changed that much. We live in a modern world that isn’t the one our bodies and minds were designed for. Our feelings can confuse us about what the right thing to do is, even though our rational minds can see perfectly well which path to take.
The good news is, you can train your emotions much like training muscles.
If you haven’t exercised for a while, and attempt to go to the gym, chances are you aren’t going to enjoy it much. Your body is used to sitting on the couch and snacking. Suddenly, you are forcing it to run and it doesn’t like it one bit!
But get into a routine of running and your body will soon become used to it. You’ll begin to wonder why only a couple of months earlier you found it so difficult.
It’s the same thing with your feelings. If you attempt to do something they’re not used to – such as asking someone out on a date – your emotions will complain like anything and try to block your way. But you’ll find that with practice, you can train your emotions to toughen up, just like you can with your body.
The best way to do this is with baby steps. Ease yourself into doing things that make you emotionally uncomfortable.
This is how psychiatrists treat many phobias. If someone has a phobia of birds, the doctor may start by showing them a painting of a bird. Then, they’ll move to a photograph, then have the person hold a feather, then present them with a stuffed bird, then have them stand near a bird in a cage, and finally have them enter the cage. This process can take weeks or months, but often the patient will end up wondering why they had this irrational fear.
You can do the same with your emotions. Write down the goal you wish to achieve which you think your feelings may be holding you back from. Then write a number of experiences you can put yourself through to move towards making yourself emotionally comfortable with that goal.
For example, let’s say you’re terrified of asking people out on dates. Here are some steps you can take to work towards that:
1. Phone up a business and make an appointment to do something.
2. Ask someone in your family if they’d like to meet up with you.
3. Invite a close friend out for a cup of coffee.
4. Call a friend you haven’t seen for a long time and ask them to catch up.
5. Ask a friend of the opposite sex to meet you for a drink.
6. Phone someone you’re attracted to and ask them out.
As you can see, the idea is to take gradually more difficult steps towards your goal. You are aiming to build up your emotional strength to deal with a situation that makes you uncomfortable. This is much like gradually increasing the intensity of an exercise routine when you are trying to develop your muscles.
Of course, asking someone on a date isn’t the only area this tool can be used for. Maybe your emotions are causing you trouble with your work. Maybe they are an obstacle in the way of your investing life. Maybe they are stopping you from achieving your health goals.
As I did in the above exercise, write down your eventual goal, then make up a list of situations to work towards it.
Your emotions are like muscles, you have to train them to respond to the world in the way you would like.
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