What we do is not typically based on our intellectual or physical capacity, talents or strengths. Instead, what we do day in and day out is usually based on how we feel.
Because or emotions ebb and flow like the tide, our “internal weather” can be like a calm sea one moment and a raging storm the next; and the change between these two states can occur very, very quickly.
Although none of our emotions are are inherently “bad”, some emotions are more pleasant than others; some can be down right painful. Because the majority of people live reactively to life, there seems to be two common patterns when it comes to managing unpleasant emotions:
- Thinking and responding based on how we feel or want to feel. In this case, “feeling better” is what it’s all about. For these people, the emotional tail wags the dog.
- Leveraging will power and purpose to press forward and “get stuff done” regardless of how we feel. In this case, unpleasant feelings are ignored or tolerated. For these people, emotions are like uncontrollable and changing weather weather patterns.
I’ve taken the latter approach for most of my life and it probably characterizes the one taken by most leaders and high achievers. The problem with both approaches above is that neither helps build true emotional fitness.
Building emotional fitness requires a framework that views emotions, unpleasant ones in particular, as information signals calling for action; emotional “Smoke Signals” if you would. From this perspective, emotions are something to interpret as well as something to experience. With this perspective, we understand our emotions are not a place to which we’re consigned, but rather valuable information signals on which to act. And informed, intentional action serves not only serve our best interests, it also allows us to shift our immediate unpleasant emotional state.
Tony Robbins, in one of his “emotional fitness” segments gives ten common unpleasant emotions or “smoke signals” we experience that can give us useful information if we learn how to read them. I modified these a bit but for the most part think he is right on.
The feeling or “Smoke Signal” and corresponding message and response:
- Uncomfortable- Uncertain of wants; clarify what you want and take informed action toward it.
- Fearful- Real OR perceived danger; get clear and/or prepared and act accordingly.
- Hurt- Your expectations have been disappointed or loss has occurred. Communicate your needs, change your behavior or both.
- Angry- An important rule of yours has been violated or you’ve been disrespected. Communicate the issue with the appropriate party (others or yourself) to facilitate understanding and what needs to be different.
- Frustrated- What you’re doing isn’t working; change your approach.
- Disappointed- Unrealized expectations; align your expectations with your current reality
- Guilty or Regretful- You violated a standard important to you. Determine how you’ll avoid doing so again.
- Inadequate- Not measuring up as you want; improve your performance, ensure your clear on criteria, or change your criteria.
- Overwhelmed, Hopeless or Depressed- Dim view or perspective of your situation; reflect on the big-picture, connect with your values (or determine them) and break-down/prioritize your actions or to-do’s accordingly.
- Lonely- Disconnected; you need to reconnect with people and your relationships.
The reality is that all of our feelings, unpleasant or otherwise, arise from the complex interaction of the beliefs and standards we hold, what we think, and the meaning or interpretation we attach to thoughts and events in our lives. That leads to the central truth about emotions: we can’t always control what we feel but we are responsible for we do with our feelings.
The good news is that we can build emotional fitness by recognizing our emotions as information signals calling for action, not a place we’re consigned to. And just like smoke signals, seeing the signal is the easy part. Interpreting and getting clarity on what the signal means is another matter. Once we do get clear, we can take informed, meaningful action that will not only get us where we want to go, but shift our emotional state to a more positive one at the same time.
How does seeing emotions as informational “smoke signals” differ from your current view?
Please leave a comment on what it looks like for you.