What you will learn from reading this article:
- You cannot control everything that happens in your life, but you can control the meaning you attach to those events
- You are the one in charge of your emotions and how you react to them
- How to practice emotional control
- How to let go of your expectations as a means of controlling your reactions
- A formula for the complex cycle of meaning (Meaning = Emotion = Life)
Human beings are emotional creatures. We feel deeply, which is a good thing – until we let those feelings run away from us. Emotions are exceptionally powerful, which is why learning to control them is equally powerful.
Say you got stood up for a date or an offsite business meeting. Are you angry, frustrated, amused or indifferent? Are you able to let it go or do you hold a grudge? The way you respond to emotional challenges impacts everything you do, and letting your feelings run away from you is a quick way to lose what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
There will always be some sort of roadblock or challenge to overcome. When these come up, you may be tempted to react emotionally and fling up your hands. Next time you’re faced with such a scenario, wait a moment and take a deep breath. By mastering how to control your emotions, you can create lasting change in your life – we’re going to show you how.
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It’s all about meaning
There are plenty of things we can’t control: the weather, our children, traffic and love are just a few. But we do control the meaning we take away from events. Meaning connects to our larger life blueprint; it’s a way to either give up control of our lives or accept responsibility.
For example, let’s take Tony inviting some of his friends to his place in Fiji. It’s a lush, tropical paradise with sun and sand. It’s also raining. Tony wants everything to be perfect for his friends, but he’s miserable because life doesn’t match what he perceives as the ideal.
But when his friends arrive, they love the warm rain and immediately start splashing around in it. They’re completely happy even if the place doesn’t look like a postcard. They had no expectations of perfect weather; they just knew they were having a good time.
By attaching a negative meaning to what was going on, Tony let his emotions run the show.
Emotions, feelings and emotional control
When you learn how to control your emotions, you can derive more positive, productive meanings, even from seemingly negative events.
Let’s stick with this Fiji example. What emotions are now flying around? Tony believes he needs to create a certain kind of environment for his friends to be happy. He’s got an image of that ideal – sunny – and even though he knows that no one can control the weather, he’s still frustrated. So instead of enjoying his friends, he’s stuck in a bad mood. Meanwhile, his friends are having a great time. They’re not at all disappointed, but maybe they’re a little confused as to why Tony seems unhappy. So even though everyone is experiencing the rain, the meaning they’ve attached to it has caused completely different emotional responses.
When you set out to master your emotions, it’s critical to understand that they are your emotions. They belong to you. By letting your emotions run the show – and attaching negative meaning to them – we can damage our relationships and our lives. When you step back and react emotionally to circumstances, you allow the world to happen to you instead of for you.
So what can you do to regain emotional control, or prevent yourself from losing it? Change the meaning and you change the emotion. The reverse also holds true – change the emotion and you’ll change the meaning.
The power of words
Another key factor in the cycle of meaning is what words you use. What do you feel when someone says that you’re mistaken? What about if they say you’re wrong? Chances are that you don’t feel very good, no matter your level of emotional control, and that’s you just thinking about it, not it actually happening.
It’s a small example, but it illustrates just how crucial words are to how we make meaning (and thus what we feel). This is why Tony has people think about the words they’re in the habit of using, especially if they’re trying to make major life changes: Whatever words you attach to your experience become your experience.
How to control your emotions
Next time you’re faced with a situation that elicits strong feelings from you, pause to consider what meaning you’re going to attach to it. You can develop emotional control by using one of the following tactics:
1. Take a deep breath
Instead of reacting right away – whether positively or negatively – give yourself a moment to process what just happened.
2. Find out what you’re feeling
It’s easy to say, “I’m feeling angry because they hurt me.” Dig deeper. Are you angry because you’re afraid they’re right? Are you sad? Emotions are complex and often piggyback onto one another.
3. Replace negative thoughts
If your mind goes straight to how you’ve been wronged or how terrible everything is, divert yourself. Dwelling on negativity will only make you more prone to it, so focus on positive emotions. Change your thoughts and change your story.
4. Channel your energy
Human emotions are incredibly powerful. Let that energy go by participating in some sort of physical activity – going for a run or a walk, or even shooting some hoops.
5. Explore your emotions
Why do you feel the way you do? Journaling or talking with a trusted friend or family member can help you understand why you’re feeling what you do. Once you understand an emotion, it’s that much easier to control it.
Actions and the formula that makes up our lives
When you feel certain ways, you do certain things. Our patterns of behavior, from negative ones like smoking to positive ones like going to the gym, all stem from our desire to meet some of our six human needs, the meaning we’ve assigned and the feelings we have. The pattern then becomes our life story, what we tell ourselves about who we are and why we are that way. Instead of practicing emotional control, we likely feel adrift and powerless.
While we can’t control the triggers we encounter in our lives, we can control the meanings we extract from the events that occur, therefore controlling our feelings and, more broadly, our lives. If you’re trying to make a change in your life, examine what meanings you already have, then make up new ones. Emotional control is all about making the meaning you want – otherwise you’ll continue to repeat old patterns and not make any lasting change.
We can reduce the cycle of meaning’s complexity to a single formula:
Meaning = Emotion = Life
So if you’re looking to change your mood, change the meaning you’re taking from the triggering event. When you ask yourself, “How can I control my emotions?” what you’re really asking is, “How can I assign positive meaning to this event, instead of letting negative feelings linger?” You have the power to shift your mindset and improve your life, because life is happening for you, not to you.
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