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How to master your emotions

6 steps to total emotional mastery that will change your life

We’ve all had situations where our emotions got the best of us, whether we’re sitting in traffic, dealing with a difficult coworker or arguing with a loved one. Often it’s because we didn’t realize what was happening until we were too far down the “emotional train” to change it. We say things we don’t mean and that we’ll later regret, because we haven’t cultivated emotional mastery. And when you don’t master your emotions, you’re not able to identify and handle them until it’s too late.

Love, hate, anger, joy, sadness: Human emotion is our greatest gift. You don’t want to get rid of emotions – without them, life is meaningless. But learning how to master your emotions and use them, instead of letting them use you, is key to achieving your dreams in every aspect of your life.

What is an emotion?

Emotions are complex states involving both physical and psychological changes that, in turn, influence our mood and behavior. An emotion is sparked by a particular event or object, which causes a physiological response in the body – both happiness and sadness can make us cry, fear makes our heart race, anger makes us feel hot. Then we change our behavior in accordance with the emotion. We might hug someone, run away or yell and fight. The behavior stage is the point at which emotional mastery plays a role. When you know how to master your emotions, you can catch them before they affect your behavior.

This is the straightforward answer to the question, “What is an emotion?” Beyond this definition, there are many theories of what causes emotion and why we respond to certain experiences the way we do. One thing is certain: Human emotion is a powerful force to be reckoned with.  

What is emotional mastery? Psychology’s answer

As reported by Psychology Today, the definition of emotional mastery has evolved over the last century. Early American psychology embraced the James-Lange Theory, which held that emotions are strictly the product of physiology (a neurological response to some external stimuli). This view evolved when the Cannon-Bard Theory asserted that the brain’s thalamus mediates between external stimuli and subjective emotional experience.

The concept of emotional mastery wasn’t introduced until the 1960s with the Schachter-Singer experiment, where researchers gave participants a dose of a placebo vitamin. Participants then watched colleagues complete a set of questionnaires. When the colleagues responded angrily to the questionnaires, the participants felt angry in turn. But when the colleagues responded happily, the participants also felt happy. The study’s results implied a connection between peer influence and the felt experience of emotion.

The idea that emotions are influenced by outer as well as inner stimuli was furthered by psychiatrist Allen Beck, who demonstrated that thoughts, peer influence and circumstance shape emotions. Beck’s research formed the foundation of modern-day cognitive behavioral therapy, the gold standard of emotional mastery as it’s understood today.

Why is emotional mastery important?

Feelings and emotional mastery play a role in our subjective experience of the world – that is, the way we interpret the things that happen to us, as opposed to objective experience, which is the facts of what actually happened. This is why psychologists recognize that the answer to “What is an emotion?” includes the ability to influence the way we think and act.

We cannot change our objective experience. Things happen every day that are outside our control. But we can change our subjective experience: the meaning that we assign to those things. That is emotional mastery, and it has a massive impact on our interpersonal relationships, self-worth, communication skills and overall fulfillment in life.

Emotions unify us across cultural lines

There are six basic emotions that are universal in all cultures: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. We all experience these feelings, although there are cultural differences regarding what’s an appropriate display of emotion.

Emotions govern our sense of well-being

Since emotions are a product of our experiences and how we perceive those experiences, we can cultivate positive emotions by focusing on them. There are 10 “power emotions” that cultivate emotional mastery by creating a base of positive affect. When we incorporate even small doses of gratitude, passion, love, hunger, curiosity, confidence, flexibility, cheerfulness, vitality and a sense of contribution, we set the stage for feeling good about ourselves.

Emotional mastery supports healthy relationships

When you’re able to demonstrate emotions that are appropriate to the situation, you’re able to nurture your relationships. When you don’t know how to master your emotions, the opposite occurs: You might fly off the handle at minor annoyances or react with anger when sadness is a more appropriate response. Your emotional response affects those around you, which shapes your relationships for better or worse. 

connection and love

How to master your emotions in six steps

The best time to handle an emotion is when you first begin to feel and experience it fully. That way it won’t keep popping up time and time again. By following these six straightforward steps, you’ll learn how to master your emotions and take control of your life. 

1. Identify what you’re really feeling

The first step in learning how to master your emotions is identifying what your feelings are. To take that step toward emotional mastery, ask yourself:

  • What am I really feeling right now?
  • Am I really feeling…?
  • Is it something else?

2. Acknowledge and appreciate your emotions, knowing they support you

Emotional mastery does not mean shutting down or denying your feelings. Instead, learning how to master your emotions means appreciating them as part of yourself.

  • You never want to make your emotions wrong.
  • The idea that anything you feel is “wrong” is a great way to destroy honest communication with yourself as well as with others.

3. Get curious about the message this emotion suggests to you

Emotional mastery means approaching your feelings with a sense of curiosity. Your feelings will teach you a lot about yourself if you let them. Getting curious helps you:

  • Interrupt your current emotional pattern.
  • Solve the challenge.
  • Prevent the same problem from occurring in the future.

4. Get confident

The quickest and most powerful route to emotional mastery over any feeling is to remember a time when you felt a similar emotion and handled it successfully. Since you managed the emotion in the past, surely you can handle it today.

5. Get certain you can handle this not only today, but in the future as well

To master your emotions, build confidence by rehearsing handling situations where this emotion might come up in the future. See, hear and feel yourself handling the situation. This is the equivalent of lifting emotional weights, so you’ll build the “muscle” you need to handle your feelings successfully. 

6. Get excited and take action

Now that you’ve learned how to master your emotions, it’s time to get excited about the fact that you can:

  • Easily handle this emotion.
  • Take some action right away. 
  • Prove that you’ve handled it.

Emotional mastery is one of the most powerful skills you can learn to create a life that’s authentic and fulfilling. Get the support you need to take control of your feelings with Tony Robbins’ Ultimate Edge, your resource for building your best life.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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