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9 bite-sized steps to crack down on negative emotions so you can live a more fulfilling life
Aren’t you tired of all the commonplace emotional advice on the web?
You’re searching to learn how to keep yourself from exploding with anger every time.
Yet all you get is shallow advice like...
Anger is dangerous because it could make you kill your husband blah… blah… blah… So take a walk when you feel it coming on. And, oh! Don’t forget to go see a professional before it's too late.
You've got negative emotions churning around in your head as though you're in grave danger. And you’re desperate for help to stop you feeling helpless...
Yet all you get is patronizing advice like...
Anxiety can be defined as blah… blah… blah… Make sure you don't get hooked on anxiety meds...
Or you're trying to twist the negative emotions you feel into motivation so you can become a better functioning person...
But then you get drab advice like...
Depression is a chemical problem in your brain blah… blah… blah… Go outside and breathe fresh air...
Sure, if you are just looking for simple advice that slap a plaster on your emotional wound. Advice that only give you temporary relief…
Then these short-term advises would be sufficient.
But if you are actually looking to make your life better for the long term. And you’d like to help yourself break free from the burden of negative emotions…
Then you need tangible step by step advice that can uproot the foundations of your emotional problems.
So, if you are ready to put in the necessary work to achieve a more peaceful life, then this article is for you.
Let’s dive in…
The first problem with managing negative emotions is that they never show up squeaky-clean. They always come packed with many more yucky emotions and additional problems that will make your best efforts feel like you are running in tar.
To elaborate, here’s an example..
Clara (not real name) came to therapy looking rough and tired. She was achy all over and frustrated about feeling constantly exhausted no matter if she slept for 10 hours or for 24 hours.
Naturally this made life at home and at work difficult.
She had so many jobs round the house piling up and a humongous list of tasks to tick off at work. And could not see how to get through everything feeling this exhausted.
On asking how she would like therapy to help her...
Clara answered with a big problem statement.
"I want to feel like I can function normally and not be so anxious all the time. Because If I'm less tired, I could be more focused and have more energy to complete stuff.”
When faced with a big emotional problem like this, most people just tackle it head on, with no clear plan or direction to work from.
This is like traveling on an unfamiliar journey with no map, yet expecting the journey to be fruitful.
Doing this makes your negative emotions impossible to manage.
There are just too many moving parts. Too many areas to worry about. You get so overwhelmed by the emotional problem that it's easier to avoid it and instead find cupboards to clean or floors to sweep.
Any emotional problem you avoid eventually becomes a vicious monster that returns to attack you.
It's a cycle that gets increasingly destructive over time.
So how do you tackle an emotional problem that’s way too big to manage?
Would you like to know?
The first place to start is to create a map of your big emotional problem. Because maps make it drastically easy to get anywhere, this will help us discover exactly how to tackle the unruly big problem.
To create an emotional problem map, you start by writing your big emotional problem at the top of an A4 sheet of paper.
I’ll use Clara’s example...
As I mentioned before, Clara's big emotional problem was "I want to feel like I can function normally and not be so anxious all the time"
Your big emotional problem could be...
"I want to motivate myself to do the things that I hate? Like paying bills or going to doctor's appointments."
"I want to stop having panic attack at random times even when I'm not feeling stressed?"
So, write your big emotional problem statement at the top of the paper.
However, remember what I said earlier....
This emotional problems statement will look deceptively simple. And you may be tempted to chastise yourself for being so weak that such a flimsy problem would defeat you.
But as you'll soon see, these emotional problem statements are excessively bloated under the hood.
So, to uncover all the gunk underneath…
List any life obstacle you experience that contributes to your big negative emotion.
You could brain storm for the different obstacles you faced in the last week. Select a list of those obstacles that are related to your big emotional problem.
Then draw short arrows, from the big emotional problem statement like in the diagram below. One arrow for each of the obstacles you uncover.
For Clara, the related obstacles were...
Energy problems, sleep problems, low self-esteem and poor confidence, high anxiety levels and depression.
Focus on each of these obstacles. Giving all your attention to one obstacle at a time to break them down further.
Use examples of recent situations were these obstacles occurred.
So for example…
Clara chose to focus on her fear of attending therapy. She remembered how attending her first therapy session terrified her.
Once you got an example situation to work from, draw an arrow down from its obstacle and write down the word “trigger” like you can see below.
The trigger is anything that activates the obstacle you are trying to manage.
In Clara's case, her trigger was…
"Leaving the house to go for her therapy."
After writing your trigger down, draw an arrow going clockwise up to the 3 o'clock point of the circle…
Then write down the word “thoughts.”
At this point, try to recall the thoughts that were triggered by this obstacle.
For example, Clara’s thoughts were.
"What if therapy’s just too painful? Perhaps I'm not strong enough for therapy, Am I sure I really want to get better. I don't want to waste the therapist's time. Maybe I really don't need this and it's all in my head. I don't really want to do this.
As you can see, the thoughts are written down in form of sentences.
Next, draw an arrow from your thoughts to the 6 o'clock point of the circle
And write down the word feeling.
This indicates that the thoughts you have about your triggers tends to dictate how you feel.
So, look at each though you listed in step 5 above and ask yourself how each thought makes you feel.
In Clara's case the feelings highlighted were fear and frustration.
To help you complete this section, here are a list of feelings to choose from as you consider each of your thoughts.
Anger, Annoyed, Fear, Sadness, Bored, Disgusted, Surprised, Anticipate, Overwhelmed, Panic, Confused, Anxious, Perplexed, Pathetic, Helpless, Empty, Hollow, Stressed, Depressed, Jittery, Jealous
Choose one that fits with how you are feeling and plug it into this spot, then move on to the next step.
Once you’ve written the feelings down, draw another arrow from that point to around 7 o'clock of the circle.
At this point write down the word reaction.
How did you react when your feelings got triggered?
Clara confessed that her anxiety and frustration usually led to her avoiding therapy. This was why it took her so long to get help.
So, she wrote avoid therapy down under reaction.
Now, it’s helpful to note that your reactions can take many forms. It could take the form of physically doing something with your body. It could take the form of avoiding doing anything.
It could take the form of you thinking in a specific way. And it could take the form of you trying your best not to think at all.
So, once you pinpoint what your reaction is, note it down here and move on…
Next, draw another arrow from reaction to about 10 o'clock of the circle and write-down the word outcome.
Your outcome would be any thing that happens to you as a direct result of your reaction.
Clara commented that the outcome of avoiding therapy was that she would never get fixed. Her emotional problems would remain unsolved.
And whilst this was true, there is often and initial outcome most people fail to notice...
This initial outcome is crucial to notice because its emotional impact on you can be likened to having a six-thousand-kilogram elephant sitting on top of your head and crushing it…
Why would I use such a drastic metaphor?
I’ll take a short detour to elaborate what I mean here. Because what I’m about to reveal now holds the key to stopping you from being emotionally weak and vulnerable.
The emotional trap that holds you in painful limbo
You see, once you have reacted in a way that helps you to avoid any threatening situation, you’ll initially feel relieved that you didn’t have to face your threats.
For instance, Clara's initially felt relieved when she decided against attending therapy.
This initial relief is a very powerful outcome that can make you addicted to avoidance.
Because it convinces you that you have made the best decision, that’s why you are no longer feeling anxious, depressed or stressed. And like an addict, your brain will keep driving you to take this reaction because remembers that you only felt better the last time because you took this reaction.
This was exactly how Clara felt. In her mind, Thinking about going to therapy was equals to increased anxiety, sleepless nights and nightmares. And in contrast, avoiding thinking about therapy made her fear disappear. This contrasting feelings convinced Clara that avoiding therapy was the safest decision for her.
So in step 8, you want to look for any reactions you take that appears to give you a way out of the difficult situation like this.
Notice that I said appears to give you a way out. Because these seemingly helpful reactions will usually boomerang back at you with more life problems and more intense negative emotions. And becoming fully aware of this contradicting dynamic is the only thing that can make you become emotionally stronger.
To help you figure out which of your reactions might be locking you in an emotional mess like this check out this article on 36 (crazy) positive habits that crank up your anxiety and depression.
So, in addition to what you have already written for your outcome, also write down “short-term relief.”
Once you done that, draw the final arrow back to trigger then move on to the next step.
Please pay close attention now as I am about to reveal the most important point in this article.
In step 9, you take a closer look at your reactions in the cycle.
Because, your reaction here hands you the solutions to the big negative emotion on a platter.
It gives you the key to breaking free of the emotional problems forever. And I mean this literally!
is to do the opposite to the reactions within your cycles. This is the essential action you must take to stop yourself from being too emotional.
But now, she realized that the avoidance was an emotional trap, she knew she had to go the opposite way and actually go to therapy.
And the outcome of going to therapy was that she stopped worrying about therapy, she stopped having sleepless nights because of therapy, and she stopped feeling like a failure for doing nothing about her negative emotions because she was now actively doing something.
Important note: In most cases doing the opposite reaction would be too emotionally challenging. As such, it is essential to chunk this opposite reaction down into baby steps...
Cut it down to as small as you need to make it easy for you to address. If you still feel some emotional resistance blocking you from doing the opposite, then you haven't chunked it down small enough.
As an example, before Clara could brave physically going to therapy, she had to do a few little things first. The first small step was to spend 5 to 10 minutes a day researching different types of therapy online.
Then the next small step was to ask people in forums what types of therapy had worked for them.
Note that whilst these small steps helped to refine Clara’s choice of therapy, the small steps served a bigger role of helping her mind and body get accustomed to the threat of therapy.
This way she gradually built immunity against the anxiety of going to therapy.
Let’s quickly summarize what we have done so far so you don’t lose focus.
Great, now return to the steps…
Now, let’s apply the strategy to one more related problem area. Perhaps one that feels more difficult to address. This way, you get a deep understanding of how the process works.
Remember That Clara’s tiredness was making her increasingly anxious because it stopped her from being effective at home and at work.
Here’s a quick summary of how we applied the strategy to this issue.
Tired all the time
"Why do I get so tired from just doing simple tasks like cooking or cleaning?"
“Something must be medically wrong.”
“I must be doing something wrong to make myself so tired.”
“People will think I am lazy.”
“My friends will think I am not taking them seriously. I can’t afford to lose any more friends.”
Foggy mind, whole body hurts annoyed, anxious, guilty, and sad/depressed
Pretend that she is fine and happy all the time. Never say no to invites from friends
Push herself to do things all the time as resting made her feel lazy.
Constantly at the doctor’s asking for test and medical exams
Initially felt relieved that she has not disappointed her friends. But all the pretence tires her out making her worry about being asked out again.
Initially felt proud of herself for completing some home tasks but this then knocks her out and she can hardly remain awake over the next three days.
Initially feels hopeful as she visits doctors for examinations ant tests, but then receives disappointment after disappointment as each test highlights that there is nothing physically wrong with her. All adding to her feelings of exhaustion.
Hopefully you can see how Clara’s reaction here is keeping her locked in this emotional loop. The more the follows this course of reactions, the worse her tiredness would get which would then make her overall anxiety ten times more painful.
Now, to address her fatigue and energy problem, all Clara did was to take opposite steps to her usual reactions by occasionally telling her friends she cannot make it. And also by allowing herself to rest more often without criticizing herself for doing so.
And the outcome of doing this…
She slowly felt less tired and was gradually able to do more things without feeling like all her energy had drained out of her. And this contributed to making her overall anxiety less.
Because she now had a good understanding of what was driving her to become overly emotional in the first place. Her massive emotional problem no longer felt like a colossal unmanageable beast.
Now, how does this all apply to you?
Hopeful you can see how we have taken what seems like a big unmanageable emotional problem and broken it down into little chunks and then broken that down further into littler chunks.
But you might be thinking…
Why not just go straight to tackling the emotions? Why go through all this long winded process?
Going straight at negative emotion without following the above process would be like throwing spaghetti at the wall and wishing for something to stick.
You’d be relying on trial and error, going through thousands of solutions to find what works. And this is bound to demotivate you. It is bound to make you feel like a failure.
The approach I’m advocating in this article, gives you a way to shoot right at the heart of your negative emotion. It gives you the much needed insight to pick the best solution that would allow you to resolve the negative emotion fast.
This is what experienced therapists do when you visit them with an emotional problem. Therapists aren’t magicians, they’ve just developed a well-honed skill to pinpoint the core of your negative emotion. And find the best solution.
Following the system I’ve laid out today gives you the best chance to develop that skill for yourself too.
Just read this feedback from one of my former clients. I used this same process to help her understand the true core of her problem, and this enabled her to recover and get back to her life in just five weeks.
“Seriously this has been a fantastic therapy with a 100% turn around for me. I have attended just 5 weeks and I feel I have benefited from being honest and true to myself… Your style really works. You have some life experiences and practical steps that make these therapy sessions worthwhile. This has helped with my speedy recovery….
Before I started with you, I had to resign from a stressful job that I was so unhappy about. I had lost my self-esteem and was emotionally torn apart. Very lonely tearful and disengaging with people.
To God be all the Glory, by the 5th StressTherapy session with you, I was able to apply for a new job and I received the good news just last week that I got the new Job!! I can only give credit to you for your patience and understanding, professional composition of the workshops and lectures and your consistency in the delivery of your material. Many thanks from a very pleased customer
Why am I sharing this testimonial with you?
Because, what I have given you today is the building block that can help you transform everything. It can help you rebuild your feelings, rebuild your thoughts and rebuild your reactions to life.
And this will boost your ability to control your emotions…
Rather than your emotions controlling you.
Twice a month I hop on a conference call to teach, answer questions, and give feedback to members of the Take Back Control Program.
If you'd like to succeed at learning how to cope emotionally without wasting years making mistakes because of trial and error, then come join us.
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