Let me see if I can paint an accurate picture of your life.
You get thrown off emotionally almost every single day of your life. From petty annoyances to the deep-seated anxieties you have to the over-analyzing of your past and the incessant worrying about the future, you just feel like you’re caught in an endless loop.
That’s what makes it so hard to change your life — the damn looping.
You’re looping all the time and, regardless of how well your life is going on the surface, it’s slowly eating you from the inside.
You know you’re capable of much more than you’re doing right now. You have these dreams and you do see a version of yourself that can pull those dreams off. But you can’t turn off the loop long enough to do it.
As I go on this personal development journey, I keep trying to make educated guesses at what makes people successful. At first, I thought it was motivation. False. Then, I moved onto things like having a great core philosophy on life, finding strengths, picking a direction and sticking to it. Close. But doesn’t tell the whole story.
Emotional regulation is key.
It’s very difficult to regulate your emotions and, by extension, your behavior. You have to combat your lizard brain long enough to let the cortex do the work it needs to do.
So what’s the answer?
Can you fully tame your emotions? I don’t know. I haven’t successfully done it. But I get a centimeter closer to it each day. I can only tell you what I know and what I’ve done. So my advice to you? Fight the uphill battle that is regulating your emotions for…years. Just to get slightly better at it compared to the effort you put in.
That’s the key right there. You have to be willing to make what seems like an unfair trade at first glance.
I don’t even know how many self-help videos I watched to brainwash myself. Thousands. Easily. I’ve meditated every day for five years. I’ve read hundreds of books. I’ve practiced becoming a better thinker in the form of both journaling and publishing my thoughts online. I have dozens of notebooks, hundreds to thousands of notecards, and a seemingly endless amount of scribbled thoughts scattered everywhere.
The ROI on that time, in an absolute sense, is very low. But in relative terms, it’s more than enough.
In football, there’s a saying “It’s a game of inches.” That’s the way I think about success and maintaining enough emotional control to stay the course.
Focus on getting that slightest edge and sustaining it long enough. That’s the whole recipe.
Now for the emotional superpowers.
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”– Morpheus
The more you develop an objective understanding of human nature, the better off you’ll be. The more you focus on the way things are instead of the way things should be, the better off you’ll be. Remove the word should from your vocabulary altogether. It just adds too much emotional context.
You have to see people for who they are, not who you want them to be. This goes for everyone — partners, friends, family, business partners, employees, acquaintances, everyone. Two things are true simultaneously — the people close to you can have an incredibly positive impact on your life and they can also ruin it.
You have to see society and reality itself with a more dispassionate lens. If you don’t, you’ll keep getting thrown off when things continue to happen in ways you feel they shouldn’t happen. The emotional weight of wanting life to be fair is heavy. Let it go.
The point isn’t to become jaded. The point is to simply know this. You don’t become paranoid. You simply become aware.
Books like the 48 Laws of Power become cult classics because they say the things we know to be true deep down but don’t want to admit. We know the behaviors people are prone to. We know the shadow games beneath the surface.
One motto worth embracing — oftentimes, people genuinely can’t help themselves.
When you understand that not only other people but you, are being pushed and pulled by deep-seated emotional levers, you don’t take everything as personally.
Overall, you’re less naive, which is the true goal.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman”
You lie to yourself all the time. You rationalize your decisions constantly. At a deep level, you know this, but you do a good enough job of convincing yourself otherwise that you’re not self-aware enough to change.
The more you’re able to be brutally honest with yourself, the better you’ll be able to navigate life. This is all about removing the extra emotional context from your decisions. Often, the most useful decision is the most emotionally difficult.
You need an accurate map. If you use the wrong, map, you’re lost. This is why people feel lost, even though deep down they know exactly what to do.
Deep down you know exactly what to do. But you won’t do it until you’re honest with yourself and really audit where your life is currently at.
Often, the hardest part is admitting you screwed up and letting go of those sunk costs.
You wasted ten years in the wrong career. Oh well. It’s done. Start a new one. You really don’t want to be with that person, your relationship is a co-dependent mess, you want out, but you’re scared to be alone. Cut the cord. Your life is a culmination of sunk costs and an identity you don’t want but feel you need to maintain. Let it go.
Be honest with yourself about what you want. People pretend to not want the things they don’t think they can get — wealth, health, love, meaning, so it goes. If you want these things, just admit that you just don’t feel capable of getting them, right now. Also, understand that you can get those things in the future.
It’s so trendy to pretend like everything’s ok, like ambition is evil, like settling is cool. Go ahead and live that way if you want but that’s not what I’m doing.
“Handling an emotional crisis leads to greater wisdom and results in lifetime benefits. Fear of life is really the fear of emotions. It is not the facts that we fear but our feelings about them. Once we have mastery over our feelings, our fear of life diminishes.” – Dr. David Hawkins
Read the book Letting Go by Dr. David Hawkins for an in-depth look at how to do this. In the book, he talks about the fact that people never get over their emotional hurdles because they repress their emotions.
You push your emotions down, those emotions develop into low-level anxieties, they bubble up in weird ways that set you back even further. And you keep looping.
The book says to feel the emotions fully so you can let them go.
If you’re angry, be fully angry. Truly mourn. Let that anxiety rise to the surface and see what it feels like for real. If you practice this, you’ll notice that the feeling eventually passes if you fully embrace it.
This is something you’ll have to practice over and over and over and over again. Like I said at the beginning of the post, all of these practices are things you’ll repeatedly do but won’t ever get close to mastering. But you’ll get close enough. That’s the goal.
“Listening to the “unspoken voice” of my body and allowing it to do what it needed to do; by not stopping the shaking, by “tracking” my inner sensations, while also allowing the completion of the defensive and orienting responses; and by feeling the “survival emotions” of rage and terror without becoming overwhelmed, I came through mercifully unscathed, both physically and emotionally.” – Peter A. Levine
Emotions are actually physiological responses.
When you feel embarrassed, you’re not experiencing a thought. You’re feeling something in your body. That heart sinking into your stomach feeling, fast heartbeat, blood rushing to your extremities to prepare to you run or fight.
If you want to improve your ability to regulate your emotions, start observing your physiology.
Are you clenching your jaw right now? Unlock it.
How are you standing? Upright, or shoulders slouched?
Is your breathing contracted or expansive? Where are you breathing from? Deep at the stomach level or from your head?
What is your physiology expressing? Confidence, calmness, nervousness?
What pace do you walk with? How does your gait look?
Start watching it all. In yourself and in others.
Try smiling right now. You feel happier. Weird, right? Stand up razor straight. You feel confident and powerful. I forgot where I read it, but there’s this thing called the “doorway technique” where you straighten your posture anytime you walk into a new room. Boom. You enter with confidence.
Over time, you’ll get a better awareness of these physiological responses and learn to manipulate them. Often, manipulating your physiology first can help the emotions follow suit.
“If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose” – Charles Bukowski
There’s a very subtle distinction between your rationalizing monkey mind and your true intuition.
Your monkey mind tells you what you want to hear, but your intuition is screaming what you need to know. They sound almost exactly the same and you constantly confuse them, but they’re different.
We try to bury our intuition, but it will always remain. Even if you get it to the quietest of whispers it still whispers.
Do the thing you know you need to do deep down in your bones. This is a corollary of being honest with yourself. Bering honest with yourself helps you understand what to do. Fully trusting your intuition helps you carry the decision through.
I had a moment like this months ago when I was at a crossroads. My personal life was falling apart while my professional life was skyrocketing. All the signs were there. I knew I needed to quit my job and permanently end my relationship. I did both and I’m better for it. Because I trusted my intuition, my career took off. My ex and I are in a better place because we’re both out of a situation that simply wasn’t right, good, or fair to either of us. The wounds healed.
Whenever you go against your intuition, it’s like you break an agreement with your deepest and truest self. The more you do this, the less you trust yourself, then you just spiral into learned helplessness and give up responsibility for your life altogether. This makes you hate yourself. You should be the one person in the world who’d look out for yourself, but you can’t even do that.
Most of the negative energy in the world is a collective manifestation of the previous sentence.
At the end of the day, my job as a writer is simply to remind you that you already know what to do with your life. No one is more capable of guiding your life than you. All the tools are there.
Let’s be frank about it. On the whole, most people never get a handle on this at all. It’s evident. The vast majority of the people on this planet do the opposite of what their intuition is telling them to do.
If you do it, you’ll be rare. And you definitely can do it. But, yeah, it’ll be pretty damn hard.
This next tip might be your best shot at pulling it off.
“It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” – Steven Pressfield
Intellectually thinking about how to do something doesn’t work even close to as well as exposing yourself to doing it. Say you’re afraid of public speaking.
You can read 10,000 public speaking books and watch all the TED talks you want, you’ll still be scared shitless the first time you do it. But you’ll be less scared of the 10th. You might barely feel any fear the 100th time you do it. I watched a documentary on Tony Robbins. He was asked if he had stage fright. He sincerely said no and I believe him.
Fear runs us more than any other emotion.
You’re perfectly capable of overcoming fear. You’ve run the scenarios in your mind where you overcome it. But nothing replaces doing the thing.
Do the things often enough and you’ll understand that you won’t die.
No, really. You have to understand that you won’t die because facing fear, rejection, and embarrassment literally create physiological responses that tell your subconscious self that you’re in real danger.
Your brain is trying to protect you. But the software is outdated. There are no more saber-tooth tigers trying to kill you. You don’t live in a tribe anymore. Your wiring doesn’t know that, though.
So you need that exposure to re-wire yourself. I’m no scientist and I know a lot of pop and evolutionary psychology is BS, but at the core, the sentiment is pretty much right.
If you want to survive emotionally, put yourself in the jungle until you’re no longer scared of the lions, tigers, and bears/
How do you make the first step? Like I always say. I don’t have the answer to that.
BUCK UP. It’s tough. But that is the answer.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is. – Eckhart Tolle
In my ambition phase of life, I spent a good deal of it crapping on Eastern Philosophy, which is weird given that I’ve been meditating daily and doing Yoga for a half-decade.
I liked that these practices helped me stay calmer and more relaxed, but I didn’t want to accept the whole surrendering fully to the moment part. I had big dreams. I wanted to make money, be uber-productive, start businesses. I didn’t want to stare at the intricate patterns of flowers and appreciate the beauty of life or some shit like that.
I get it now, though.
Staying present is about not letting the narratives of your past and potential future run your life. You eat up so much emotional bandwidth and capital doing that. Consequently, you spend less time producing the actual outcomes that would provide a better future or make up for the feeling of wasted time.
While I won’t be meditating in a cave any time soon, I do realize that this moment is all there is. The future doesn’t exist. The past can be reframed in many ways, sure, but it’s done. And any ounce of energy spent beating myself up over it does…nothing.
Again, you know this.
You know all of this.
Being present helps you sit with this, though.
Take a moment now to really think and really feel. Do this often enough and you’d be surprised what you get from it.