Change Your Feelings About the Emotions that Scare You!

The tank is on empty. I’ve been running for only about an hour and a half now and I’ve still got over four hours left in this race.  My anxiety is on high alert.  I’ve been training in 60 degree temperatures, but, lucky for me (that’s sarcasm by the way) the weather on this glorious morning is already in the 80’s … and I’m only an hour and a half in.  I’ve already changed my shirt, re-filled my water bladder, and I KNOW it is a bad sign to be feeling that all-too-familiar sluggishness that usually comes during the late stages of an endurance race.  No gas and I’m breaking into walks … walks that I didn’t decide on.  Needless to say, that anxiety I’m feeling?  Well, it’s giving me anxiety and that’s not gonna work.

Everything that I know about endurance sports is that they are about planning, making smart decisions, and building a great mental game to deal with the adversity of uncomfortable emotions.  This is one of the major reasons I love them so much, and probably one of the most important things I feel I get out of them, because the way you feel about your emotions determines the actions that you take.   

But, at the moment I’m in it and anxiousness is telling me that, with this much left to go on the race, it’s time to slow down and change my plan.  My relationship with this anxiety for many years has been an adversarial one.  I should ‘get over it’.  I need to ‘overcome’ my anxiety. Controlling it was another option I’ve tried.  After much trial and error, and many bouts with it, I’ve come to this conclusion: 

I need to change my relationship with my anxiety.

Alan Watkins, a leading physician and neuroscientist in the study of emotions, puts it best; he said most of his colleagues don’t even know that there is a difference between feelings and emotions.  I have to say, I didn’t know this truth for most of my life.  The main difference is this:  on a physiological level emotions are simply energy in motion in your body.  They can develop for all sorts of reasons, or just simply because of regular or irregular bodily functions.  There are techniques (ex. breathing regulation) and other tools you can practice to help that energy in motion flow in your body, so that you feel more comfortable.  But, one of the major ways we can change our physiology and energy in motion so we can have the information they provide at our brain’s proverbial fingertips at all times:

You can change how you feel about them. 

If anxiety is your thing, meaning it’s a thing that seems to come up for you a lot in your life, then how you feel about it is going to determine how long it lasts in your system, and the intensity and duration that you’re going to feel when it’s there.  That’s the great thing about feelings.  You get to choose them.  While an emotion is the physiological energy in motion that’s coursing through your body because of a catalyst like a  cheeseburger you ate at midnight last night, or a blaring horn from a guy who thinks you cut them off, the feeling is your take on it. Your perspective on that energy in motion.

For me, on race day, one of the things that I pull on is the fact that a little bit of anxiousness has always led me to sharpen my focus.  It always brings my attention to the full picture of the situation I am in. Think about it. If I didn’t know that I was overheating, or that I was having trouble early on in the race how could I adjust my efforts and still complete something that was important to me?  

Like most of us, I really don’t like to feel uncomfortable emotions.  But without checking in from time to time on what they’re actually telling me, and, instead, just trying to get rid of them because they don’t feel good, I begin to develop an emotional prejudice against them. The truth is I most likely would run myself into the ground without that little bit of anxiousness, because I wouldn’t even know that I was having a problem.

Your emotion might be fear, shame, or self doubt that you are having an almost ‘adversarial relationship’ with.  Whatever emotions scare you, here are a few things that you can do to change your relationship, and therefore your feelings about those emotions, so they can become a blessing rather than a curse.

Is this emotion useful? 

OK, granted I know this isn’t an easy question to ask yourself when you’re actually in the midst of fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, but just knowing that it’s useful in the task you find yourself in sometimes is enough to bring that emotion into perspective.  Once that happens, you can then bring your mind back to the task at hand, because it’ll be less overwhelmed by the emotion. Charge yourself to not just try and rid yourself of that scary emotion, but rather to figure out if it is useful to the situation that you’re in. 

How is this emotion useful?

Much of the time an uncomfortable emotion like anxiety isn’t just showing up in your body because it has nothing else to do. Challenge yourself to take a moment and examine the possible benefits they may be providing you in the moment at your in. For me that anxiety I was feeling was letting me know that I needed to slow up, take in more fluids, and make a game plan for the next 4 hours.

If appropriate, take action based on what that emotion is telling you. 

It’s true that sometimes we are rolling mental film in our brains, running thoughts in our heads that keeps anxiety or fear alive long past their use.  If this is the case, then we need to roll different mental film that can change the way we feel.  Sometimes feeling the pain of an emotion we don’t particularly like, has us bee-line to this option before we consider the actions that our emotion might be suggesting.  Consider taking the action that your fear or anxiety might be suggesting.  First, it might be exceptionally helpful for whatever situation you’re in, and secondly, most of the time (again, unless we’re running that mental film) it would allow the emotion to dissipate naturally on its own.

I decided that the anxiety was helpful, providing valuable information for me.  I choose to take action based on what my anxiety was telling me.  I embraced the walk and made it a decision not to run until my anxiety lessened.  I ate some food.  I remembered that this race was about time, not a distance.  I took the pressure off by reminding myself that I could always walk if I had to for the next four hours (although I knew in the depths of my mind that  probably wouldn’t happen).  I took action on what my anxiety was telling me, and watched it dissipate over the next half an hour, got my legs back (somewhat :), and got a slow run going again.  

This week, challenge yourself to acknowledge an uncomfortable emotion that comes up for you around something you need to accomplish.  Allow it in like an old friend.  What’s it trying to tell you?  Is it good information?  How do you feel about the emotion once you’ve considered what it is telling you?  Is there an action you can take that will help you achieve the activity you need to get done based on what that emotion is telling you?  After you take that action, consider if you feel differently about that emotion now.  I’d love to hear how this challenge goes for you!  Enter your experience in the comments below!

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Part 4: Find The Bullseye in Your Memory!

We’re not talking about darts or “X” marks the spot (no pirate’s treasure chest). The thing is, emotions are not just something to tray and govern when they come around by the off chance, they are something to cultivate! Positive emotions like confidence, joy, connection, or hope can fuel your efforts and strengthen your resolve when you decide to go after anything in your life. Visualization is a powerful method for cultivating the emotions you want in order to center yourself to succeed.

Just to give a quick review, over the past three blogs we’ve talked about the power of visualization to cultivate emotion for yourself, how to visualize our memories to get the emotions that we want, and how to use our imagination to enhance those memories, ‘boosting’ their potency to generate more of the emotions that we want. Finally, we left logic and reason behind, and decided to create emotions solely from our imagination! We learned to go after the feelings that we want, not judge ourselves for whatever imagery or whatever came up for us as long as it gave us the emotions we wanted. 

Over the years, the number one question I’ve gotten from people I’ve coached in doing any kind of emotional visualization exercise is always, “Where do I start?” You think there would be a simple answer, right? Some people start at the beginning of a memory, while others leave memory altogether and focus solely on visualization from their imagination. The thing is…

There’s no one right starting point when we are using visualization to create emotions within ourselves.  But, if you are choosing to visualize using a memory, the best place that I know to start is always the bullseye.

When we recall an event, the bullseye is the first thing that springs to mind for us from that memory. We remember it easily. It’s rich in detail, filled with vivid color, with sounds, and images that are strong and easily accessible. 

I have a fantastic memory of getting the game ball when I played highschool football, complete with my entire team standing up and cheering for me in the locker room, and my coach saying amazing things about me. Do you know where that memory’s bullseye is? It is when my hand grabbed the door of the locker room right before I entered the scene of the memory. That’s right. no cheers. No game ball. In fact, I wasn’t feeling particularly good about myself at that moment because I thought I was just returning my pads and a helmet after having a season-ending injury during a football game. 

But, there was incredible emotional energy within me as I stood at that door. Every single time I think about this memory I always think about my hand grabbing that door handle. Then a flood of all the imagery, sounds, sights: friends shaking my hands, pats on the back, coach’s voice, the game ball in my hand…all of it comes. But it all starts with me remembering my hand on that door. 

Have you ever had someone tell you about a wonderful memory that they had where they met their spouse or their sweetheart, the incredible time that they had, and how it was one of the most important memories in their life? If you asked them what their bullseye was, what do you remember most, they would most likely say something like: it was waiting in the line at the airport to get their bags checked. 

A bullseye can come before, in the middle, or even at the end of your memory. You know it is the bullseye because it opens the flood of emotions that you’re seeking. A bull’s-eye is like a powder keg ready to explode and you, as the author of your memory, are brought right back to that very special moment and everything that happened every time. Let’s talk about how you find the bullseye for yourself in a memory that holds the emotions you are looking for. When you identify the bullseye, then you will have an easier time calling that memory to mind for yourself any time you want to tap the emotions it creates within you. 

Let’s Practice  

Find the bullseye in any memory to squeeze the most joy, connectedness, love,confidence, or any other awesome emotion for yourself as efficiently as you can!

Decide on the memory – When deciding on the memory, make sure that it’s going to give you the emotions you’re looking for. When you bring it up in your mind, the emotion(s) you want should be right there with it! You may have to try several memories out, and that’s normal.  Once you have the memory that’s giving you the emotion you want…

Focus on the first thing you thought of when you recalled that memory –  It may not have been an ‘all important’ part of the memory, but it’s your starting point! Don’t worry if it seems trivial, it’s just where you are going to pivot your focus from.  

Now do a 360 pivot of your memory – Two things are going to be able to allow you to get the most emotional charge from your memory. The importance you give it in your mind, and the length of time you are able to hold it! You want to be able to rewind, go forward, and basically take a 360 view of everything that has happened. The richer the detail the better! Dive deep into your five senses recalling sights, sounds, tastes, textures, smells, everything that surrounded you and was part of that memory. By doing this, you are filled with the emotions just as if what you were recalling was actually happening in the moment. This exercise enables you to step forward into whatever challenge you are facing with the emotional center that will help you succeed.

If you do any kind of meditation practice, it may be good to consider giving over five minutes of that practice to finding your bullseye and pivoting around it. If meditation isn’t your thing, no problem! Consider when you walk, exercise, take a shower, any time you have where you are alone and can focus down to bring up that memory’s bullseye, and develop its ability to give the emotions that will help you accomplish whatever is most important to you! 

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Understanding Your Why and Let Your Emotions Flow

I remember when the fear hit.  I was  listening to somebody tell me about how the capital is being overtaken and how a bunch of police officers got maced. I don’t know if I was just in shock and couldn’t believe it actually happened, or poor cell service (truly a possibility in my area), but I remember thinking, A few hundred people stormed the capital in Georgia?  I’m not saying this would’ve been any better mind you, but it is quite a different thing than a few thousand people marching on our capital in Washington.

I remember the rest of the day feeling ‘off’.  Physical tightness in my chest.  Irritable.  Tired.  My voice seemed to lose a bit of its timber.  I know the rules.  I’m all about following the steps to create my own emotional state, and I know I don’t want to stay in fear that’s for sure.  I have identified the fear, I’m listening to it like I’m supposed to, and now I’m looking for the ‘why’.   That’s what’s supposed to help, isn’t it?  I’m talking to people on stage, hosting workshops, and doing one-on-one coaching all about how our ‘why’ separates us from our emotion, and it’s true. But never has it said anywhere that your ‘why’ is a flotation device, keeping you above the cold water of fear.  Nothing was going to save me from having to feel the fear, it’s just going to let me know why it’s there.  

I know you hear things like this and you always think to yourself, when everybody talks about this event, fear is just going to come on, but I know that so I’ll be ready for it.  It makes sense right?  If I’m at home watching the news, or Joe Schmoe brings it up when I’m standing in line at Shaws, then it is completely normal for me to have fear and anxiety.  My chest will probably tighten up then, I will remind myself that I KNOW exactly why, so then that feeling will go away.  Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.  I wish it did.

Understanding your why – what it is that is causing you to have these feelings, helps you separate from those emotions, detach, so that you can then ask: are these feelings helping me or are they hindering me.  Only then can you determine what it is that you want.  Until you detach, you are being ruled by your emotions, rather than you being able to use the information that they provide to then make the decision on what you want.

Trying to consider all of the emotions that we could possibly feel on any given day would be unfathomable.  It is the difference between trying to count the grains of sand on a beach, or trying to stop and separate water molecules as you go down a barrel in Niagara Falls.  You may be seperate from the water, because of the barrel, but you are in the experience nonetheless.  Every time a catalyst, whether outside of us or inside of us, pulls or pushes on us energetically, ‘why’ tells us what we’re reacting to.  But, understanding ‘how’ we stay in our barrel (our mental-emotional center) seems to be all important.

It’s almost impossible to ask ‘why’ for every emotion that we have every day.  But we do need to take the time to do this when we find we have emotions that are not serving us, or that are keeping us from doing what we want or need to do each day.  So, how do you understand ‘why’ something is causing you to experience this emotion?  When something huge happens it sets off a cascade of feelings in us.  Figuring out the ‘why’ can be darn near impossible when we are compromised by our emotions.  This could leave us trying to go through hundreds if not thousands of “reasons” as to why we are feeling a certain way, waiting to come up on that magical answer that, once acknowledged, allows us to feel better spontaneously.  Again this would be fantastic. 

First you have to stop the story that is perpetuating the emotion.  Continuing to run the story (“The capital is being overrun and the whole world is going to crap!”) only prolongs the suffering.  So, you have to stop.  You may have to literally change the environment for yourself: go for a walk, play a game on your phone, watch the clouds… You have to step out of the situation either physically or internally for a moment to get some space.  In my case, I connected with my daughter and we went for a walk.

Then, once you’ve had some space, ask yourself: “What is going on? Why is this hitting me so hard?”  And know that there will never be just one answer.  There are usually an accumulation of issues that you can identify that are causing this particular thing to have the weight to pull on your emotions so hard.  In my case, with the capital, it was realizing that this was happening along with a pandemic that has been going on for almost a year, the political climate has been in upheaval for several years, we haven’t been able to connect with our friends in many months,…  All of these things in and of themselves have caused fear within me.  The capital hit so hard because it piled on one more layer of fear that literally felt insurmountable to me.  Once I was able to acknowledge this, I could then consider this emotion of fear within that perspective and I understood that this feeling was not me, nor was it new to me.  It was a piece of a greater whole.  And staying in the fear, at the moment, did not serve me.  

Training ourselves to use what’s outside of us and what’s inside of us to create our reality in our emotional state takes tremendous training and dedication.  You can expect setbacks.  But it will allow you to have a much fuller, less reactionary life.  So, I had to decide what would serve me in the moment?  I decided that it was playing Exploding Kittens with my children.  Game on!