Updated: Feb 17, 2020
How do you react when you miss your train? Or lose your Ray Bans? Or are facing bankruptcy?
Do you immediately get angry? Like: “Life, can you give me a freaking break?!?!”
Or do you feel sad, like: “What a loser, you can’t even catch the right train!” Or do you have suicidal thoughts?
How easily do you lose your peace and joy?
That’s the best way to know how emotionally tough you are. Or are not.
Going into sadness and self-pity reveals that you are operating under a victim mentality: “the world is out to get me and I can’t even manage the most simple things. Poor me… :( “
Going into anger is an indication that you feel entitled: “the world/God/the universe owes me and that bastard’s not delivering…! Arghhh!”
Both of these emotions - or attitudes - make our situations worse and rob us of our capacity to solve problems.
Emotions are necessary
Emotional strength does not mean that we have no emotions. Definitely not. In fact, individuals who are afraid to face their own emotions escape into a fantasy reality by becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, entertainment, food, work, sleep… anything to numb their feelings and take their minds away from the unpleasant reality they feel incapable of handling.
In other words, emotions are a necessary part of life. You could call them the entertainment of life!
Too much entertainment, however, leads to chaos! When we find that our emotions are too easily triggered, we end up in an emotional roller coaster - shifting quickly between emotions all triggered by outer events, many of them outside of our control. One minute we are ecstatic because our team won the football match; the next minute we feel like sh*t because we spilled some milk on the floor. These ups and downs robs us of energy, life, and opportunities.
So, what does emotional strength look like?
Being emotionally strong means that we are neither dominated by our emotions nor afraid of them. Instead, we are emotionally strong when we are fully aware of our emotions and can decide when and where to release them and in what proportion.
For instance, we might let out a sigh of frustration upon missing our train, but not let it go further than that and quickly shift into a problem-solving attitude.
However, when confronted with the death of a loved one, the demise of our marriage or our childhood traumas, we allow ourselves the necessary time and intensity to mourn our loss - without any shame. On the contrary, we dare to show our vulnerability.
Accept life isn't perfect
In practice, we can build our emotional strength through a 3-step process. I invite you to do this exercise with me right now: think of a difficult situation that you are facing in your life. Now go through these steps with me:
Firstly, shift into an attitude/emotion of acceptance. Accept with all your heart that life is not perfect and that we will all face challenges in our lives. All of us. You are not a victim, you are not the only one facing difficulties, you didn’t get the worst lot in life. You are just a normal human being.
Acceptance requires humility and the acknowledgement that we are not gods and thus not entirely responsible for everything in life. We create our realities to some extent, but not 100%.
Do not try to look for who’s guilty… or why it had to happen… or how it could have been avoided… or what you or anyone else could have done differently.
Just accept. Say out loud: “this is how things are right now. I accept that ____________________________________________ (e.g. my daughter is sick/my husband died/my business is not going well/I’m bankrupt/I missed my train/I’m getting divorced.) I accept it and make peace wholeheartedly with life/God/the universe.”
If you have accepted the situation exactly as it is, you will feel the peace that comes with acceptance. It is a beautiful feeling indeed. Peace is all we ever want anyways.
Don't waste energy on useless emotions
Secondly, shift into an attitude/emotion of problem-solving. Once there is acceptance, there is no longer the need to fight or deny the situation. Your energy is not wasted in those useless emotions.
Instead, ask yourself what it is that you could start doing right away to turn this situation into a blessing. In which area is this situation asking you to grow? How would you need to change to be able to solve this problem? What would you need to believe to see this as an opportunity? How is this a gift to you? How could this be a win-win?
Shift into action
Thirdly, shift into an attitude/emotion of action. Once you have determined a possible solution, move into action. Thought without action leads to confusion. Work out a rough action plan - you can refine it and revise it as you go along. Do a to-do list. Determine what is the first action step that you need to take and do it immediately. In other words, get going right away before your mind high-jacks you!
If you need help in developing your emotional strength, work with a coach. Being emotionally tough will save you so much suffering. Imagine all the sadness and anger that we put our loving souls through each day, many times a day - and most of the time, totally unnecessarily!
Decide to walk a different path from now on. Decide to take hold of your emotions, before they take a hold of you!
Learn the truth about emotions: they are totally malleable. They are clay in a potter’s hands…. and you are the potter!
Yes, you can become emotionally tough and find the elusive happiness that we all seek. It’s always been there.
Article originally appeared in Business Fit Magazine - Sept 2018 issue