Control Your Emotions and Control Your Reality: 5 Keys To Getting It Done

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I haven’t posted since June. Plenty of life updates afoot since then; might share those on the site at a later date.

I’m back with a piece that should hit home for everyone.

Our minds control our reality. Everything we do is a result of how we think.

It’s the reason we have so many bad drivers: A moving car is just an extension of the mind operating it

The guy that tailgates, weaves in-and-out of lanes in heavy traffic, slams on the brakes when he had ample time to slow down; same dude that’s quick to anger, focused on immediate gratification instead of long-term wins, and treats discipline like a four-letter word.

Those choices are all born of the same short-term, lack-of-self-control-fueled thinking.

With experience, you (hopefully) gain wisdom and realize that the risk of an accident or moving violation isn’t worth the chance to shave a few seconds of your trip. Run-ins with the law, days wasted in court, spikes in insurance premiums….those get old, fast.

It’s why young men draw the highest insurance premiums. Actuaries know that segment of society is most likely to engage in risky behaviors that cost money. Pressure to fit in with peers, uncertainty about identity, brains not-yet-fully-formed, few entanglements and responsibilities; recipes for volatility.

That 18-34-Year-Old demographic is the most prized target market in advertising for similar reason. Those are the folks most likely to fall for the “What-You-Buy-Determines-Who-You-Are” Myth.  A lack of life experience and a large portion of one’s day spent buried in media create ideal consumers.

Yes, the brand of deodorant you buy defines who you are. More than what you actually produce for yourself and others.

Searching for something to instill meaning in life, we pull out our wallets or latch on to theater around us. Companies know they’ll never go broke providing easy answers for difficult questions, even if those purported solutions fall flat in the long run.

We see that in civic debate, where Identity politics have taken over American governance.

We see it in sports, with die-hard fans. People who wrap themselves in sports fandom, often to drown out the deafening silence in their lives. Their team’s divisional record is a direct reflection of their worth as a person, so any perceived attack on their team is met with indignation; One cross word from a rival fan is all it takes to get that ball rolling.

The post-game scene outside your favorite stadium.

Which brings us back to the theme of this post: managing your emotions so you can maintain peace of mind.

Five Tips for Controlling Your Thoughts (and emotions):

1) Visualize the steps you need to reach your ideal outcome.

2) Abstain from thoughts and images that conflict with your goals.

3) Take physical action to bring your goals to pass.

4) Put events in proper context.

5) Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond when life takes a turn.

1) Visualize the steps you need to reach your ideal outcome.

Your thoughts dictate your emotions; your emotions dictate your actions.

Paint a picture of the ideal outcome and work backwards. What kind of work do you need to put in to get there? Visualize yourself going through the paces. Imagine yourself as a calm, level-headed decision-maker during times of uncertainty and you’ll begin to act that way.

Use your cognitive abilities to support your desires, not thwart them. Visualize what it feels like and looks like to attain your ideal outcome. Your muscle memory will follow suit. You get out what you put in. Fill your (mental) tank with low-grade fuel and you’ll sputter along, struggling to make full use of your abilities and enjoy your daily experience.

2) Abstain from thoughts and images that conflict with your goals.  

Tune in to Food Network and you get hungry: No surprise there. The sights and sounds of cakes and pastas evoke memories of past good times with a fork and spoon. You get to thinking about replicating that enjoyment and next thing you know, you’re wrist-deep in that pie you were saving for Thanksgiving.

Most of us have enough sense to stay away from cooking shows when we’re trying to slim down, yet we forget the persuasive impact of the sights and sounds we subject ourselves to every minute of the day.

When you focus on what you don’t want, your mind brings that to pass. God designed our brains to manifest the images and thoughts we meditate on.

The surest way to miss a shot or drop a pass when you’re in a big game is to continue imagining what it will be like to miss a shot or drop a pass when you’re in a big game.

3) Take physical action to bring your goals to pass.

Talk is cheap. You know that.

Itching to start a business? Want to drop a few pounds? Reading day-after-day of motivational articles will only take you so far. At some point, you’ve got to throw on some sneakers and get to work.

Train your brain to handle inevitable challenges by exposing yourself to them ahead of time. Dedicated practice of the skills you need in trying times arms your mind with evidence that you can handle what comes your way. You get accustomed to the difficulties of certain activities and fear and worry fade away.

4) Put events in proper context.

Restaurant got your pizza order wrong? Cut off in traffic? Friend offered an opinion you disagree with?

Reasons to be angry? Sure. But your level of outrage and subsequent response should be appropriate.

Running the other guy off the road or ending a friendship because you have divergent political views? Too extreme.

Life goes on, even when people around you don’t hold up their end of the bargain.  

5) Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond when life takes a turn.

You choose your level of outrage. You choose your internal and external response to what crosses your path. When things don’t go according to plan, you can take it in stride, minimizing the emotional damage, or fly off the handle.

Like any skill, it takes practice.

To be clear, I’m not pushing the passive-aggressive, conflict-avoidance approach for problem solving.

That line of thinking is rooted in insecurity and a fear that one doesn’t deserve—or lacks the ability to obtain—what one desires. Confident people who know what they want should go after it and not kid themselves about resolving problems that bother them.

Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is an underrated asset. If your first inclination when faced with conflict is to flee, put the work in and change that. 

The best things in life are free, but the brave get first crack at the pickings.

When others screw up, seek recompense where appropriate. Just don’t let it torpedo your entire day.

Resentment, harboring grudges, plotting revenge: these all tie up cognitive resources that could be employed elsewhere. Not only do you keep replaying the offending event in your head, subjecting yourself to repeated emotional trauma, you waste time that could have been spent bettering your life. It’s like re-watching a movie you found torturous the first time around. Give it the proper attention and move on. Odds are the offending party isn’t thinking about it, so the only one significantly-impacted by the event is you. You’re better off getting it out of your mind as quickly as possible.

Avoid counterfactual thinking as well. Imagining what could have been had everything gone according to plan will drive you insane.

Ever played fantasy sports or gambled? You know the pain of the choice (not) taken. 

Managing your expectations of others helps here, too. Like a good defensive driver, assume others will drop the ball and disappointment is less likely to sneak up on you. And definitely don’t hold others to higher standards than you hold yourself;that just makes you a hypocrite. 

Great leaders understand that intuitively.

You’ve got more control over what transpires in your life than you give yourself credit for. 

I’ll give you a personal example to drive the point of emotion control home:

I spent some time in the hospital earlier this year. Shared some details here

When I got out of the hospital, everyone had an opinion on what I needed to do next and how worried I should be about my prognosis.

Any talk about how unstable my condition was or the physical dangers looming in recovery—I shut it down. Started that while I was in the hospital, with visitors who wanted to talk about other people they knew who succumbed to the episode or anxieties about my vulnerability. I only wanted to hear words that facilitated healing, not breathed life into fears.

I wasn’t listening to anything that allowed doubt to creep into my mind; I was only planting seeds that would push me towards a full recovery.

In addition to maintaining a running dialogue with medical specialists, I searched for—and found—present time and biblical examples of people who experienced healing. Case studies are useful for establishing precedent and demonstrating value. Great for inspiration and instructional knowledge, too.

As if this whole ordeal was preordained, I found a number of passages tackling the exact same infirmity I was contending with:

Matthew 9:20-22:

“And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:

For she said within herself, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.”

But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour.”

Part of my recovery protocol entailed months of daily cold showers: Every day, without compromise.

Each time I headed for the shower, a skirmish erupted in my mind: How was I going to handle today’s ice bath? I could choose to think about the discomfort of ice-cold water hitting my skin, which would inspire dread every time I headed for the shower, or focus on the regenerative effects to be had through consistent participation.

Ice baths are great for pain relief and muscle management.

And really, after a initial five-second jolt of “cold”, your body adjusts quickly to the temperature. Cold baths aren’t nearly as traumatic as you’ve been led to believe and they get easier the more you do them.

The decision was made from the get-go, so I wouldn’t waffle when the time arrived.

I knew these ice showers needed to be done and never allowed myself to consider skipping them. When you accept that something needs to be done and focus on the benefits of completing the task, you realize that focusing on the not-so-enjoyable parts is counter-productive. You’ve got to do it anyway, so why not place yourself in a state of mind most conducive to getting it done and not dreading the action going forward?

That’s the formula for beating procrastination in all its forms, whether its getting your homework done or doing the dishes.

Winners learn how to hurdle obstacles that losers shy away from. Controlling your thoughts is the first step for accomplishing that.

Your weekly internment camp or the road to a fulfilling marriage and a shape others will envy: It’s all about how you look at it.

Visualizing worst case scenarios is a poor way to navigate life. That line of negative thinking is the same thought process behind the white-hot fear of public speaking.

Remember that next time you’re in a jam.

Too many Christians respond to uncertainty like unbelievers, letting their emotions run wild when trouble rears. Only after self-inducing complete despair do they ask God—in a passive way, no less—to restore peace and solve their problems..

“Stress” wasn’t a team member I needed for my recovery journey, so reining in my thoughts and emotions was paramount. If you stop imagining panic-inducing outcomes, you stop panicking. I refused to let my heart be troubled, kept cool, acted in faith, and got every result I was looking for—and then some.

God is great.

When the unexpected happens, your first response dictates the outcome. You dwell on all that could go wrong and that self-fulfilling prophecy comes to pass.

You can throw up your hands and bemoan the world around you or get to work sculpting your environment to your tastes; it’s all in your hands.

A steady hand—and mind— at the wheel will carry you far.

All of this sound crazy? You think the vagaries of life mean your mental state needs to fluctuate to mirror anything that comes your way?

That’s because we’re so accustomed to taking our normative cues from the people around us—many of whom base their actions on the whims of what’s popular at the moment—instead of a more grounded authority.

Even the tallest tree needs solid roots—the base we cannot see—to withstand the elements.

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