Emotional fitness: Embrace your inner experience for external mastery
We’ve all been there. Life isn’t going so well, and we become convinced an external resolution will solve everything. We decide that changing our body/job/relationship will somehow rectify our dissatisfaction or unhappiness. We create high level coping mechanisms designed to change how we feel which ultimately only enable us to tolerate the stagnation at a more acceptable level. We improve our diet, attend the gym, update our CV and feel momentarily empowered. Things feel better for a while but sooner or later, subtle levels of unease and dissatisfaction creep back in, our mood drops, motivation fizzles out and we find ourselves back where we started.
The temptation to look to external solutions to transform our lives is understandable. After all, we live in a consumer culture that inundates us with quick fixes and glamorous, instantaneous solutions; convincing us there is nothing that can’t be bought. And yet when it comes achieving a sense of meaning, connection and fulfilment, there is no short cut or quick fix and it’s most certainly not for sale. So much of our disillusionment and life dissatisfaction stems from a poor sense of self-worth and a lack of self-acceptance and awareness. We are rich in knowledge but poor in wisdom and have become completely disconnected from ourselves. Our ability to tolerate discomfort or uncertainty drives us into the arms of avoidance, numbing, distraction and self-soothing through whatever our particular poison is; ranging from shopping and work success to alcohol and social media.
We struggle to accept that one of the core components of our unhappiness stems from something as basic as our inability to regulate our emotions. And yet the root cause of so much life dissatisfaction is emotional dysregulation and avoidance. Very few of us are given the skills necessary to navigate our emotional experience in childhood. In addition, we have often been conditioned into thinking of emotionality as a negative quality or a sign of weakness. The focus instead is on academic learning and very little importance is placed on the significant role emotions play in multiple facets of our lives
And yet our emotional responses influence our thoughts, beliefs, actions and behaviours. They have a massive role to play in our interpretation of ourselves, others and the world around us. They impact heavily on every decision and our overall mood, which in turn effects our motivation levels. Intellectually, we may understand our experiences yet if we are at the mercy of untethered emotions, we will always struggle to maintain consistency, objectivity and rationale.
Learning to identify, tolerate, regulate and healthily express our emotions is the key to a life that is rich in meaning and connection. It’s an essential skill when it comes to navigating successful relationships (personally and professionally), maintain composure and feel self-assured, and yet we struggle so much to embrace our emotive elements. We have been taught for so long to avoid negative emotions at all costs; and so we repress and deny, all the time creating internal conflict and disharmony. The problem is that when we are unaware of our emotions, they steer the ship without our awareness. We lash out or take offense and retreat within ourselves, without knowing why our reactions feel so intense. Our moods do a merry dance making life challenging and resulting in reactivity instead of productivity, connection and subjective wellbeing.
Becoming emotionally aware is a simplistic yet challenging process. The only way out is through. It’s about silencing the outer layers of influence, the need to approval and acceptance, the reluctance to be present and explore the internal experience; both positive and negative. It’s about feeling your emotions, recognising them and tolerating them. Deep breathing and meditation are powerful practices that give us an insight into the conscious awareness we should strive for. Building emotional awareness is a discipline, a skill that gets stronger the more it’s practices. Like training a muscle, the more consistent you are the better. Becoming emotionally aware enables better communication, empathy and understanding, paving the way for vulnerability and deeper connections. It also makes us more robust against life’s stressors and our personal triggers; we deal with anxiety and adversity better when our emotional experience is not running the show subconsciously. Through emotional regulation, we become capable of questioning the resulting unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. It’s like an insight into our internal road map; self-limiting beliefs, dysfunctional coping mechanisms and our internal critic are brought under the spotlight in our journey towards self-discovery. We can transcend the self-imposed limits and dependencies we have created and follow appreciate the rich tapestry of life with a new appreciation.
Emotional awareness is not a weakness. It is one of the most powerful attributes you will ever develop. Allowing vulnerability with the self and with others is the key to a more connected and fulfilling life. Embrace your emotions, both positive and negative and mastery, autonomy, purpose and peace of mind is yours.
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