I’m going to tell you a little secret:
I’m terrified of bugs!
When I encounter a fly, a ladybug, or any other 6- or 8-legged creature, I let loose with a blood-curdling scream that scares the bejeezus out of everyone within 100 feet.
If I’m driving, I instantly let go of the steering wheel and automatically try to exit the car…all before reason sets in and I think, “Oh wait – I’m doing 75 mph!”.
Well, I used to.
Some people are almost always emotionally explosive.
Have you met some of them? Are you one?”
If you hang around one of these guys or gals, sometimes you’re afraid to say or do anything for fear of setting them off. It gets to be emotionally draining after a while, doesn’t it?
But let me ask you something…
Picture someone you deem powerful and worthy of respect.
What’s that person’s demeanor?
Do they react at the slightest provocation?
Do they break into hysterics? Or start yelling immediately, before they even have all the facts?
If you can’t picture anyone, think Gandhi, Putin, Winston Churchill, or Mother Theresa. Their powerful, composed demeanors are legendary and garner respect around the world.
I hated the fact that I was so emotional at times, so I thought, “What if I could harness that emotional power, instead of wantonly over-reacting and freaking out like an uncontrolled drama queen?”.
I’ll tell you this:
It isn’t easy to unlearn those decades-old, ingrained habits.
But it IS possible with consistent effort. I’ve done it.
Would you like to tone down your emotional reactivity?
Here are the tips I’ve learned along my journey that helped me learn how to be less emotional.
They can definitely help you, as well.
It’s About You…
If you want to learn how to be less emotional, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Extrinsic motivation usually isn’t a very strong motivator.
What are some extrinsic motivators when it comes to containing your emotional reactivity, though?
Things like, “My boyfriend/significant other/co-workers think I’m too emotional, so I guess I should work on that”.
What really matters is:
Do you, personally, want to be less emotional?
Take a moment to sit down, open a blank document, and write down what being so emotionally reactive gives and costs you. Then decide, “Is this the person I want to be?”.
Here are some things to consider. Has being too emotional:
- Cost you friends or lovers?
- Made things more difficult at work?
- Cost you money? (not a good idea to get emotional around cops or judges!)
- Cost you time? (the most valuable resource ever…)
- Damaged relationships with family?
- Made you appear like a weak fool?
- Cost you respect?
Now imagine the most composed, cool, calm person you can think of. Imagine yourself in the middle of a shitstorm where everyone’s freaking out. And there you stand – wise, composed, in control, worthy of esteem and respect.
Would you rather be like this person:
or this one?
Which woman do you think people would respect more and be more willing to listen to when she speaks?
The first thing I had to do in my own journey to become less emotional was the hardest:
Generate a time gap between noticing the situation and the (instant) reaction.
When I saw a bug, for example, I screamed and ran before my mind even consciously registered the thought, “Oh my god! A bug!”. It was just so instantaneous!
The first step, then, was to train myself to notice the situation but wait a few milliseconds.
That way, I didn’t just automatically jump, run, and scream. I could logically deal with the situation once that slower, logical part of my brain kicked in.
Why is it easier to react out of pure emotion and so difficult to react logically?
There’re a few reasons, but one main reason is the way our brains and bodies are designed.
Joshua Freedman describes the process succinctly:
The Process You Go Through…
- You get some input through one of your senses, and that sense goes to the thalamus area of your brain.
- The thalamus sends part of the stimulus to your amygdala (the illogical, emotional part) and part to your neocortex (the higher, logical brain).
- If your hippocampus has some stored experience that tells it, “Hey, this is a fight, flight, or freeze situation!”, the amygdala immediately sends out electrical signals telling your muscles to move, your blood to re-direct to your core areas, and all those other “fight-or-flight” physiological responses to jump into action.
- But info goes to the neocortex, or the logical part of your brain, too, right? Sad thing is, though, that part takes longer to process the input. By the time it’s figured it out, the amygdala already responded and caused a physical reaction.
- The amygdala has another trick up its sleeve, though, too. If it perceives a threat, it activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and “hijacks the rational brain”. At that point, it’s the emotions driving with full control while the rational brain is on hiatus. And you know, that usually leads to bad news.
So, the goal is not to figure out how to stop being emotional, because that’s going to happen anyway.
The trick is to insert a time gap between the sensing and the reacting. Give the rational brain a chance to react instead. Overrule that emotional knee-jerk reaction.
Not so easy, but certainly doable.
It just takes consistent effort.
How fast or how slow the process goes depends on how consistent you are at practicing it (kind of like every new thing you want to learn, eh?).
I used a modified version of the old rubber-band-on-the wrist technique because it was simple, effective, and (almost) free.
I simply wore a silicone bracelet that I engraved with “Wait – Pause – Take a second!”.
You can get them anywhere, of course. But if you want one within 2 days, you can get them on Amazon. A personalized one on Amazon will run you around $10 but you can get a set of 12 non-personalized ones for a couple dollars (you can write your own message on them with marker or whatever).
I’d look at it probably hundreds of times every day and basically, remind myself to wait. Then when a situation arrived where I’d normally fly off the handle immediately, I’d force myself to look down (sometimes I just raised my arm in front of my face).
Either way, I’d see it and remember to WAIT!
Mentally preparing for a situation is invaluable when it comes to making real changes in real life. I’m a firm believer in the power of visualization to make lasting, effective, positive changes.
Now, let’s be clear…
I’m not talking about the once-popular group touting “The Secret” visualizations where you sit and imagine great things falling in your lap. Then you wake up one day and WHAM! – there they are – everything you ever “visualized”.
- Researchers compared people who physically practiced a song on the piano with those who only mentally practiced it. The “mental” group strengthened areas of the brain responsible for controlling the fingers, showing that mental visualization produces physical changes in the brain similar to if they had actually practiced the piano.
- People who practice visualization before speaking publicly show less anxiety, inhibition, and rigidity than those who don’t practice visualization before giving a public speech.
- Visualization helps athletes perform better. Swimmers who practiced visualization and other psychological skills such as goal-setting and relaxation significantly improved their swimming strokes and performance compared with those who didn’t practice visualization.
There are countless examples showcasing the power of visualization to improve virtually any aspect of your life. It’s a powerful tool that’s been used since the earliest homo sapiens walked the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.
So, one of the most potent tools you can use to be less emotional is to simply use your mind!
Imagine your own past or future situations. You know – the ones where you’re likely to overreact emotionally.
Notice all the tiny details: the smells, the people, the feel of the air, the energy in the room….and then imagine yourself standing tall in the midst of it. And of course, you are the most composed, placid person there – untouched and unscathed.
Practice!! When you wake up, when you have a break throughout the day, and when you lay down to go to sleep at night. Mentally rehearse how you’ll react.
When the real situations do come around, you’ll already know – and be ready – to be the most stoic, calm person there.
The end goal isn’t to erase your emotions. The ultimate goal is to control your response.
You can feel angry, scared, or elated, but it doesn’t mean you have to jump around squealing like an out-of-control two-year-old (unless you want to….).
Here are the most effective tips and techniques that will help you reach your end goal.
Scan through the list, choose which ones you want to work on first, and then set a reminder somehow, somewhere so you’re sure to incorporate into your daily routine.
Every single day.
Consistency is the key that will get you to where you want to be!
- Don’t fall for labels – from yourself or others.
- Box breathing
Wise people have known for centuries that the breath is the key to bodily control. Take the time to breathe in deeply to a count of 4, hold it for 4 seconds, and breathe out to a count of 4. Do it at least 5 times before you move or react in any way. It gives you that “space” and activates your physiological relaxation responses.
- Change Your Self-Talk
- Imagine your Hero
When situations arise, imagine that they’re standing right there next to you giving you advice.
What would they tell you? How would they act? You can choose to act just as they would. Read more about how to create your own wisdom council here.
- Change Your Perspective
Imagine those ancient peoples living in stone caves. Didn’t they have some of the same struggles you’re facing? Mentally scan through all those years…see all those people struggling with bratty teenagers, stubborn spouses, verbal and physical attacks, and more.
They all dealt with them, got through them, and, in retrospect, 99% discovered that they didn’t really matter or were forgotten quickly.
Are you any different? You will get through this, and it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does when you consider the grand scheme of things.
Another helpful exercise is to imagine that you’re floating up in space looking down at the earth. Look at those 7 billion people running around, getting all upset about so many insignificant things.
Look around and see the stars and planets that have been there for millions of years. This is a vast universe with an underlying pattern.
Imagine you see yourself down there in a tiny house getting all riled up about something. Kind of funny, isn’t it?
- Get Feedback on How Others See You and Your Demeanor
Here are two easy tricks to figure it out:
Set up a video surveillance camera at home and review how your interactions go throughout your day. Notice the things you say, you quickly you fly off the handle, etc. You can’t fix issues if you don’t know they exist.
Tell friends and family that you’re on a mission of self-improvement. Give them an anonymous questionnaire to fill out with questions you want feedback on. Here’s an example one made with Google Forms (you can “Make a copy” and simply share the link).
- Be gentle with yourself and be patient.
- Keep track of your obstacles and progress.
Keep a journal or use the incredibly-useful Habit Tracker 2.0.
- Focus on one thing – right here right now.
Former Navy Seal Mark Divine describes how elite Seals choose ONE thing to focus on, take care of that, then notice item #2, and then put all their focus on that. Focus on one thing at a time. Use hyper-focus and always observe first!
- Observe, but Don’t Judge.
- Remember “each day is a new life to the wise man (Dale Carnegie)”.
It’s gone, so let it go, and make room for today’s new experiences. Be a completely different person today!
- Remind Yourself that Life is for Having Experiences.
- Carry Something to Remind Yourself of Your New Behaviors
- Tackle one thing at a time, then move on to the next.
- Expand your Empathy Muscles.
- Start Meditating
- Flesh It Out
- Maximize Your Experiences
The more you’ve seen and done, the better you become at handling things.
- “Evaluate: Is it worth it?”.
Evaluate those tricky situations and ask yourself, “Is this situation or person even worth my time and energy?”. “Does it align with my world, with me, or with my goals or mission?”.
If not, let it go and move on.
- Remember: “It’s Temporary”.
“This, too, shall pass”.
The one constant in life is change, regardless how incredible or upsetting something is.
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You Are So Very Powerful!
You can learn how to be less emotional, if it’s truly what you want to do.
Make sure your reasons for embarking on your path of self-improvement are yours (and not someone else’s).
If so, then jump in 100% and incorporate these tips and techniques into your daily routine – every single day!
Before you know it, people will respect you more.
They’ll want to hang around you more in the hopes that your cool, calm, serenity will somehow rub off on them.
You will appear to be the most powerful, knowledgeable person they know.
Do it and see for yourself!