Master Emotions and Feelings In Any Setting
When that crucial team meeting comes up, you will be ready
Note: this is a story from the “Before Times” that still applies.
First, Know Thyself
The first thing to do in order to master feelings and emotions is to know what they are. Most people don’t, but you can know in the next three minutes.
Emotions are those sensations we can sense within our body. Feelings are those thoughts we narrate to ourselves in regard to those physical sensations.
Emotions are sensations from within the body
Emotions originate in the body. Feelings, on the other hand, interpret those sensations and form thoughts about them.
These, then, are emotions: dry throat, flutter in the stomach or chest, sweaty palms, creaky voice, nervous twitch in limbs, or any other occurrence in the body that is easily attributed to unfamiliar, or uncomfortable, interaction.
These are feelings: “I feel worried about my job when I see the boss is scowling so much.” “I am upset that the programming promotion went to someone else.” “I can’t believe my kid got in trouble for fighting.” “My wife has been late from work five days in a row, I’m confused.”
When you master identification of your feelings, you are halfway to mastering how to successfully manage your whole life. This is because detecting feelings will allow you the freedom to know they are based on thoughts. Not only this, but you can also learn to respect the fact that most of our thoughts are inaccurate interpretations of what any given situation is.
Let’s say, for example, that you are working on a team to recruit investors for your startup. You feel a clenched tightness in your chest. You keep wiping your palms on your handkerchief because you fear that your hands may be sweaty and someone may offer another handshake. You do well in the presentation, but you notice the pitch in your voice goes too high at some point and you worry that you distracted the audience.
Interpret these physical cues as mere nervous tension. Your chest tightens, your palms sweat, your voice cracks, because human evolution created such cues to display to ourselves — and sometimes others — when social interaction has high stakes.
In other words, you experience human symptoms because you are human. You are concerned about doing the best job that you can.
Feelings are the stories we create in our head
Now, let’s look at the feelings. Your feelings are a long-term narrative you have unconsciously told yourself. You have known for some time, perhaps, that the biggest investor doesn’t like younger people, and he is inpatient with jargon.
The narration that you provide for yourself reflects that you feel intimidated, worried, and uncertain about your performance. However, if you take control of your feelings, by noticing the emotions and checking off each one for the actual reasons it occurs, you don’t have to be hindered by your feelings.
The other big gain is that your long-term narrative, a ‘feelings mental map’ will record far more accurately what is happening in your daily reality.
Note that you must not try to stifle emotions, or feelings. You have to acknowledge them, and in many cases actively express them. This is true whether you are trying to impress an investor, or if you are trying to repair a marriage.
When you own your emotions and your feelings, they are under your control. When you repress them, deny them, hide them, or in any way fail to acknowledge them, they will seep out into your life like destructive, leaking plumbing.
Owning your emotions and feelings does not mean you act like a drama queen, or weep openly every time someone steps on a spider. It means, rather, that you allow people around you with whom you interact, to know what is happening with them, and with you.
Another example is warranted. When you realize you just had a nervous cough (emotion) you can say something like, “Oh, I wanted to be so articulate, and here I am clearing my throat.” That’s all. You don’t have to go on and on about how you must feel nervous, or you are afraid that you are messing up. You don’t have to go into the feelings of your interpretation (feelings) because your simple acknowledgement will be openly universal.
Everyone knows what it is like to be apprehensive, or concerned about an important performance. It displays that something matters to you. You want to do a good job. You care about the outcome. All of these emotions and feelings openly display to others that you are doing a good job; you care about doing the best job that you can.
Emotions are short term, Feelings are long term
A great way to distinguish an emotion from a feeling is to look at the time scale. We all have several emotions many times a day. They are mostly displayed, as reflects our primate nature, in the facial expressions, and physical posture we unconsciously experience throughout the day.
When we acknowledge an emotion, we can usually source its physical origin. Your eyes feel misty, your stomach is clenched, your gaze is averted in disgust. There are thousands of physical symptoms, and they often come in clusters.
Learn to notice them, as these are the basis for our most mistaken feelings.
What most of our emotions share in common is that they are short-lived. Some physical symptoms may go on for hours in rare cases, but never for months into years.
The long term is reserved for our feelings, which we imbed in our memory and our mental maps.
We feel worried about large and loud people. Or we use our unconscious confirmation bias to lump all foreigners of a distant origin, or religion, into an “otherism” category. We recognize our nervousness when speaking in public, and we often accept an inner dialogue that tells us “I’m just bad at public speaking.” You will have dozens of your own personal examples, of course.
Know that this too shall pass
It’s important to realize that emotions are just sudden signs from your body that “something is up, pay attention!” Think of them as a genius level alarm app for your life.
In modernity, given our separation from nature, natural cues, tribal face to face socialization, and more, we have largely learned at our own peril, to ignore our emotions and our feelings. Instead, we just do not notice the physical. Then we unconsciously record the sensations into biased, recurring feelings.
Here is some excellent news: Your emotions are going to happen and you can tune into them for guidance.
It is similar with feelings. Your thoughts are primarily just electrochemical signals in your brain that become recorded to create how you “feel about things.” In one sense, they do not “exist” at all. They are not written in stone. They don’t have to define who you are.
Once you know that your emotions, and even your thoughts and feelings, are simply human tools to better navigate life, you can find ways to reconnect to social interactions the way our ancestors did in natural and helpful ways.
Look at the emotions your body is showing you right now. How do you feel about that?