Every day we get opportunities to practice various emotions. The ones we rely on the most are the ones that become automatic. But you can create new and more positive automatic emotions. First, let’s look at a couple of examples:
If every time you get cut off in traffic, your first emotional reaction is anger, it’s only because that’s the emotion you have practiced so much that it has become your go-to emotional response. And by going with your first reaction, you’re also reinforcing it…making it stronger.
It happens all the time in relationships, too. Like when your partner doesn’t record a debit card transaction…again!… and suddenly you find your checking account overdrawn at the worst possible moment. You react by turning into something that closely resembles a Tasmanian Devil. You freak out and want to grab the closest ink pen and plunge it into your partner’s left buttock and shout, “RECORD YOUR FREAKIN’ TRANSACTIONS OR SO HELP ME I’LL KEEEL YOU!!!” But don’t worry, you won’t need an exorcism, and you can step away from the pen…slowly.
Pick An Emotion…Any Emotion
In order to change an automatic emotion, you’ve got to be deliberate about creating a new one. At first, you’ll feel like you’re picking cards at random and can never seem to find them again, once they’re mixed back into the deck. Everything, but the card you want to play, shows up at the wrong time.
There are tricks, however, that you can use so that you’re playing the right card at the right time. And you can start by recognizing that your first reaction is your most practiced emotion under those and similar circumstances. In order to change your automatic emotional reactions, you’ve got to, 1) want to change them; and 2) actually apply real effort to change them. And for that, you’ll need a strategy for creating new automatic emotions.
How to Create New Automatic Emotions
First, I suggest that you don’t attempt to create more than one at a time, at least while you’re first learning this technique.
To begin with, think of a common situation that you encounter frequently. Identify your present automatic emotion (based on how you typically react) in that situation. Select a replacement emotion that you would like to make automatic in that situation. When the situation comes up, again, try to catch yourself before tapping into your typical automatic emotion and do the following:
- Interrupt yourself–stop thinking about the situation…clear your mind.
- Focus on your breathing (in and out) for 5 breaths–calm, deep breathing.
- Recall the replacement emotion.
- Proceed to practice the new emotion–do the best you can.
Be patient with yourself. It will take time, so cut yourself some slack. Your current automatic emotions weren’t created over night and they’re not going to give up easily. But stick with it. The more you practice a new emotion (reacting differently in a specific situation), the more automatic the new emotion will become.
As Shakespeare put it, “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” You may feel like you’re just faking it, at first. But eventually, you’ll find that you don’t have to work so hard. You’ll just start easing into the new emotion as your go-to reaction. And while this new automatic emotion may not solve the issue that triggered it, you’ll at least be in a better frame of mind to find a solution that will.
Are you going to try this? What new automatic emotion would you like to adopt first? Tell us in the comments.