Acting without thinking is shooting without aiming
You wouldn’t fire a gun without aiming, would you? So, why would we act without thinking? When we live as robots doing whatever feels good instead of whatever is best for us, there is a heavy price to pay. Replacing thoughtful behaviour with thoughtless acts leads to material, mental, and physical suffering: lost dreams, emotional turmoil, and bodily pain and illness.
Let’s look at the sequence of events that creates so many problems in our lives. First, an event takes place. Perhaps my wife frowns at me and rolls up her eyes in exasperation. Or maybe my boss yells at me. Or someone throws a half-eaten hamburger out a car window, and it lands smack in my face.
Second, the event triggers a thought such as, “Oh! Oh! My wife is mad at me again!” Or, “My boss is such a jerk!” Or, “I’d like to get a fat, juicy hamburger and squish it in that slob’s face.”
Third, the thought immediately brings up an emotion. I might become angry, surprised, perplexed, confused, excited, or frightened. Although I don’t realize it, the emotion I experience is not caused by the event that just took place, but by my interpretation of that event. It may also be caused by a memory of a somewhat similar event in my childhood. For example, if my boss yells at me, this may trigger a childhood memory of my father yelling at me, which brings up the feelings I had at that time of helplessness, anger, and fear. I think my boss is the cause of my racing heart, sweaty palms, and anxiety, when, in fact, my dead father causes it!
Fourth, we take some action. This is the crossroad. One of two things can happen. One is stupid and the other, intelligent. The stupid thing to do is act in the heat of the moment, without thinking things through. In other words, we behave emotionally rather than rationally. For instance, I may shout at my boss, “I’m sick of your griping; I quit!” This is a stupid thing to do because rather than solve a problem, it creates a new, and bigger, one. How will I raise my family and pay my bills, when I get fired?
Sadly, acting emotionally instead of rationally is commonplace and the cause of much needless misery. The smart thing to do when emotions grip our imagination is to stop and think before we act. Okay, so my boss yelled at me. But why is he my boss? Isn’t it because he has more experience and knowledge than I do? Doesn’t he present an opportunity for me to learn more, grow more valuable, and become a team player? If this is the case, rather than creating a problem by quitting, why don’t I solve a problem by telling my boss, “Oops! Sorry for upsetting you, boss. When you have a moment, can you review with me what I’m doing wrong and how I can improve? I’m sure with your guidance I can become a valuable team player.”
Granted, it’s not always our fault. Our boss could be screaming at us for no good reason. But we have a brain and a heart, don’t we? Use them to act reasonably and compassionately. Maybe your boss is having a hard day. When you’re doing a good job, you have no cause to cower in fear or seethe in anger, so just smile and say, “S-o-r-r-y!” Your pleasant attitude may be just what the doctor ordered for your boss. Your warm smile and understanding may act as a soothing balm for his raw nerves.
The lesson, then, is to stop whenever you become aware of your emotions urging you to act. Your actions should be dictated by your rational mind, not by your irrational impulses. Mind you, it’s not easy at first. It’s like learning how to breathe from your diaphragm instead of your chest. But it’s a lesson that we’ve got to learn.
Either events control us by triggering thoughts, emotions, and rash behaviour or we control our lives by taking rational action. The choice is like driving to the destination of your choice, or being a passenger with no control over the directions, or worse yet, like being carjacked and taken where you don’t want to go.
I don’t want to create the impression that our emotions are our enemies. They certainly can be, but they can also be the best of friends. Again, it boils down to choice. It’s a matter of choosing positive emotions to fuel our actions and processing negative emotions to act rationally. For example, enthusiasm, passion, ambition, and courage can be powerful motivators for positive action. Similarly, we can enrich our lives and enhance our happiness by allowing the wonder of life and the beauty of the arts to tug at our heartstrings. Bathe in joy, but work through resentment. After all, faultfinding, criticism, self-pity, fear, and blame keep one in a rut, preventing progress, and may develop into a chronic negative attitude. But determination, commitment, patience, and optimism heal one’s mind and body and pave the way for success.
Choose to nurture emotions that uplift you and think through emotions that hold you back. Follow the example of Og Mandino by using positive emotions to reinforce life, “If I feel depressed, I will sing. If I feel sad, I will laugh. If I feel ill, I will double my labor. If I feel fear, I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior, I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain, I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty, I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent, I will think of past success. If I feel insignificant, I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.”
Our emotional life also defines us. We may be knowledgeable, but so are countless others. It is our heart that distinguishes us. Our character is not based on what we know, but on how we act; not on what we have, but on what we are. Live with the understanding that helpful behaviour is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion. True, where there’s no emotion, there’s no motive for violence, but it’s equally true where there’s no emotion, there’s no motive for love.
Returning to my earlier example of the person who lost his job because he quit in anger, he suffered material loss (his income), mental anguish, and poor health as a result. Let’s look at the last point, health, for a moment. Our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and emotions have an impact on allergies, asthma, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, impotence and sexual dysfunction. Even accidents, dental cavities, and back pain! In fact, probably 90%, or more, of all illnesses are either caused by or adversely affected by negative emotions. The opposite is also true, for as Dr. Bernard (Bernie) S. Siegel writes, “Patients who get well when they’re not supposed to are not having accidents or miracles or spontaneous remissions. They’re having self-induced healing (brought about by positive thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and emotions).”
18 Reasons why Our Emotions are Important
How do you feel about your feelings? Can you think of anything that is more important to you? To help you answer this question, I will list 18 reasons why our feelings are important. I will then introduce the A.L.I.V.E. Formula, which is used to turn our emotions around – from negative to positive. Next, I will share the R.A.I.N. Formula, which is based on Buddhist principles used to end the suffering caused by negative emotions. Finally, I’ll outline the T.I.D.E. Formula, a psychological tool to allow our feelings to guide us to success.
1. Philosophers and scientists have long tried to describe what life is. Whatever it is, we experience it through our emotions. Whether we say life is great or meaningless, exciting or boring, wonderful or miserable, all we are doing is describing our feelings. You probably agree that there is nothing more important to us than life. But doesn’t that really mean there is nothing more important than our feelings? After all, if you didn’t have feelings, you would be just like an unfeeling stone, unaware of its existence.
2. Everything that you have ever done was done because of your ‘e-motions’. They create motion, motivate us to act. Without feelings, you would be like a tree, firmly rooted to the ground, alive but not going anywhere. One man murders because of anger, another steals because of greed, another runs from difficulty because of fear, and yet another helps his neighbor because of love. In other words, our feelings are the source of our actions.
3. Our feelings not only allow us to experience life, but they also help maintain it. Fear, for example, helps us avoid danger while pleasure encourages us to eat and survive.
4. Besides maintaining us, emotions improve us. Thanks to discontent, we are motivated to change what we are unhappy about, thereby improving our lives.
5. What is it that causes our brain, which begins as a blank slate, to develop into a treasure trove of knowledge, wisdom, and genius? It is curiosity, the emotion that caused you as an infant to explore your surroundings and astronauts to explore space.
6. Speaking of exploring space, how do astronauts overcome the fear of the danger they face? It is with courage, the same emotion that allows us to face our mortality. Thanks to courage, we can scale any mountain, overcome any hurdle, and conquer any challenge.
7. One of the delightful things about humanity is that each of us is unique. There is only one of me and one of you. The mood, disposition, temperament, and personality of each of us vary. It is our emotional composition that makes us special. Emotions are to us what color is to the rainbow. Here’s how George Robert Gissing expressed this idea, “…even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.”
8. In addition to allowing us to experience life, as well as maintaining, protecting, and improving it, emotions greatly enhance life. For they are the forge from which all the arts spring. Because of our emotions we have music, literature, poetry, dance, drama, sculpture, painting, opera, architecture, photography.
9. Because of our emotions, we can feel good, bad, or indifferent. When we feel good, we are glad to be alive. The feelings of contentment, joy, bliss, happiness, pleasure, and laughter make life worth living.
10. The only thing better than the joy mentioned above is the fact that we can share it with others. The emotion of love encourages us to spread happiness throughout the world and is sorely needed to replace the hatred that threatens the stability of humanity and the planet.
11. Emotions have taught us to reason. Every decision we make causes us to feel better or worse. This leads us to start thinking about the consequences of our actions and to start acting more rationally.
12. Emotions are also great teachers. Regret, for example, causes us to learn from our past mistakes and joy motivates us to seek more triumphs.
13. Because of the mind-body connection, our emotions affect our immune system and our overall physical and mental health. A cheerful disposition ensures a long, healthy, and happy life.
14. Our emotions will help or hamper our interactions with others. Others cannot help but follow those who are enthusiastic, passionate, sincere, encouraging, inspiring, and persuasive. Those who are more negatively inclined will have little success working with others.
15. Emotions can help us to transcend ourselves. A star-filled sky may be all that it takes to elicit feelings such as surprise, wonder, and awe. These emotions elevate life, exposing its grandeur and magnificence.
16. Emotions help us maintain our authenticity, for whenever we remain true to ourselves, our actions resonate with our values. But whenever we stray from our ideals, we can feel internal discord.
17. Like virtue, good emotions are their own reward, for we always get more of what we send out. The more you try to give happiness away, the more it keeps coming back.
18. One of the most important functions of emotions is their role as a guidance system. Whenever we feel bad, our emotions are alerting us that we are doing something wrong, and that it is time to stop and correct our behavior. And once we correct it, we will feel good, which is just our emotions notifying us that we are back on track.
As you can see, our emotions play a big role in our lives. Depending on how we respond to them, they can act as an ally or enemy. So, it is important to learn how to manage them.
The A.L.I.V.E., R.A.I.N., and T.I.D.E. Formulas
to Help You Achieve Emotional Mastery
Although we have no control over the weather, “Each of us makes his own weather, determines the color of the skies in the emotional universe which he inhabits.” (Fulton J. Sheen). We choose how to feel, but the problem is we usually do so subconsciously. If we are to master our emotions, we have to choose them consciously. That is, when we become aware that we are harboring negative emotions that are holding us back, it is time to change them to positive ones. Use the following A.L.I.V.E. Formula to help you do so.
The A.L.I.V.E. Formula
A. Awareness. You cannot change your emotions until you first become aware of them. Get in the habit of being in touch with your feelings. Your feelings are dynamic. They change from moment to moment. So, regularly ask yourself how you are feeling. Identify the feeling and name it. If it’s a negative emotion you’re experiencing, it’s leading you further from your goals and dreams, so it’s time to change it.
L. Longing. How do you long to feel? If, for instance, you are feeling angry, do you long to feel forgiving, understanding, or compassionate?
I. Insight. After identifying the feeling you wish to have, ask yourself what can you do to make the change. This question will help you gain insight. For example, if you wish to change anger to compassion you can do any or all of the following: a) remind yourself that the person you are angry at is mortal. That is, he or she is dying. How can you be angry at a dying person? b) Recall times you upset other people and how they forgave you. Do you remember how thankful you were when they did so? Now it’s time to treat others as kindly as you were treated. c) Understand the psychological principle of projection. That is, what we don’t like in others is actually what we don’t like in ourselves. So, we are equally guilty; therefore, forgive yourself and the person you’re angry at. d) Understand that although people do nasty things, it’s not because they’re nasty, but because they’re troubled, insecure, or don’t know any better. They’re just coping the best way they can. The nasty way they’ve treated you has nothing to do about you. Rather, it’s about their own weaknesses and flaws. Be big enough to forgive them.
V. Vital Action. Now that you’ve gained some insight, act on what you have learned and actively choose to change your feelings for the better.
E. Evaluate. After going through these steps, how do you now feel? You should be feeling better, not bitter. If you are, congratulations, mission accomplished! If not, you need more work on the INSIGHT step. When sailing, we adjust the sails according to the wind. The object is to keep moving forward, regardless of the direction of the wind. The A.L.I.V.E. Formula is similar. Our goal is to remain aligned with our dreams and goals, and when we are blown off course by faulty emotions, we adjust our sails (change our emotions).
REIGN over Your Emotions with the R.A.I.N. Formula
The R.A.I.N. Formula is taught by Michele McDonald-Smith, a leading teacher of Insight (Vipassana) Meditation. This formula takes a slightly different tack than the A.L.I.V.E. Formula. It’s a Buddhist practice with an emphasis on eliminating the suffering caused by negative emotions and maintaining a state of tranquility or serenity. The steps of the R.A.I.N. Formula are as follows.
R. Recognize. This step is similar to the first step of the A.L.I.V.E. Formula. The idea is to recognize your emotional state. Identify it and name it. How do you feel? A single word may be all that is needed to describe it, such as angry, resentful, spiteful, envious, or sad.
A. Accept. Emotions are part of life. They are natural, so accept them. Treat them like the weather. That is, it may be rainy or sunny today, but whatever the weather, accept it without judgment, without complaint. Do not say it is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ day, but accept it and all days. It is the same with your emotions. Recognize them, but don’t label them as ‘good’ or bad.’ By ‘accept’ I do not mean ‘to tolerate’ or ‘put up with.’ Rather, I mean ‘to embrace’ or ‘welcome’ all that life offers, all that life is.
I. Investigate. Now that you have accepted the emotion, investigate it with curiosity and interest. When you felt this way in the past, how did you act? Do you feel differently now? What triggered the emotion? What happened to you as a child to make you react that way? Remember, emotions are how we experience life. To fully experience the richness of life, we need to experience all of it. Isn’t investigating a dark emotion far better than burying, dismissing, or denying it? By scrutinizing and mulling over a negative emotion, you defuse and render it harmless.
N. Not Identify. Do not identify with your emotions. It is wrong to say, for example, that you are worried. You and worrisomeness are two different things. You are not equal to worrisomeness; therefore, you cannot be worried, but you can feel worried at a particular point in time. Imagine a breeze passing through the leaves of a tree. The tree is not the breeze; they are different, but the tree can feel the breeze. Your emotions are like the breeze, they are not you, but you can feel them passing through. By not identifying with troubling emotions, you can let them go. Just watch them pass by and allow yourself to drift back to the state of equanimity or peace of mind.
Allow the T.I.D.E. Formula to Carry You to Success
This is a psychological tool designed to keep us on course with our dreams and goals. Here are the steps.
T. Tune in. As explained earlier, our emotions are a guidance system, so it is important to tune into them or be aware of them. Instead of using flashing lights or a beeping sound, they alert us by making us feel good or bad. Whenever we feel good, that means we are on track, doing the right thing, and should continue doing the same thing. But whenever we feel bad, it is a warning that we are doing something wrong, and are straying from the path that leads to our dreams and goals.
I. Identify. Identify what you want and focus on it. Pay careful attention when you feel bad because that may signal that you are focusing on what you don’t want instead of what you do want. For instance, you may want to be successful, but spend most of your time focusing on what could go wrong instead of the great success that is possible. We will always get what we focus on. Although you don’t want it, if failure is all you think about, that’s what you’ll get. And when you get it, you’ll feel bad because you’re emotions are trying to tell you to change your focus and realign yourself with your dreams.
D. Direct Your Focus. Consistently direct your focus on what you want. Remember, feeling bad means you are moving away from what you want and feeling good means you are moving toward what you want. If you do not regularly tune in to your emotions and heed their warnings, you may get stuck in a rut, in a place you don’t want to be. To prevent this from happening, it is essential that you work on feeling good all of the time.
E. Evaluate. Whenever you are feeling bad, evaluate your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Ask yourself what are you thinking, doing, and believing that is making you feel bad? Then reframe your perspective to restore a positive frame of mind. Example: Tom feels terrible because he was engaged to be married and at the last moment his fiancée cancelled the wedding. Tom reframes the situation and realizes a cancelled wedding is far better than getting married and having children, only to have it end in divorce.
Although the three formulas offer a different approach, it is helpful to be familiar with all of them so we can choose the approach that best works for our particular situation or personality.
Let’s use these tools, and any others that we find, to master of our emotions for when we master our emotions, we master our life.
The Secret Language of Feelings: A Rational Approach to Emotional Mastery by Calvin D. Banyan
Your Road Map to Lifelong Happiness: A Guide to the Life You Want by Ken Keyes, Jr.
Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.