Emotional Mastery is the process of becoming aware of and learning to direct your emotional states – how you feel moment to moment – and using it to your advantage. Here’s how you do it.
I’ve personally been rereading a lot of Tony Robbins this year, and systematically implementing ideas that I’ve missed in the past. One of the things that he really emphasizes (and that no-one else seems to) is this concept of Emotional Mastery. The general gist of it is to learn to consciously direct our emotions so that they are useful for what we want to do, and to not leave ourselves and our moods at the mercy of external events and random occurrences.
This does not mean that we become automatons with an emotional flatline, or that things don’t bother us or get us a little riled up – they do. It’s just that when they do, a circuit kicks in and goes “oh, I don’t need to feel this way to be resourceful” and the negative emotions become positive, resourceful emotions.
I am somewhat embarrassed to say that in my own life I’ve neglected this idea of Emotional Mastery in the past, for many reasons:
- I didn’t think it was that important.
- I tried it for a bit and felt it was too much work to maintain and keep up.
- It felt slightly “fake” to shift my emotions moment-to-moment and at-will.
- Everyone kept telling me that I had inherited my mother’s temper, and you know, when people tell you something enough times… you can’t help but to start to think it’s true.
It turns out the concept I had in mind over what Emotional Mastery is and what it entails was wrong.
Having control of your emotions seriously improves the quality of your life. It’s a very important part of staying productive – and it’s one of the few things that someone who is already productive can use to give them that “next level” boost in their life.
Since applying this to my own life, I’ve found that my creativity, ideas and ability to strategically plan things has skyrocketed. It’s also a form of self-discipline so it helps enforce other good habits that you have.
All this aside, the only way to really understand just how important Emotional Mastery is, is to experience it for yourself first hand. Try it for 2 weeks, 3 weeks and you’ll see the difference.
We’ve spent the past few months experimenting with different ways to codify the process of learning and attaining Emotional Mastery, and how to best teach it to others – so it’s time to share.
So here it is – our 101 introduction to Emotional Mastery.
- Defining Emotional Mastery.
- A Progression of Emotional Mastery.
- Quick State Change Techniques.
- Higher-Level Change.
- Autonomic Systems: Putting it on Autopilot.
Defining Emotional Mastery
Emotional Mastery is the ability to exercise control over your emotional state without letting it (or anything else) affect you. This can mean:
- You receive an annoying email. Or a team member is particularly irritating today. Or a random person says something rude to you. You notice the rise of a negative emotion (anger, rage, irritation etc) and decide that it isn’t going to bother you or the rest of your day – and it doesn’t.
- You don’t procrastinate often.
- You don’t waste time often.
- You feel good about yourself and your circumstances most of the time.
- You are generally positive in things that you do.
- The world is simply a brighter and better place from your perspective.
As I mentioned in the opening to this article, Emotional Mastery does not mean that we live in a Pollyanna-esque world where everything is good and lala. Negative emotions are a real and useful part of life, it’s just that we don’t have to let them become negative force multipliers in our lives.
It also doesn’t mean an instantaneous ability to say to yourself “I will feel awesome now” and then it being so. As you’ll see later on in this article, the act of changing emotional states is usually a small process in itself – and that is perfectly fine.
As an example from my own life, one of the things that used to irritate me about the developing world is catching taxis. Often if you don’t speak the local language they’ll try to hustle you by asking for an exorbitant flat fare or some similarly dodgy proposition. This used to get me worked up quite a bit, especially when I just wanted to get home.
Before Emotional Mastery, I would have gotten angry about it, perhaps yelled a profanity or two at the driver and slammed the taxi door shut and remained angry – all the way home, and for the next few hours after. After really learning about and implementing Emotional Mastery, yes I still get irritated and a bit annoyed, but I just say “nevermind”, close the door to the cab and hail another one. Same circumstances, different internal emotional reactions from myself. It serves no real purpose to remain angry at the cab driver – he’s just trying to hustle to make a living the best that he knows how to – and there’s no need for me to carry the anger (and its negative force multiplier effects) into the next 2, 3, 4 hours of my day. I’d much rather calmly get home and do something productive.
Progression of Emotional Mastery
One of the things we charted was a measure of how far along the Emotional Mastery path you have progressed – think of them as milestones towards true Emotional Mastery:
- Ability to change emotional state when you need to.
- Ability to change emotional state consistently and automatically.
- Ability to change emotional state unconsciously using autonomic systems.
- Ability to help others change their emotional states.
We’ll cover the first 3 of these in this article.
But before we dive into techniques and strategies, it’s important to ask WHY we would want this ability to change our emotions at will.
Simply put – you can be effective and miserable, or you can be effective and happy. Personally, I’d rather go with the happy.
Quick State Change Techniques
Let’s start out with the basic tactics and techniques for changing our emotional states. These are quick fixes that address the first step in the progression from above – ability to change emotional state when you need to.
These are far from elegant and are not permanent solutions – you simply do this as you need to and let them work their magic.
Everything is from my personal list – some are from Tony Robbins, some are from various other people, and some I made up myself.
These are pure physical hacks – things you change in how you’re using your body that will put you in a good emotional state.
- Put a big silly grin or your face.
- Smile. A lot.
- Deep breathing.
- Skipping. Not running or walking fast, but actually skipping. Like little kids do.
- Laughing for no reason at all.
These are mental hacks – things you think about that can shift your emotional state.
- Focus on things that haven’t happened yet and feel good about them in advance.
- Focus on things that have gone well in the past 2 years in your life, and feel good about them. This is Dan Sullivan’s “The Gap”.
- Focus on the solution to your current problem at hand.
- Change the words and vocabulary you use to describe something. For example, “angry” becomes “annoyed”. “Tired” becomes “a little slow today”. “Crisis management mode” becomes “Superhero duty”.
- Shift the submodalities of your experience. This is geek-speak for changing how you think about a particular event. For example, say you mentally represent something as an image, and it’s big and bright. Well, make it dark, black and white, small and tiny, and notice how that changes your feelings about it.
This comes from Tony Robbins. It’s a list of questions you can refer to and ask yourself about something that’s bothering you. It gives you clarity, a sense that it’s under control (it is) and lets you take appropriate action:
- How can I change my state so I feel happy and good right now?
- What am I happy about now?
- What could I be happy about now if I wanted to be? How would that make me feel?
- What’s really great in my life?
- What do I need to do right now to make this better?
- What could I learn from this?
- What’s great about this situation and what’s not yet perfect?
These are a combination of physiology and attention hacks. The ones listed are from my own personal list – I highly recommend that you start your own list and add to it over time.
- Reading fiction.
- Working out.
- Watching something on TV that I enjoy.
- Playing video games.
- Listening to good music.
- Enjoying a well-made cup of tea.
- Stretching exercises.
- Taking a bath.
- Cuddling with the girlfriend.
- Having a smoothie or any sort of freshly-blended green drink.
- Clearing 20 small tasks in a day.
- Hitting my most important or least desirable outcome first thing in the morning.
- Getting up at 5am, getting all my work done and realising it’s not even lunchtime yet.
- Writing amazing content for Asian Efficiency.
- Thinking about great times and memories from my life.
- Making exciting future plans.
- Learning about a new discipline, be it statistics or international diplomacy.
- Spending time with good friends.
- Watching a funny YouTube video. Chris Rock is always good.
Let’s look at higher-level change. This is moving towards more permanency with change, and the second step in our progression – the ability to change emotional state consistently and automatically. What this essentially means is that whenever we feel like we’re slipping into a negative emotional state, our body and mind autocorrects and helps put us back into a good emotional state. It also means that we experience negative emotional states less frequently and with reduced intensity.
A common question that I’ve gotten is “is it possible to be in a good mood all the time?” Well, yes it is. And by “all the time” I mean 95%+ of the time – enough that you tend not to remember the bad times.
We’ve talked a lot about “good emotional states” but it can be any emotion that you choose really. I think most people would be OK with “happiness” as a foundation, and on that you can build healthy, productive, energetic, vibrant and so on.
So how does higher-level change work exactly?
It works on the idea that to permanently or thoroughly solve a problem at one level, you need to change something at a higher logical level above it. In this case, we’ve been talking about behaviors and techniques to get into a good emotional state. The logical level above that is our perspective, our beliefs, our values and our paradigms. By changing things at that level, we change the way that we think and the way that we perceive the world around us.
You are likely aware of the idea that reality is subjective. So what this means is that changes at this level of beliefs and values, changes your interpretation of incoming stimuli – and thus how you feel about it.
I’m going to give you a list of habits and beliefs/ideas that I think are important for implementing this higher level of change. They come from all over – some from Eastern philosophies, some from gurus, some from Asian Efficiency’s company values. Everyone is unique, so some of these ideas may work for you, and some may not. You’ll have to do some experimenting and tweaking to get the various pieces fit together.
- Smile and grin throughout the day for no reason at all. This is a great habit to adopt, and requires very little effort. Nothing is better than randomly smiling while writing that darn TPS report or randomly smiling as you wander the streets of Singapore.
- Laugh for no reason at all. It seems silly, but that’s the point. The more that amuses you, the more the world becomes a better place. Also known as self-amusement.
- Do silly things, and have so much fun that it’s criminal. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t make the everyday we things do fun – be it visiting the dentist, doing the dishes or even working.
Beliefs and Ideas
- Life moves in seasons – we all plant, reap, rest and renew. Sometimes things are hard, sometimes they are easy.
- Things always come up in life, so handle them with playfulness. When these things come up, they’re an important signal from life that I’m doing the right thing and these signals keep me alert, strong and healthy. Adapt or die.
- There is always a reason for everything, good or bad.
- Everything has a solution given enough time and resources.
- Make a constant and never-ending commitment to increase the quality of my life very day.
- The real secret in life is being able to make myself feel good when I don’t want to feel good.
- It is perfectly acceptable to feel good for no reason at all.
- My emotional states are under my control – they are there to work for me.
- Negative emotions are just a call to action.
- Kill the monster while it’s little – handle bad things right away.
- Never spend more than 10% dwelling on the problem. Spend 90% on the solution.
- Life gives me enough pain on its own and for not following through. There’s no need to create rules that make me feel bad all the time.
- Small petty things that annoy me imperil my dreams and goals because they are negative force multipliers.
- Don’t fight with pigs. You’ll both get covered in shit but the pig likes it.
- Properly managing short-term desires allows my ideas and creations to reach fruition.
- Performance is based not just on ability but also on state.
- Focus in one interpretation of reality and one that I get to pick.
- The more discipline I exercise in any given area, the more discipline I have available to me in all areas.
Your values are a list of the “big ideas” that are important to you. For example – health, integrity, compassion, success.
They are highly personal to you and it wouldn’t be appropriate to say “here are some values I recommend”. Instead, here’s a process for working out your values and adjusting them:
- Make a list of your values. Simply ask – “what is really important to me?” and write it out. Aim for about 10 values.
- Rank your values in order from most to least important.
- Add, remove and rearrange where you feel your current list isn’t working for you.
- Adopt these new values by looking at them everyday, and making a commitment to live by them.
How does this impact Emotional Mastery? Well, by having a list of value that are important to you and that you aspire to live by, you’ll find that you’ll spend more time living them – and less time indulging in negative emotional states. It seems very simplistic but it undeniably works. If you’re busy being healthy, or compassionate or intelligent, you’ll just simply have less time to be angry, depressed or otherwise.
Adopting these aspects of higher-level change (habits, beliefs, values) will go along way towards Emotional Mastery. But they really just set the stage for the next step…
Autonomic Systems is where Emotional Mastery starts to take on a life of its own. It’s where you start to automatically and unconsciously shift your negative states into positive ones, and where your baseline mood shifts to being happy all the time (step 3 in our progression).
It does take some time to get all the things in place for this to happen, but it is worth it.
The way that autonomic systems works is that once you have the ability to hack your way to a good emotional state, and once you effect higher-level changes, you are ready to start directing other areas of your life towards Emotional Mastery.
- Health. This means eating properly, and being in the best physical shape that you can be.
- Wealth. This means securing your finances, then going beyond. It also means clearing any unhelpful beliefs and ideas you may have about money and abundance.
- Relationships. This means identifying any issues in your relationships and resolving them. In the case where the other party isn’t interested, set up strong boundaries – don’t put up with unhealthy relationships.
- Self-Discipline. This means doing the right thing, most of the time.
- Play. This means making sure you get enough downtime and renewal. It also means getting enough breaks – weekends away and vacations.
The idea is that if all these areas of your life are automatically working away in the background without much effort on your part, our baseline mood shifts up and up and up, and this means that you’ll be happier and life will generally be better. This is true Emotional Mastery.
Where to Go Next
This has been a long article, and it’s given you enough things to implement for at least the next 6 months (and you didn’t have to attend a $3,000 2-day seminar either!).
A great follow-up to kickstart implementation is the 10-day mental challenge which we’ve written about before.
I also highly recommend Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within for its sections on submodalities and defining your values. Reading and implementing that book alone will go a long way towards mastery in all areas of your life.
And of course, keep an eye on the blog for more on Emotional Mastery in the future.
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