Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are Your Emotional Patterns Limiting You?

Do you know someone who is chronically angry, or depressed, or anxious, or hopeless? What about someone who is consistently calm, or optimistic, or content, or happy? Have you noticed that these people have patterns of thought and feeling that maintain and reinforce their "go-to" states?

The funny thing is that our habitual mental and emotional states have very little to do with our actual life experiences. We've all known people who "have it all" and are miserable, as well as people who don't have a pot to pee in but spend their days praising God and spreading joy to others. Our happiness or sadness is less about what's going on in front of us, and more about what's going on inside of us. What's depressing to you might be neutral, or even desirable to someone else, and what feels good to you might be poison to another.

The other day I heard Tony Robbins talk about the rituals we have set up in our minds that drop us into our habitual emotional states. A ritual is made up of a series of interpretations and reactions that build on each other and lead us to the commonly felt emotion.

As an example, let's say you're chronically frustrated. If you were able to slow down and track the progression of thoughts and emotions that led up to feeling frustrated, you'd see that the situations themselves are not inherently frustrating---it's what your mind does automatically that causes you to interpret them that way.

The ritual might go something like this:
1.  I'm driving to work
2.  I expect no traffic
3.  The cars ahead of me slow down
4   I say to myself, "This isn't supposed to happen!"
5.  I think about how I allowed enough time, but now I'll be late
6.  I dwell on how much I dislike commuting
7.  I resent that my friends don't have to commute
8.  I wonder why my life is more difficult than everybody else's
9.  I feel frustrated!!!

The above probably happened in the same amount of time it took for the driver behind him to apply her brakes. And her process looked like this:
1. I'm driving to work
2. I notice that it's a gorgeous day
3. The cars ahead of me slow down
4. I slow down, and put on my favorite CD
5. I say to myself, "Wow, it's such a gorgeous day!"

My point? Your thoughts and feelings aren't objective reality, and your habitual thoughts and feelings are the result of the cognitive rituals you perform over and over again that create familiar grooves in your brain. This is true for your positive states as well as your negative ones.

If you want to transform a pattern, you have to interrupt the ritual and change it into something better. This might sound impossible, but it can be achieved through awareness and intention, and possibly some outside assistance.

This week, I invite you look at the thoughts and emotional states you experience on a regular basis. Congratulate yourself for the ones that serve you, and investigate and change the rituals behind those that do not.

Good luck, and have a great week.