today i’m gonna talk about emotions and why they’re important.
to start, let’s consider the common experience of doing something even when we know it’s going to be bad for us, or when we’ve already determined we don’t want to do it.
here are some recent examples from my life:
last night, i ate another piece of pizza, despite being totally stuffed – knowing it was going to suck. of course, my prediction was accurate.
i also had an additional beer out with friends last week, even though I really didn’t want it. i really didn’t need another beer…but I had another beer.
so why is it that we do things that we don’t really want to do? even when we know that they’re bad for us?
answer: to avoid emotions.
in my line of work we call this experiential avoidance.
your emotions motivate all your behavior to some degree. which, by itself, is not necessarily a problem. where things turn upside down is when your thinking mind gets involved.
your mind is a problem solving tool – its primary goal is to solve problems, however, when it comes to problematic or difficult emotions, its most effective strategy is to avoid them. in fact, avoidance is the only strategy because you can’t actually solve your emotions. if we could, we wouldn’t have shitty emotions like shame, grief, panic, etc..
your emotions are not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced
your mind doesn’t care about this statement.
once your mind determines we are having an unpleasant emotion (this is primarily subconscious) it goes to work solving this problem, which equals experiential avoidance.
unfortunately, your thinking mind doesn’t really understand how time works. your mind is “in the moment” and doesn’t consider what an accumulation of avoidant behaviors will lead to over time.
by way of example, a common way men deal with relationship conflict is to simply avoid it, which works to your mind…problem solved! of course, this is only a temporary solution.
overtime, this avoidance strategy is likely to result in rumination, repressed anger, bitterness and resentment, and eventually blows up into a larger conflict than the one that was initially avoided.
with emotional avoidance, you often end up with a more intense, and unpleasant, emotional experience.
and it doesn’t stop there, your relationship is growing more and more distant with avoidance, to the point of brokenness, and then there’s a lot of repair and a lot of pain that needs to be faced. or maybe it’s too late and you end up with the difficult experiences that come along with a breakup, separation, divorce, AND all the difficult things that come with those experiences. thanks, mind.
the antidote to experiential avoidance is emotional awareness.
we can develop our emotional awareness by simply naming our emotions. for many men, this is where we need to begin. it’s like learning a new language.
it takes practice to develop an emotional vocabulary.
here are a few options for developing your emotional vocabulary:
- establish a frequency for naming your emotions: like every hour on the hour, or 3 times a day (phone reminders are helpful), or whatever frequency is doable for you
- use your daily routine as a reminder strategy: name your emotions during common activities like eating a meal or brushing your teeth
- use a common place as a reminder: like leaving a mood tracker on your fridge or a notebook on your nightstand to complete before you go to bed
it doesn’t really matter when you do it – just that you do it – like most things, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
as you become more familiar with your emotions the less you will avoid them because familiarity breeds safety. and safety is not a problem. in other words, your emotions are no longer a problem that you mind needs to solve (i.e. avoid).
as a result, you spend less time and energy avoiding your emotions, which means you can spend more time being self-directed. you get to choose how you want to behave based on your goals, principles and values.
and choosing to live your life based on what matters most to you is the path to more freedom, happiness and contentment.