Reframing Our Emotions: Part 2


Context. In a tailored, pressed tux you could be a great Best Man--or have a really bad day at the beach. In many cases, context is key. This is second hat when we choose our attire each morning. Clothing that works best in the summer won't serve us well in the winter. A workday calls for a different choice of clothing than a day spent off the clock. And throughout this process, we rarely label our clothing "good" or "bad." It's just a question of context: what particular attire will best serve my needs today? A tux isn't "bad" just because it wouldn't work well at the beach. Yet how often do we apply this same thought process to our emotions?

As I wrote last week, emotions can get a pretty bad rap. Intense emotions can be overwhelming and interfere greatly in our daily lives. When this occurs, it's understandable that these emotions could seem "bad." Let's take a strong surge of anxiety, for example. As Carolyn Daitch and I write in The Road to Calm Workbook, when the car in front of you stops abruptly, that strong surge of anxiety helps your body mobilize to quickly slam on the breaks. Yet if you experience that same degree of anxiety every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you'd have a lot of trouble driving. The same degree of anxiety that can help you avoid an accident can also prohibit you from successfully operating a car--in different contexts.

While reframing the way we view our emotions is only a first step in the process of learning to modulate our emotions, it's an essential step. I don't want to teach anyone how to "never panic." That would actually be a liability--not an asset. Rather, it's about getting to the place where the intensity of your emotional response is a good match for the situation you're responding to. So the next time you experience an uncomfortable emotion, I encourage you to move away from labeling your emotions "good" or "bad." Instead, you could begin by asking yourself what degree of emotion would be a good match for the situation you're in. We all deserve to have our emotions serve as assets rather than liabilities. Reframing the goal--modulating our emotions to fit the context we're in rather than getting rid of "bad" emotions entirely--can help get us there.

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