Well, this first year in a whole new decade sure hasn’t unfolded in any way like what I expected.
(Can I get a hell yeah?!)
And yet it has delivered useful new lessons and tools I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on.
This tool I am about to share with you is currently sitting right at the tippy-top of that list.
Reason being, all the twists and turns of 2020 thus far sure have brought up lots of emotions (e-motions) and emotional stuff.
Not saying I love that part – not one little bit – but I do honestly love this tool and it really works!
CREDIT NOTE: My life and business coach, Christine Kane, gets all the credit for this one, by the way. A few weeks ago I was working through a particularly thorny issue and arrived for our weekly group call toting an extra portion of weepy grief and a whole box of tissues.
Christine gave me this tool to use anytime I feel strong emotions rising up within me. It is really helping me not feel like I’m going insane as I keep making day by day progress through that issue and a bunch of others that decided they, too, want in on the action.
So here is what you do.
And by the way, I am going to be really detailed in these instructions just like Christine was with me, because if you are feeling anything like what I was feeling like when you read these instructions, every little detail really does matter.
So here goes.
1. Notice strong unwelcome emotion.
It might be grief. Or sadness. Or anxiety. Or fear. Or anger. Or depression. Or whatever-it-is.
Obviously I’m excluding strong emotions like joy, love, excitement, et al, although you don’t have to unless they bother you. But mostly those aren’t the strong emotions we tend to want to explain away or tamp down on or avoid feeling or just plain get rid of.
2. Resist the urge to tell a story about that emotion or label it in any way.
Maybe you don’t do this – I don’t want to assume. But I sure do which is why I mention it.
When I feel the anxiety of abandonment, for instance, I start with labeling the emotion. “Oh, abandonment. I feel so anxious.”
Then I remind myself of the story around why I am feeling that way. If I’m not sure why, my mind gets to work finding an explanation it feels sure has at least some truth to it.
The reason you want to try your best not to even label the emotion at all is because the label tends to be what triggers the story-telling.
And the story-telling just makes the emotion itself feel even worse. And when you are already feeling just awful, the last thing you want or need is to feel even worse.
Plus, it distracts you away from any hope of working constructively with the energy of that emotion right there in that moment, which is key for this tool.
So just notice. If it helps, you can say to yourself “I am feeling something.” At least then you know it is a feeling and your mind knows it is a feeling you are having, and not a thought or an experience or something else.
3. Breathe in and out deeply.
If I haven’t already forgotten to breathe by this point, this is usually when it happens for me. I start to hold my breath or at least conserve my oxygen intake, for what possible evolutionary survival purpose I have no idea.
It’s not like I can store it to use it up later. And it makes me feel even worse when I am already feeling bad and then I forget to breathe on top of that.
So you want to remember to breathe. Just breathe in and out deeply a few times.
4. Notice the energy of the emotion and point to where you feel it in your body.
In the example I mentioned earlier from my coaching call with Christine, after a few deep breaths and a moment of conscious attentiveness, I noticed that the particular emotion I was feeling seemed to be located in my throat and upper chest. So I pointed to that area.
So yours might be there, or in your gut, or in your heart, or in your lower back, or anywhere else in your body.
You can just notice or briefly touch that area to acknowledge it to yourself, but then move your hand away and just sit quietly, noticing it.
5. Sit with the emotion and just notice if it starts to shift or transform in any way.
This was the most interesting part for me.
At first I was all snot and blubbery mess. I was sooooo tempted to just jump into the story behind it, how miserable I was, the awfulness of what I was feeling, how I didn’t want to be feeling that way, self-criticisms about how I shouldn’t be feeling that way and how it was all my fault….you get the idea.
Christine stopped me and really encouraged me to just sit with the emotion and notice it. Feel its energy. Feel it AS ENERGY.
Notice if it started to move or shift in any way.
Which it did.
It really did.
As I just sat with it, like two friends sharing a park bench, the energy of that emotion began to break up just a little.
When Christine asked me what that felt like, I described a thick cloud and how it breaks up into smaller wispy pieces and then just dissolves in the sky.
That is what it felt like inside my throat and upper chest as the energy of the emotion I was feeling kind of wiggled around a little, shifted itself, rearranged things, drifted away.
Almost like if I wasn’t going to jump into my story and amp it up, then it had better things to do than just hang around in my throat all afternoon.
Without having any idea why it worked or how it had happened, I noticed I was feeling better. And when I say “better” I mean slightly less weepy, slightly less self-critical, slightly less hopeless about the whole thing, and slightly less interested in the back story behind it all.
I also felt strangely empowered. Like – I DID that. I did something. I pulled myself back from the brink. I expended no amount of effort whatsoever other than my focused attention and it actually helped.
6. Any time the emotion returns, or any unwelcome emotion returns, do this process again.
As Christine explained to me, it would likely take several sessions before I would really start to get the hang of it and would help all that stuck, held, backed-up energy come up and out and get free.
I was holding it down with all that pain and all those stories and explanations and labels. So each time I can just sit with it, not labeling, not judging, not explaining, it gets another chance to come up and OUT and just dissipate, (hopefully) never to return again.
She told me that my work for the coming week (weeks) would be to simply stop whenever I felt a big tough emotion brewing inside me and to take a few minutes to go through these steps.
Then I should gently ask myself what felt right to do next.
Since I work full-time from home, I am lucky to be able to take these micro-breaks when I need to, but then I have to get back to work, and I nearly always have lots of to-do list tasks on the list, so with this direction I can use my intuition or my gut to pick the next task and just proceed that way through the next portion of my day.
I hope this helps you. It is helping me a lot, especially as the world continues to tip and turn and jostle us all (and all our carefully-made plans) around and create a lot of unexpected stress.
With great respect and love,