“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” – Oscar Wilde
When was the last time you took time out?
Remember when you were little and you and your siblings just tore into each other? My favorite game was to hit my older brother in the shoulder just a little bit harder than he’d tolerate. He’d look over at me with a glimmer in his eye as if to say, “oh no, you did not just do that – game on.” I’d smile ever so slightly before I’d start running as fast as I could toward my mother or some other form of shelter from my big brother’s impending wrath.
And it would just escalate from there.
Eventually, he’d catch up with me and sit on my chest while he planned out how he’d pay me back in spades for my crime. I’d whine as loudly as I could without losing all self-respect.
Thankfully, we had parents. It was the 70’s so they weren’t exactly running to the scene, but with enough drama, mostly on my part, they’d intervene.
Society isn’t much different than our childhood homes. We have lots and lots of systems to intervene when we commit crimes and we have objective third parties to decide the appropriate punishment – however flawed the systems are, not enough time to cover that subject.
What about the smaller incidents? What about the momentary loss of control that we exhibit from time to time that doesn’t require a heavy hand: the outburst, the snide comment, the eye roll, the off-putting email, the remiss response. And the list goes on and on.
Who places us on a small time out when we clearly need to regroup?
Our spouses can try, but if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you’ll see how quickly that backfires.
As adults, no one is going to or can stop you from you.
- Do you start your day feeling reasonably good and as the day unfolds you find yourself unravelling?
- Do you try to stay in a good mood, but as traffic, kids, co-workers, employees, spouses, and the weather cross your path, your good mood slowly slips out of your reach?
- Do you just feel like you are the master of your emotional life or your emotional world controls you?
Life can be tough, but no one is going to stop you from making it tougher. You can’t control what comes your way, but you can control how you respond. And that response can lessen your personal suffering significantly.
To regain any moment that is spiraling out of control: take a time out.
For real, just stop.
Watch your thoughts.
Notice what you are saying. What is your narrative? What story are you telling?
Are you coming from a place that is healthy or unhealthy? And by unhealthy I mean anything like anger, resentments, dread, judgment, pride… Again, the emotions are not the problem, but taking action from those emotions without thought creates massive problems.
And as an adult there are no parents available to clean up your mess: misunderstandings, lost friendships, employee problems, and relationship issues.
If you can’t think of something to do to make the moment better, simply disengaging is a great first step. Unless you are stepping back to punish the person involved, which is an unhealthy reaction in disguise. Something to investigate quickly.
Get Curious About You!
Next time something happens and you feel a surge of emotion, take a timeout.
Breath. Notice the tension in your body. Scan your body for tension and with each breath allow that part of your body to release. Repeat. Stay on your timeout until you are able to regain your executive functioning.
Here’s the thing: kids don’t have access to their frontal lobes. They can’t exercise executive functioning. We can. But when we are in flight mode, our frontal lobe shuts down and we are no longer able to use our critical thinking.
Taking action when our frontal lobe isn’t firing is no different than a child staying home alone for hours unattended. We are incapable of making good decisions, just as they are. We don’t leave them alone because they would destroy the house, eat tons of sugar and never sleep… Isn’t that the same as adults who have lost control?
We stop sleeping, we eat unhealthy foods, even drink until we pass out, and destroy our “house” by engaging with people from our negative mood – And mom isn’t there to clean up afterwards.
Try a small timeout today and see if you can master your emotions without mom’s help.