Disengaging Your Emotional Autopilot

In order for us to find a way to make sense of what’s what, and which emotion belongs with which body state, we have to know what exactly we’re talking about.

Consider this example.  Imagine, upon arriving home from work one day, you lash out at your family because, once again, nobody bothered to take out the trash. You are furious. You’re tired of being the only one taking out the trash, and furious that even this simplest request hasn’t been honored while you’ve been hard at work. Pausing to name what you’re feeling, furious (not annoyed, not angry, not irritated, but really furious in that moment!) helps you to sort out a couple important factors.

The first is to consider if the fury you’re feeling is a) appropriate for the circumstance you’re presently facing and if so, whether it is b) proportionate to the perceived cause of it. Your reaction to the trash not having been taken out might just be emotional “residue” from a run-in with your co-worker earlier in the day. In fact, you might have unconsciously attached yourself to that little exchange for the better part of your work day. If you’re willing to be honest with yourself, it just takes a split second for you to recognize it may not be the trash you’re feeling so negatively about. On another day, that same bag of trash (still sitting right where you left it this morning) might not have you feeling this furious. You can recognize there’s really no need for fury right now. This is a critical message for your brain to “hear,” process, and learn.

Please keep in mind, I am not suggesting your fury in this example is right or wrong. Those words imply judgement and that isn’t at issue here. We don’t choose feelings. We need not judge them. You are entitled to each and every one of your feelings. At this point, you’ve reached a crucial moment in the Feel. Think. Choose. In That Order. process. What comes next is of vital importance: Take the time to notice, and then name, your feeling. Consider both its true nature and intensity. This can be more difficult than it sounds. By taking the time to notice “I feel absolutely furious right now,” you have created an opportunity to consider a very important question: what am I actually furious about? In the beat it takes to ask this question, you just disengaged your emotional auto-pilot!