If you've ever spaced-out at a red light or lain awake for hours in the middle of the night then you know firsthand how easily our minds can be captured by trivial matters: passing fancies, minor insults, random worries … the list is endless. Most of us spend a lot of time thinking about the outer world -- and our place in it.
But thinking about food, sex, sports, clothes, school lunches or social status is not very productive; it rarely changes things that are truly important. Even reflecting on meatier matters such as the news and world affairs usually has only a limited impact on the acutal quality of your personal life .
Most of us pay too little attention to how we really feel, or to why we behave as we do. While this indifference is entirely natural, it’s also too bad because thinking carefully about your real motivations and inner workings can be some of the most fruitful thinking you do. But it takes mental energy to direct your attention inward, and it can be often painful to feel your emotions. It often feels better -- in the short run -- to ignore your emotional world. Sometimes it takes a crisis to wake us up, and then, when we need our piloting skills most of all, we can find ourselves confused and lost in our own emotional landscape.
We are constantly having reactions to the world, even when we are asleep. These ongoing reactions affect us deeply, whether or not we are aware of them. They shape our minds and hearts, our todays and our tomorrows. Sometimes we trick ourselves that our feelings don't really matter, or we may try to manage our reactions with self medication - whether food, drugs, sex, shopping, or TV.
Why bother with emotions? Because knowing more about emotions and feelings provides the key to understanding yourself and discovering what makes you truly happy. It is the path to realizing your best life plans and dreams.
So how do you start to separate the wheat from the chafe, emotionally speaking?
Think about one thing that bothered you today. Ask yourself these questions (and maybe others as well) to try to get to the core of the “bother:”
- How did I really feel when this happened?
- Regardless of how I reacted, was I really angry? Hurt? Sad? Did I feel left out or ignored?
- Was there something “off” about the the way I expressed emotions? Were they misplaced, insincere, or out of proportion?
- If I could change something about the interactions that bothered me, what would I change?
Try to remember your “discoveries” for next time. Practice this same investigation every day. You can do this while you are on the way home from work, or getting ready for bed, or any other solitary time. Take a minute to think about what bothered you today and why, and then reflect on how you expressed yourself to others. Paying attention to your emotions will help you make better decisions and feel more whole; for me, it has most certainly been worth the bother.