Getting overwhelmed or misled by our emotions is one of the primary sources of financial trouble – whether in spending, earning, saving or investing.
Emotions are not simple, but sometimes there are simple actions we can take to manage complex things.
Today’s column will show you a simple way to avoid getting overwhelmed by your emotions.
Did I mention how powerful this technique is?
- When people were treated for phobias, practicing this simple skill lowered their fear by over 18% and their psychological reactivity by over 27%. They also were less constricted generally, shifting from feeling a sense of threat to feeling a sense of opportunity.
- When feeling stress, people using this technique had 40% fewer alcoholic drinks when they went to a bar or party than those who were not using this technique.
- When feeling angry with someone, those using this technique were 40% less verbally and physically aggressive than those who were not using it.
- Rejection brings with it actual pain. When feeling rejected, those using this technique showed less activity in the parts of the brain connected to physical and emotional pain.
Using this simple tool can help us to deal with emotionally upsetting situations with a greater sense of calm and competence.
Okay, enough buildup… Here’s the skill.
Learn to identify and name the specific emotions you’re experiencing in any emotionally charged situation.
The appropriately straightforward name for this is “emotion labeling.”
Let’s dive a little deeper into this…
Think Beyond Positive and Negative
When we think of emotions, we tend to think in terms of positive and negative.
Positive emotions lead us to seek out the experience that triggered them. Negative emotions lead us to want to avoid the triggering experience.
To that extent, we’re nearly on the same level as an amoeba. Approach what feels good; avoid what feels bad.
We also tend to clump emotions together into similar groups that feel bad. We might cluster anger together with shame or hurt. We might combine the revved-up feelings of anxiety, excitement and dread into the same general spaghetti.
Our emotions are much more complex than we often allow for. Emotions ebb and flow like waves. There are subtleties and details. Emotions are tied strongly to our past experiences, the stories we hold about ourselves and the world, our beliefs, and what we would like for the future.
So rather than reacting to a “good” or “bad” emotion, try to identify exactly what you’re feeling.
That will help you understand and integrate your experience – and then you can plan how you would like to handle similar situations in the future. That will leave you feeling less chaotic and more at ease.
Try it now. As you’re reading this, stop for a moment and notice what you’re feeling.
For example, right now I’m looking out the window of my office at a lovely slice of nature and I can feel some serenity and joy… and a moment of pleasant surprise as some quail enter the scene. Very subtle, nothing dramatic, but I can sense it and name it – and I feel it all more fully because I am able to label the emotions.
A few things to keep in mind as you start using this technique…
First, the problem with simple solutions is that we tend to ignore them. They’re so easy – we figure they can’t be very useful.
Plus, in order to get the full benefit of any skill, we need to practice it until it’s a habit. It has to be something we can eventually do without thinking much about it.
When something’s this simple, though, there’s not much to learn. And since we haven’t invested in it yet, when we’re actually in a stressful situation, the technique won’t come naturally to us.
So my challenge to you is to practice this simple skill – and keep practicing it often. Set a number, maybe five times a day for four weeks. And practice noticing and naming whatever you’re feeling in a variety of different situations.
It can help to make a list of possible emotions from your own experience and then be on the lookout for a degree of fine-tuning you may not have considered. Think of it as broadening your vocabulary, and look up emotion words that are less familiar to you. Another thing to consider is that, as with any skill, it can help to practice it when the heat’s off.
None of us can learn a new skill when we’re in the throes of pain, grief, anger or fear. Our system is already activated, the ship is sailing, and we need to attend to the rigging as best we know how, until we make our way back to a safe harbor.
Countless Benefits to a Simple Strategy
When we don’t know how to manage our emotions, we become susceptible to unhealthy strategies like venting aggression, practicing self-harm, abusing alcohol or drugs, overeating, and exercising avoidance or withdrawal. When emotions are running the show, we can be at the mercy of our most unconscious, emergency-backup habits.
And of course, when we are at the mercy of our emotions, our thinking and decision making around money can suffer. We can make impulsive decisions based on fear, shame or hope.
Emotions matter. It’s important to experience your emotions – all of your emotions – and learn and practice naming them. Then your emotions won’t control you.
Practice this simple skill, with all the fine-tuning you can come up with, until it’s a habit. It will take you a long way toward managing some of the most challenging emotional experiences that life can throw at you. And it may make you a lot of money along the way.