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Weekly Mindfulness Support Blog - Who's Calling the Shots?

Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, June 11, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.


There is a wonderful saying which suggests that we should “Never reply when angry. Never make a promise when happy. Never make a decision when mad.” I don’t know who to credit, but there is a lot of wisdom in these words.


I feel like most of us can already understand and relate. We know that we shouldn’t make decisions when emotionally triggered. Unfortunately, we’re not so skillful at living by this knowledge. We tend to make choices based on temporary emotions. These choices can have lasting effects.


Let’s keep in mind that emotions are a natural part of the human experience. Emotions are neither good nor bad, they simply provide information as to what’s happening. Sometimes, emotions are exaggerated. Road-rage is an example of an exaggerated emotion.


When we were first learning to drive, it’s unlikely that we flew off the handle, honked the horn, and started cussing at someone who cut us off. Over time, we [unconsciously] practice reacting to the irritations often associated with driving. These repeated frustrations cause us to become angrier and angrier until we simply explode with volatile rage. In this situation, our rageful emotion is calling the shots. Though sometimes we feel justified, we react in ways that we don’t feel good about when the emotion has passed.


Regardless of the nature of the emotion – positive or negative – as we go through life, our emotional patterns become more and more engrained and intensified. These intense and practiced emotions influence our decisions, which sometimes make us do harmful things.


This makes me think of chocolate chip cookies. It’s important to me that I don’t eat a bunch of processed sugars. I don’t feel good physically after eating them. It’s hard to go to the store without having cookies jump out in front of me. Sometimes it’s the smell. Sometimes it’s a randomly arising thought. Sometimes it’s the clever marketing strategy of placing them next to the checkout. Regardless, I often get triggered with a cookie craving. Physical manifestations like a rumbling tummy and salivation intensify the desire. If I succumb to the craving, I reinforce it and the next time I get a cookie desire, it’s even stronger. After eating the cookies, I don’t feel well. Unfortunately, the memory of this physical discomfort is conveniently minimized the next time I’m faced with the “to eat or not to eat” cookie decision.


In addition to the post-cookie physical discomfort, I also feel bad about my choice. In all actuality, though, I didn’t choose – my emotion made the decision for me. My true choice, my choice that is based on the consideration of my health and on my values, is to eat chocolate chip cookies seldom and in moderation, not every time that I think about them.


One key to overcome emotionally-based decisions is to get to know ourselves – to develop introspection. Awareness of what we are feeling in any given moment is fundamental. We need to learn what the physical characteristics are associated with each emotion. What does it feel like to experience fear? What does it feel like to experience sadness, shame, desire, and joy? What does it feel like to crave a cookie? The sooner we can recognize emotions and their physiological corelates arising within us, the more control we have over their effect. This takes time and practice. When we develop increased awareness of our emotions, we can recognize how they tend to influence our decisions. This discernment alone is invaluable.


Another key to developing emotional balance is to identify and define what our values are. Without a clear understanding of what is important to us, when emotionally triggered, we won’t have anything to base a healthy decision on. The emotion will make the choice. Once we are clear about the kind of life that is meaningful to us – what our values are, and what is important to us – regardless of what we are temporarily feeling, we can develop the ability to make an informed decision that supports and nourishes us.


As I mentioned in the beginning, most of us already know that it isn’t beneficial to base our decisions on emotions. And yet, we do. But we don’t have to.


A comprehensive Mindfulness practice which includes meditation, defining and practicing your values, setting a daily intention, checking in on your progress throughout the day, and reviewing how you did in the evening are practical and effective ways to create the conditions for you to call your own shots. I am here to help.



You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!

Dan



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