The Art of Distractibility, Part V: Go Through the (E)Motions

I earned a C- on a test I was sure I’d aced. I feel my shoulders slump and my energy plummet. I hide the test and start chatting with my friends, trying to put my sadness and shame from my mind.

Have you ever tried to shove away an unwanted feeling? Who hasn’t! No one likes to feel negative emotions like sadness, anger, jealousy, and anxiousness. Yet we all deal with them – or not. Rejecting negative emotions is like hitting a Whack-A-Mole. The problem may temporarily go away, only to return somewhere unexpected. To save time and heartache, it’s wise to try to face negative emotions as they arise.

What can you do with bad feelings you’d rather not have?

Wield the advanced Art of Distractibility skill of choosing the best action given the context! This means discerning when distraction is–and isn’t–advantageous. When you’re experiencing unpleasant feelings, it’s usually in your best interest to let them pass through rather than fight them. Exceptions are for traumatic or overwhelming feelings, in which case distraction may be appropriate. If you resist unwanted emotions now, you’ll face them again later, often multiple times and in ways you can’t predict and may not like.

Choose instead to take control and face your fear — or anxiety, sadness, jealousy, etc. — when it arises, and on your terms. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Observe yourself. What’s going on in your body? Is your heart racing? Are you sweating? Do you feel tightness? If you notice agitated symptoms, you likely have negative feelings and thoughts that go with them.
  2. Name what’s happening. In light of these sensations, what feelings and thoughts are happening for you right now? Once you can name what’s occurring, you’re in a much better position to respond productively.
  3. Say, “the,” not “my.” Instead of calling it my anger, call it the anger. Rather than my sadness, call it the sadness. This will help you shift to a mindset where the feeling becomes impersonal and external to who you are, rather than personal and enduring, and therefore more difficult to release.
  4. Get curious. No two emotional experiences are identical, even when you label both “sadness”. Explore this occurence, this feeling How intense is it? Where and how do you feel it in your body? See its qualities as if they are the unique outline of a cloud.
  5. Notice how it changes. Stay with the feeling and notice how its features change over time. How do the intensity, physical symptoms, thoughts, etc. shift as time passes?
  6. Acknowledge that all things go. If and when it’s difficult to be with these feelings, remember that this too shall pass. It may not be fun, and it might not fade away quickly, but it can’t and won’t last forever.

When a negative emotion hits you, try to stick with it so you can experience it and then leave it behind. If it is too much to deal with on your own, reach out to a loved one or mental health professional.

Learning how to deal with your negative emotions in real time means that they won’t pop up again later. This makes more space for you to experience positive emotions and success! Return to the easel soon to practice more of the Art of Distractibility!