Emotional Mastery On Demand: Unlocking the Triad
She was laughing. She just finished talking about a funny story from over the weekend. Her face was bright. Elated. Vibrant. There was a joyous pause as the laugh faded into a smile.
That’s when I said, “I want you to become depressed. But not too depressed.” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Don’t take it too far, maybe like a 5 out of 10. Can you get a little bit depressed for me?”
“I guess,” she said hesitantly. “I mean, I’m sure I could.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t have to stay there for long. Just give it a try for 10 or 20 seconds. I will tell you when to stop… Ready? Go.”
I believe that the quality of our lives are largely determined by the quality of our experience in this moment. After all, this moment is all that exists.
I think of life not as a series of moments, but one continuous moment.
Since I’ve developed this mindset, I’ve made it my personal mission to master my experience in the moment. That is, my experience of life.
This is different from larger, loftier goals that may be require action over time, such as developing relationships, earning a fortune, traveling somewhere new, or building a business.
These things are a means to an end. The end is the quality of your life in your moment-to-moment experience. That’s why we chase these things, after all. To feel good.
Let’s take money for an example. You want money because you believe it will afford you certain experiences and you believe those experiences will enrich your life by bringing you certain feelings.
You believe that a great relationship will cause you to feel a certain way. To feel good.
Pleasure (in its variety of forms) is ultimately what we’re after.
Think about it… How much of our behavior can be boiled down to the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure?
How many things do we do in order to feel good? To feel loved, appreciated, valued, excited, happy, confident, the list goes on. How does our desire to feel good shape our decisions and behaviors?
Goals are important and, indeed, some of these things can lead to a state of profound fulfillment, but that fulfillment can only be felt in the moment, because that is all there is.
But what if we could be the master of our state in every moment? What if we could engineer the quality of our lived experience and be the architects of our reality?
I believe we can.
These feelings that we are after, they’re all about emotions.
Emotions are the feelings, the bodily sensations, generated within us. We can describe them most simply as feeling good or feeling bad. The answer, therefore, to mastering our moment-to-moment experience of life is to master our emotions.
By doing this, it is possible to live in a state of joy whenever we choose. Most of us only know the contrary. For many of us, the default is fear, stress, anxiety, anger, depression.
I watched the transformation right in front of my eyes. Her face went flat. Her eyes cast downward and to her left. This means she was having internal dialogue. She quickly became lost in thought. There was no more presence. I watched as she shrank. Her shoulders collapsed. Her chest tucked in. Head dropped, lifeless. Just as a tear started to build in her eye, I said, “Ok. Now stop.”
This is about emotional mastery. See, most of us think emotions happen to us. Like they are something external that takes us over.
Most of us fail to realize that we actually create emotions. We are responsible for them. We create emotions through our breathing, our posture, our thoughts, our behavior, and our language. We are generating these negative experiences. They are purely internal. To blame other people or external circumstances is to rob yourself of what Victor Frankl called “the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The emotional experience can be broken down into three components:
These three components work together to form the Triad of emotional experience. The best part of all? These three components are entirely within your control. You can change them at will. Change any two and the third will follow. Your state will change accordingly.
Let’s take a look at the Triad and how you can use it for on-demand emotional control.
“Notice how when I asked you to get depressed, you starting thinking. Scanning for depressing content in your mind. What did you have to focus on to be depressed?”
Emotions are the body’s response to the mind. Therefore, what we focus on largely determines our emotional state. Simple enough, right?
If you focus on threats, you will respond with anxiety.
If you focus on opportunities, you will respond with excitement.
If you focus on your breathing, your mind will quiet down.
If you focus on loss, less, or never… you will feel suffering.
Shifting our focus makes a profound change in our mindset and physiology. If you focus on what you’ve done wrong and all the mistakes you’ve made, your emotions will be different than by focusing on what you can do differently to get the results you want.
Try this for yourself. Focus on those you love and envision them smiling. Imagine them as a child. Now as an elderly person. Picture a beautiful time you had together or maybe something you are looking forward to with them. Feel yourself hugging them. Embracing.
What is your current state?
Now think of a time that you laughed so hard your stomach hurt and your cheeks were sore. Remember it. Feel it… How are you feeling now?
We can manifest these states by knowing and choosing what to focus on.
In each moment, there is both scarcity and abundance, depending on where you look and what you see. Depending on the questions you ask.
What is it that you choose to see? Where are you directing your focus?
Do you create your own heaven or your own hell? Such is the power of focus.
“What did you do with your body? Just a moment ago you were breathing deeply and your chin was up. Your face was relaxed and calm. What just happened?”
When you are self-conscious or nervous, what’s going on with your body? Sometimes we tend to hide, dropping our head and hunching up our shoulders. Do you speak just to fill the space of silence?
When we are anxious, our breath becomes shallow and rapid. We fidget. We shake our legs or pace. Our muscles get tense. Our eyes wide and intense.
When we are confident, we take up more space. We move more slowly. We speak deliberately, with pauses. Our posture is better so we are able to breathe deeper. If we are happy, our jaw relaxes and our eyes soften.
See, most of the time we think of change from the inside out. We think of these observable physiological mechanisms as responses to the way we are feeling inside. Put simply, when we are happy we tend to smile.
But what if smiling could make you happy.
Recent findings show that smiling alone can change your mood by releasing hormones and influencing your chemical make-up. Your emotional state. Try it now. Try smiling in whatever way you want. Soft and subtle, or a huge cheesy grin. Notice the differences. Do you feel any differently?
Here’s another exercise. Give your body (and mood) an instant lift using a technique from Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) called resourceful physiology: “A resourceful (read confident, upbeat) physiology happens when (1) you center your weight in the middle of the pelvis region of your body and (2) you lift your rib cage. If you throw your weight to one hip, as in the typical model’s stance, you are not centered. When you lift your rib cafe, you should not be hiking up your shoulders. We’re not talking about a stiff, military bearing. The resourceful physiology is relaxed and natural. Lifting the rib cage lifts your chest, your entire upper body, including your head and chin, and allows your shoulders to remain rounded and relaxed” (84).
Try playing around with your posture. Notice how different you feel.
What about physical activity? Have you ever been overwhelmed about a seemingly impossible problem and taken a break to work out or go for a walk? When you return to the problem, your attitude will be remarkably different. You will probably see solutions you hadn’t considered before. Suddenly there are options.
See, change also happens from the outside in.
Next time you are anxious, correct your posture and slow your breathing. Keep your hands still. Stay with it. See what happens.
Next time you are depressed, smile as wide as possible. Hold it. Play with it. Or listen to uplifting music and do jumping jacks. Take a freezing cold shower. Pound on your chest like a gorilla. I don’t care.
If you are public speaking and feel nervous, rather than filling every space between sentences with a monotone “umm” or “sort of” or (insert verbal gesture here), slow down your speech and deliberately pause between words, playing with your tone and inflection. Leave extended periods of silence while you look into the crowd. Not only will you feel more confident, but you will also appear so, which creates a positive feedback loop. (Also, your audience will be hanging on your every word and your message will be more impactful).
By taking control of your physiology (adjusting your expressions, steadying your breath, correcting your posture, working up a sweat, dancing, etc.), you can change your internal state. These tools are always available to you. Use them wisely.
“We all have this voice in our head. Our inner commentator, constantly narrating life. We think in language. What were you telling yourself in those 10 seconds? What thoughts did you have?”
Guard your words carefully, especially with yourself.
Many of us have heard of the inner critic. Most of us live with it. It’s usually yapping away in our minds about how much we suck, or how much we should be worried about, what if that happens, you shouldn’t have done that, blah blah blah. Most of my clients agree that they are their own worse enemy. Most of my friends do too.
One of my favorite descriptions of this is in Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul. He writes, “If you spend some time observing this mental voice, the first thing you will notice is that it never shuts up. When left to its own, it just talks… If you watch carefully, you’ll see that it’s just trying to find a comfortable place to rest” (8-9).
This “inner roommate,” as he calls it, is usually annoying, harsh, afraid, and neurotic. If you observe it, you will see what I’m saying. It is responsible for nearly all of our difficulties.
Singer goes on to say, “Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems” (10).
Observe this commotion. You’ll find that you rarely treat yourself like someone you are trying to help.
There is tremendous power in our self-talk.
Kamal Ravikant wrote a whole book on the premise of him thinking, “I love myself,” as often as he remembered. It transformed his life.
Try it out. Say that you love yourself. Think it to yourself or say it. When was the last time?
What if you thought, “The universe has my back” or “I attract golden opportunities”? What if you thought: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that could have happened to me.” Maybe that’s too much to ask. How about: “I’m enough.” What about: “I am grateful for all that I have.” Let’s try: “I will be ok. I’ve done this before and I can do it again.”
With thoughts like these, how would your state change?
Thoughts alone can change the quality of our lives, offering us another path toward altering our experience in this moment. But this applies to far more than just affirmations and reminders. It extends to all of our thoughts.
There is enormous difference between thinking “What if I mess up?” and “I’m so honored to be in this position.”
If you do mess up, notice the difference between “My career is over. They’re never going to forget this” and “It’s alright. Everyone screws up once in a while and I can’t expect to get it perfect every time.” The emotional response each thought generates is remarkably different.
The questions we ask determine the answers we receive. We can ask empowering or disempowering questions. For example, “What did I do wrong?” is a fundamentally different question from “What can I do better?”
This sort of change in maladaptive thought patterns is at the root of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. One exercise is to simply create two columns. Write your automatic thought on one side. This is the naturally occurring thought resulting in suffering (spoiler alert: it’s often irrational and easily disproven). In the column next to it, write down a new, empowering and logical thought pattern in order to replace it.
As a simple example, you might change “She never responded to my text. She must hate me. What did I say to make her mad?” to “She’s probably busy. There are several times I’m not able to answer right away either.”
Do this every time you are suffering, until it becomes second-nature for you to challenge your negative thought and generate a healthy alternative.
As you do this, you will improve your ability to observe your thoughts and be the witness of your mind. This will lessen your attachment to the content of your mind and, therefore, liberate you from the problems it generates.
If focus is the medium, language is the content. Defend yourself against pointless, dramatic, resistant, or even harmful self-talk. Don’t entertain it. End suffering as it arrives. Better yet, transform it into messages that elevate you to your highest potential and drive you in the direction of your goals.
The Triad can be used to hack your emotional state in any moment. Remember, the three elements of the Triad are within your control, if only you choose to recognize them and take action.
You can choose to focus on something that results in more joy and less unnecessary suffering.
You can shift your posture, slow your breathing, or change your behavior in this moment.
You can alter the language of your thoughts in order to create more empowering, useful self-talk.
These things are immediately accessible to you. They are the forces that generate the emotions within you, which result in your experience in this moment and, therefore, the quality of your life.
What would life be like if, instead of resisting everything that happened or internally complaining about everything, you were truly grateful— focusing on the gifts in your life, smiling, breathing deeply, and showering yourself with thoughts that support you. What if you believed that life is happening for you, not to you. How different would your life be? How much more would you accomplish? How much happier would you be? What would happen to your relationships?
The Triad is within your control at all times. What’s not in your control are the actions of others, your father’s opinion, whether or not you are accepted, the weather, a flat tire, or how much any of the other events in your life conform to your expectations.
Yet these are the metrics we often measure. These are the rules we have for happiness. It’s a losing game.
By understanding and utilizing the Triad, you can take your experience of life into your own hands. You can engineer your joy. You can master your emotions. You can orchestrate your peace.
“You were really down a little while ago. You were able to get there pretty quickly when I asked you to.”
“Yes. I’m a pro at that.”
“As we’ve been talking, I’ve noticed a shift in you again. What is that? Have you noticed anything different?”
“Well, my face feels more loose. I just feel lighter, like a weight is off my chest. I think I’m breathing easier and I sat up a little more straight. I actually feel pretty energized at the moment! I’m feeling motivated.”
“How come? In the half-hour we’ve been talking, nothing about your life is different. Your situation is the same as when you came in.”
“Yeah, but I feel more hopeful. I’m focusing on the changes I can actually make, not just the things I wish were different. I’ve already thought of a few steps I can take this evening. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m really telling myself that I can do this. I’m not accepting the part of me that wants to give up… I always thought this hopelessness and despair was totally out of my control, but this is helping me realize I really can actually do something about it.”
“You already have.”